As potential suitors for J.T. Realmuto continue to dwindle, Fansided’s Robert Murray tweets that the Braves are “circling” on the free-agent catcher, adding that some clubs on the west coast also remain interested in the former All-Star.
It’s a surprise to see the Braves linked to Realmuto for a number of reasons. Atlanta already has veteran Travis d’Arnaud signed for $8MM in 2021, and he’s coming off a .273/.336/.465 showing across the past two seasons. Beyond that, Realmuto has been seeking the exact type of long-term contract that Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has eschewed since taking the reins in Atlanta.
The Braves waited out Dallas Keuchel’s market to get a one-year deal and opted not to come close to the Twins’ four-year offer when endeavoring to retain Josh Donaldson. They inked Cole Hamels on a one-year deal last winter rather than pursue a multi-year pact with Zack Wheeler or Madison Bumgarner. ESPN’s Buster Olney recently wrote recently that Marcell Ozuna is “highly unlikely” to return to Atlanta. Ozuna, of course, is seeking a lucrative multi-year deal himself.
This type of contract simply hasn’t been in the Braves’ playbook under the current front-office regime. Granted, it only takes one exception to change the narrative, but with recent reports that the Phillies have offered in the vicinity of $110MM over five years, a Realmuto-to-Braves deal would need to break the Braves’ short-term mold in rather dramatic fashion. It’s possible, too, that the Braves are “circling” — a decidedly nebulous term — to see if Realmuto opts to follow in Yasmani Grandal’s footsteps and take a one-year pact due to his dissatisfaction with multi-year offers. A high-priced one- or even two-year deal would absolutely be in the Braves’ wheelhouse, based on recent history. That’s also tough to envision when the Phillies have put forth a nine-figure offer, however.
Realmuto has been vocal in the past about his desire to advance the market for future catchers. It’s a large part of the reason he went to an arbitration hearing with the Phillies last year, arguing for a $12.4MM salary against the team’s $10MM filing number. The Phillies won that hearing, but Realmuto said afterward that he was “fighting for a cause and fighting for the rest of the catchers,” adding that he “takes pride” in fighting for future generations of players at his position. Those comments don’t make him sound like a catcher who is intent on taking much of a discount in any setting.
All of that is to say that if Realmuto were to take a short-term pact, the deal would likely have to represent a decisive new record for a catcher’s annual value. That sum currently belongs to Joe Mauer, who was paid an average of $23MM per year over his eight-year deal with the Twins. However, the Phillies are reportedly already offering close to that sum on a five-year term, which makes it tough to see Realmuto stepping back on a shorter-term arrangement. That’s especially true when the current offer from the Phils would set a catcher record in and of itself — the first ever nine-figure contract for a free-agent catcher. (Mauer and Buster Posey signed their nine-figure deals as extensions while still under club control.)
It also has to be noted that word of interest from the Braves only serves to benefit Realmuto’s camp if they’re yet looking to push the Phillies’ offer a bit further north. A five-year deal at $110MM would come in just shy of an AAV record for catchers, and topping that $23MM annual mark is surely something that’s still important to Realmuto.
The vague nature of the reporting in this instance does not indicate that Atlanta is comfortable doling out an uncharacteristic nine-figure pact, and there’d be a seismic difference between hoping Realmuto falls into their laps on a short-term, Grandal-esque contract and making a genuine run at top-of-the-market prices. Perhaps Anthopoulos and his staff believe Realmuto to be a difference-maker worth budging from their typical hardline stance against such contracts, but there’s no real evidence to support that thinking at this time.
If the Braves ultimately break character and sign Realmuto at a premium, pushing d’Arnaud to an $8MM backup or a trade candidate in the process, they’ll be a better team for it. But history doesn’t support them making an aggressive multi-year play, and it seems like a rather well-timed scenario to be broached as the division-rival Phillies appear to be in an increasingly favorable position to re-sign their star backstop.