Elite free agent J.T. Realmuto may choose to sign a one-year deal for 2021. Should the Toronto Blue Jays be interested?
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J.T. Realmuto is said to have a particular contract value in mind, and is waiting for the market to come to him. In any normal year, a player of his calibre could pretty much set his own price – but this is no ordinary year. As potential suitors take other paths (the Mets signed McCann) and other catching options come to the table (the Cubs are said to be shopping Willson Contreras) the possibility that JTR does not get his price – at least this offseason – is becoming very real.
So what happens then?
JTR could of course just sign for a lesser amount. But if he strongly believes that the only reason that his market was depressed was the current Covid craziness, he might prefer to leave the door open for another try at free agency in the upcoming off-season. He could do so either with a one-year pillow contract (Jake Taylor … err … Jacob Tyler is only 29) or with a multi-year deal with an opt-out after year 1. Either way, teams would have to decide whether a single guaranteed year of Jake is worth the cost.
So how about the Blue Jays? Should they consider a single year of Jake?
Let’s start with the cost. JTR has a qualifying offer, so if the Blue Jays signed him they would lose their 2021 second round draft pick as well as $500,000 of international pool money. Per Fangraphs, a draft pick in the 50-60 overall range (which is where the Jays’ 2021 second rounder should be) is worth roughly $6 million. If you assume that the international pool money is worth another $2 million, that totals $8 million of “QO cost”. Assume further that Jake would require a good one-year payday – good, as in “the highest single year salary ever earned by a catcher”. To date, that record is held by Joe Mauer at $23 million per. So say (for the sake of the argument, as we Irish say) that Jake would want $24 million. That would make his total cost $32 million-ish.
Realmuto is projected to earn roughly 4 fWAR in 2021. At $8 million per win, that equates to roughly $32 million of value. But fWAR does not always capture the full value of an elite catcher. So you could argue that Jake is fully valued at $32m, or that he is still a bargain to some extent. But at a minimum, it would not be a gross overpay.
Ah, but you might say, the Blue Jays are unlikely to be serious World Series contenders in 2021. So why invest in an elite player for that one year?
Reason #1 is Danny Jansen. Dan-Jan had an excellent defensive 2019, even becoming a gold glove finalist, but slipped badly in 2020. Imagine what a full year studying under one of the top defensive catchers in baseball could do for his game? Not to mention the advantage of being able to recover his mojo as the #2 catcher, out of the spotlight. Some might argue that all Danny needs is reps, so moving him out of the #1 catching spot would only hurt him. I do not agree with the concept that reps are the cure-all – in fact, sometimes having a player continue to do the wrong thing over and over only reinforces the suboptimal behaviour until it becomes un-unlearnable.
Reason(s) #2 are Gabriel Moreno and Alejandro Kirk. Without another catcher signing, one of them might end up on the MLB roster in 2021. That would, in my view, be a mistake. Both would benefit enormously from a year in the minors, out of the spotlight, to polish their craft so they could hit the ground running in 2022. So if Realmuto *did* opt out after 2021, the Blue Jays could have a catching tandem of a well-trained and hungry Jansen and a fully-polished Kirk in 2022. If JTR did NOT opt out, then either Danny or Alejandro would become uber trade chips.
Reason(s) #3 are Nate Pearson and the other “kids” (Merryweather/Kay/Hatch/Thornton/etc). A catcher with elite game-calling skills can be of tremendous benefit to a young pitcher (also to a veteran one – remember when Russell Martin was credited with reviving the careers of Francisco Liriano and A. J. Burnett in Pittsburgh?). Nate and the kids have high upside, but it will take careful management to ensure that potential is not wasted. For Nate to be pitching to a Realmuto in his first full MLB year could not only raise his already-high ceiling but also accelerate the speed at which he gets there.
There are other advantages as well. Pitchers like Robbie Ray and Tanner Roark are coming off poor 2020 years, and could use the extra help to rebound in 2021. Toronto’s 0.53 stolen bases against per game was 19th in baseball in 2020 – in 2019, JTR’s 46.7% caught stealing percentage led the majors. And for a team looking to throw more strikes, adding the catcher with the second highest pitch framing rating in baseball in 2020 would seem to have some small merit.
The bottom line
Ideally, the Jays will find a way to sign Realmuto on a long-term deal at a reasonable price. But this is no slam-dunk. It therefore behooves the FO to consider a back-up plan, and signing Jake for what might be a single year is less crazy than it appears.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.