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.
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.
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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