The Dodgers, presently, have two of the game’s best catching prospects. The problem is, neither of them will be ready to take over in 2019. Austin Barnes’ disastrous 2018 season and Yasmani Grandal’s unlikely return has put the Dodgers in a bit of a bind behind the plate.
Stacie wrote about the catching situation overall, but I’m going to focus on one player: J.T. Realmuto.
The one Marlin who wasn’t traded last offseason might end up bringing Miami its best trade return this offseason. He’s the best catcher in baseball and is available.
Jim Bowden of The Athletic wrote about Realmuto and what it might take to get him out of Miami. He identified the Dodgers and proposed Alex Verdugo and Dustin May for Realmuto. If that sounds a bit light, it probably is. That, despite what Miami-based radio host Craig Mish tweeted on Wednesday.
Sources also indicate Marlins are asking price on Realmuto is a high end young pitching prospect and a position player. A potential two for one.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) November 7, 2018
Still, a 2-for-1 seems highly unlikely, unless one of the two is a legitimate global Top 10 prospect, which neither Verdugo or May are. As a side note, the best prospect proposed by Bowden is Victor Robles, and that ends up being a 1-for-1 swap. That seems even more unlikely than any of the 2-for-1s.
Maybe a Dodger proposal begins with Keibert Ruiz instead of Verdugo, but May is almost assuredly going to be included as he’s organization’s top pitching prospect in terms of youth and ceiling. It’d probably take a third solid piece — someone in the 8-15 range of the org rankings. But if a package of Verdugo and May would be enough to obtain the final two years of control of Realmuto, then Andrew Friedman should charter a plane for Realmuto’s arrival to Los Angeles.
But why is everyone so gaga for J.T.? Well, he’s really, really good. And with offense from behind the plate being at one of the lowest points in the last 50 years, the fact Realmuto and his 126 wRC+ in 2018 is available means he should be coveted.
He set a career-high in home runs (21) in 2018, which also led to a career-best mark in isolated power (.208). He also established a new career-best walk rate (7.2 percent), line drive rate (22.8 percent), fly ball rate (37.4 percent) and a career-low in ground ball rate (39.8 percent).
He’s also fast. Not just fast for a catcher, but fast. He had the 83rd-best sprint speed (of 549 ranked players) in 2018 of 28.6 feet per second. Among catchers, he was the best. If you thought Barnes was fast (27.4 ft/sec), Realmuto is faster. He’s Andrew Toles/Yasiel Puig fast, which is really saying something. This is a rare talent for catchers these days.
So, he’s a premium-hitting catcher who can run. That’s good enough for most. But he’s also a solid, agile defender behind the plate. He’s a Top-20 blocker and thrower, according to Baseball Prospectus. Where he lacks a bit is framing, which is a hallmark for Dodger catchers. Having Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes — two of the game’s best — it’s hard to give that up, but Realmuto can make up for that with his offense.
What might be most attractive about the 27-year-old is the fact the acquiring team might be getting his two best years before free agency. That is, if his offense keeps trending in the right direction.
Realmuto has two more years of team control before he hits the open market. For a contending team — like the Dodgers — he could be the perfect fit. While the future of the position is likely with Ruiz and Will Smith, it’s highly unlikely both will be ready for full-time duty next season. It’s even a stretch to say both will be ready by 2020. If Realmuto is in town for two seasons, that gives Ruiz extra time to develop and improve on the things he needs to and would allow Smith to ease into a role as a backup catcher.
The acquisition cost shouldn’t be prohibitive, but the competition for Realmuto this winter promises to be stiff. There are many teams that would love to add the game’s best catcher for a couple years. He fits on almost any team, but if Grandal doesn’t return, there may not be a better fit for his services than the Dodgers.