J.T. Realmuto will be the best catcher on the free agent market this winter – and one of the best players of any measure. The two-time All-Star should have no shortage of potential suitors when the bidding begins. Though their opportunity to filibuster is nearing an end, the Phillies aren’t yielding the floor quite yet. Expect interim GM Ned Rice and President Andy MacPhail to continue their efforts to bring the Oklahoman back to Philadelphia. A true two-way serviceman like Realmuto with elite skills on both sides of the ball will wag the tails of more than a few executives around the game, however.
Realmuto will turn 30-years-old in March of next season, and any team that signs him will have to be aware of the threat the aging curve poses to his long-term productivity. And yet, it’s not as if we haven’t seen productive offensive catchers in the past. Similar performers of the past can provide insight into how well Realmuto may age as he enters his thirties (and how much he might be worth over the life of that next contract), which the Athletic’s Tim Britton explores. Looking at a collection of catchers with similar career arcs to Realmuto’s, Britton lands on either a four-year, $96MM deal or a six-year, $128MM deal as the proper valuation for Realmuto’s services moving forward.
It’s worth mentioning, Realmuto’s future viability could benefit from a rule change or two. If the designated hitter stays in the National League, for instance, Realmuto’s next club could keep him fresh into his thirties while still allowing his bat to play. He is one of the rare catchers whose bat could conceivably play at DH. But there’s also the possibility of electronic strike zones, which could lessen the detriment that aging has on a catcher’s defensive performance.
But electronic strike zones aren’t coming next season, and it’s hard to know when exactly they may enter everyday use. It’s that very issue that threatens the employability of bigger-body backstops like Gary Sánchez, Wilson Ramos, and Jorge Alfaro, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Sherman provides this interesting insight from an anonymous executive, “When the automated strike zone comes maybe you can have a DH catch because framing will mean nothing or maybe if we give the catcher an earpiece and can feed him every pitch, game calling will mean nothing. But we are asking catchers to make 150 decisions a game and have deep relationships with every pitcher and more than ever you cannot throw the defensive component away.”
Each of Sánchez, Ramos, and Alfaro lost playing time down the stretch and in the playoffs to better defensive catchers. Sánchez in particular faced a rather public “benching.” As the playoffs wore on and Sánchez struggled to light a fuse at the plate, the Yankees increasingly went with Kyle Higashioka as their primary receiver. Sánchez has another round of arbitration this winter after making a full-scale salary of $5MM in 2020, but the Yankees are likely to try and move him before the contract tender date of December 2nd, writes Sherman.
Given the state of the game amid the pandemic, rampant revenue losses make for a more uncertain winter than any in recent memory. The number of teams capable of luring J.T. may be limited if the price for entry is in the neighborhood suggested by Britton. James McCann and Mike Zunino represent the “best of the rest,” though the trade market could add a player like Sánchez to grease the wheels. Take another look at our free agency preview, provided here by MLBTR’s Steve Adams, but it’s certainly going to be interesting to see the length, duration, and location of Realmuto’s next deal.