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Why the Dodgers Should Pass on JT Realmuto

It has been well-documented this offseason that the Dodgers have expressed interest in Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. In Realmuto’s All-Star 2018 campaign, he posted a .277/.340/.484 slash line to go along with 21 homers and 74 RBIs. His performance was the best season for a catcher, in terms of WAR (4.8), within the last three seasons.

Realmuto is a fine player, do not get me wrong. He quite possibly is the best offensive catcher in the league at this stage of his career. However, the defensive deficiencies that he brings to the table are hard to ignore. According to Baseball Prospectus, Realmuto was the 17th-best blocker in the majors, accruing 0.9 blocking runs. On the flip side, Realmuto was the 71st-best framer in the league, accruing –0.4 framing runs for Miami. In comparison, Yasmani Grandal ranked first in framing runs and tied with Realmuto in blocking runs. When using the Baseball Prospectus comprehensive catching stat, FRAA_adj, has Yasmani Grandal ranked as the best catcher in the league with a 16.3 mark, while Realmuto was 54th-best in the metric at 0.4. An obvious downgrade defensively without much of an upgrade offensively does not make Realmuto worth the asking price.

The Marlins’ asking price is simply laughable. According to league reports, the Marlins have requested Cody Bellinger and additional top prospects in order to make a deal work with Los Angeles. With Bellinger under team control through 2023 and Realmuto only under contract through 2020, an argument can be made that Bellinger is more valuable than Realmuto all by himself. Miami reportedly asked the Braves for Ozzie Albies in a deal with Atlanta, which is also absurd. The Marlins absolutely need to lower their asking price soon, as it would not be in their best interest to not trade Realmuto at peak value. If the Marlins continue to refuse dropping the price, the Dodgers should be looking elsewhere and possibly at in-house options.

Other Options

There was a report a few weeks ago that the Dodgers had discussed a Ross Stripling-Francisco Cervelli trade with the Pirates, but it seemed as if there was more smoke than fire there. Cervelli would be a solid option to start for the Dodgers and is also a right-handed bat which the club desperately needs to balance out a current lefty-heavy lineup. Other less intriguing options exist, such as Martin Maldonado and Nick Hundley, or quite possibly even a reunion with AJ Ellis. A reunion with Yasmani Grandal might not even be out of the question if his market dissolves.

We are only a year removed from when Austin Barnes was viewed as the heir apparent to Yasmani Grandal after a fantastic end to the 2017 season. In 2018, Barnes was holistically subpar posting a line of .205/.329/.290 with a 77 wRC+. His strikeout rate jumped from a frightening 16.4% in 2017 to 28.2% in 2018. His plate discipline seemingly remained strong, however, as his walk rate remained at an elite 13% (14.9% in 2017). Across 574 career big-league plate appearances, Austin Barnes has put up a .240/.364/.372 line with a 105 wRC+, which are above-average numbers for an MLB catcher, sadly. If Barnes can produce somewhere in between what he did in 2017 and what he did in 2018, the Dodgers already possess a solid starting catcher on the roster. 

Minor League Prospects

Outside of Barnes, the Dodgers have some of the top catching prospects in baseball in Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith. Smith is a little closer to the major leagues and is viewed as a high-floor guy in comparison to Ruiz having the high-ceiling and being a little further away, possibly with a 2020 or 2021 ETA. The Dodgers remain high on both catchers and some inside the organization even believe that Smith could help at the big-league level as early as this year. The uncertainty of what the Dodgers could scrape together from a Barnes-Smith backstop duo is a little unnerving heading into the season, but it quite possibly be the best current option for LA. The Dodgers also have two high-ceiling guys still in the lower levels of the minors in Connor Wong and Diego Cartaya. Neither are expected to be in the majors by the time Realmuto’s contract with the Dodgers would be up, but it is still important to note just how much prospect catching depth the Dodgers possess.

Summary

The Dodgers possess no true reliable catching option which is atypical from what Dodger fans have come to expect. The issue is, no affordable and reliable options exist out on the open market. The last thing the Dodgers need to do is relinquish prospect capital and basically a known commodity in Cody Bellinger for two years of Realmuto. As the Indians appear less likely to deal Corey Kluber and Bryce Harper racks up long-term offers, the less likely the Dodgers seem to be getting anyone of that caliber this offseason. Friedman and Co. could have something in the works, but for now, let’s not expect too much of this offseason.

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Written by Daniel Preciado

My name is Daniel Preciado and I am 18 years old. I am a sophomore Sport Analytics major and Cognitive Science and Economics dual minor at Syracuse University. When I am not in New York, I live in Whittier, California --- not too far from Chavez Ravine. I am pretty old-school for being an analytics guy and I will always embrace debate. Also, Chase Utley did absolutely nothing wrong.

11 Comments

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  1. Interesting how Realmuto framing and blocking stats took such a nose dive in 2018 when he did very well in 2017. If you are going to use these stats then why should Cervelli be a viable option as his is stats rank in the bottom for 2018? I don’t disagree that Dodgers should move on from Realmuto if Marlins are not budging from its unrealistic demands. I feel certain that Dodgers have checked in on other options. Others worth considering? Jason Castro of the Twins who missed most of 2018 after tearing meniscus in May. Previous seasons he was a top pitch framer and blocker with some left handed power. Luke Maile (Toronto) defensive and offensive stats are similar to Austin Barnes; Michael Perez (Tampa is a well regarded defensive catcher with a canon for an arm and hit well last season against RH pitchers as a LH hitter; Blake Swihart was a highly regarded catching prospect for Boston but currently behind Vasquez and Leon — Swihart plays multiple positions and has good offensive stats against RH pitching. Trading for a younger guy like Maile, Perez, or Swihart is not a problem as either they or Barnes could be traded once Smith or Ruiz is ready in 2020.

  2. Daniel thank you!
    Finally a realistic look at Realmoto and reasons that signing him is Not the optimal solution and would in fact be counterproductive. Fact as you stated if you take the average of Barnes 2017-2018 he is a viable offensive catcher and excellent defensively and knows the staff and calls a very good game. People forget how important pre-game decisions and planning with pitching staff are. That is where a catcher shines and Barnes reportedly is well respected and liked in that area. Offense is not everything and I like Barnes better defensively. Grandal’s blocking was sub-par.
    There has been so much unrealistic reporting on the Dodgers this year it has been maddening. They were never going to trade Bellinger or big time prospects for Realmoto. They have too much talent lined up in the Farm System. They were never going to go for Harper with those types of years or 100’s of Millions of dollars. The Dodgers new management has not signed a 100 Million deal yet and I do not see one coming unless they get serious about Arenado next year which I doubt. All Rockies players are suspect as their number are hyperinflated. Machado was never going to be considered as his debut was not incredible and Seager is coming back and Lux is in pipeline.

    People forget that Kasten is in charge…He has a long term financial plan call it Atlanta Braves part two for the 2015’s and beyond. He has more money and probably better owners this time.

    But mega-year contracts are not going to happen nor are 100 million dollar plus contracts. Those are really insane for a club to do when you can pay incredibly less for close to same. look at the numbers last year for Muncy and Harper… Its laughable that he wants 10 years and 300 Million guaranteed,,,Not a chance with the Dodgers

  3. I agree with most of what Preciado says, but for me the most important thing is the asking price and salary for Realmuto. You are giving up an all-star outfielder who has 5-6 years of team control left, AND another top prospect. Realmuto has two years of contract left and he is gone to free agency or you re-sign him for a ton of money in two years when he is aging and thereby let him continue to block your top youth prospects. He is the best catcher in baseball right now, but that is from among a group of relatively substandard catchers compared to other eras, and our youth prospects look like they will exceed achievements of that group in a year of two. So why give up 10-15 years of a starting outfielder, another top prospect, block two top (and for several years , inexpensive) catchers who can play for 10-15 years, and all for an expensive player who is gone in two years? I could live with anyone, except Grandal (who will cost too much and will limit any further roster moves this off season and who is a defensive disaster) for a one year stopgap until the kids are ready. Even Barnes would be OK; we can live with a .225 BA for a year if we have to; he is solid (if not outstanding) defensively. The best way to build a dominant team, given the salary cap, is to primarily populate your roster with controllable and inexpensive players from your farm system or someone else’s, leaving you enough money to access the free agent/trade market for the few starting top dogs you are missing. Realmuto is a short term fix of a relatively minor short term problem for which you already have a long term fix.

    • Robert completely agree. I think the Dodgers should be content with Barnes and the idea of bringing up Smith and can use Gales from last years OKC Club he played well. No need to spend the future on a good but not incredible catcher. Grandall is a very good catcher by his offensive ratings but I never liked his blacking ability and he was an all or nothing offensive threat. Look at what he did in the playoffs two years running.

      There was a reason Barnes ended up playing in the playoffs where it truly counts. And as I stated in another comment Barnes is a very good pre-game planner according to reports. And the pitchers know him and like him which to me is a very big deal.

  4. Personally I would not give up Bellinger OR Verdugo for Realmuto. Marlins got fleeced in 3 deals last year (Ozuna, Yelich & Stanton) and are under pressure to get quality back but are over playing their hands. Out of 4 quality prospects coming up in the next 1-4 years it is reasonable to assume at least one would be of all star quality. Sign a stop gap to play with Barnes this year and you can always make a rental deal in July if that seems prudent.

  5. I’m a huge fan of this FO, and I get how they don’t really bend over backwards for anyone player (they even managed to keep Kenley while offering him less than other teams!) The lack of “blockbuster” signings/trades I’ve also grown accustomed to.
    That being said, after trading away Puig and Kemp, we made our team definitively worse. We got a decent prospect and salary relief, great. But as a fan, I will be pretty upset if that move isn’t a precursor to a bigger change.

    • Like you, I’m also a big fan of the Dodger’s front office. I actually think the Dodgers are in a better situation now than they would have been in with Kemp and Puig on the roster. First of all, I think Verdugo is going to be at least as good as Puig and better than Kemp this season. Second, we still have 5 or 6 very capable outfielders in Bellinger, Pederson, Hernandez, Verdugo, Taylor and Toles. Third, the move gave the Dodgers a lot of financial flexibility. They didn’t trade these guys just to trade these guys. The front office is planning on doing something. Whether they sign LeMahieu or Harper or trade for Kluber, I don’t know. If they do sign Harper I think they should also try to trade away a couple more of their outfielders to open up some space out there.

      In regards to a catcher, I don’t really see a huge need. I think Barnes is a better player than he showed last season. If they decide to do something, I think adding Ellis would be a great move for a cheap price. Not only is he an experienced veteran, but he was also one of Kershaw’s best friends when he was on the team. Bringing him back would be great for team chemistry as well as give Roberts the ability to give Barnes a day off whenever he needs it.

  6. Andrew I agree I like AJ Ellis as an extra coach and mentor for the young guys coming up and to help Kershaw reinvent himself. Who know Kershaw better? A one year deal and then maybe a coaching gig as a catching coach would be great for AJ I think.

    I do not believe they will ever sign a player for 10 years that is just crazy….Maybe Trout but just nuts.

    I like SocalBums take on second where he mentions Matt Beaty who was recently added to the 40 man roster. The guy can hit and is another of those utility guys that just wants to play. Love those gritty guys.

    I think the Dodgers should stand pat and use their Farm Guys. We will have plenty of time this year as barring injury we will have a very good offensive club starting the year with Seager, Muncy and Turner to start the year. The Rockies are the only team not rebuilding and they have some major issues and I do not think they will stay in contention. The Snakes are rebuilding as are SD and SF…So should be an easy stroll to the NL West title.

    Smith, Lux, Santana, May etc should all be fighting for a slot in 2020 as Ryu and Hill will be gone. Dodgers should be able to reload and go….

  7. For many of the same reasons others have stated… Go with Barnes as the starter…bring back AJ Ellis on a 1-yr deal to help with the pitching staff and veteran presence. Bring Smith up midway through the season or towards the end if he’s lighting it up at AA or AAA.

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