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How serious are Braves about Realmuto?
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It’s not very often that a catcher of J.T. Realmuto‘s caliber enters the free-agent market. He is widely considered to be the best all-around backstop in baseball, having captured both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in 2019 and then recorded his best offensive season to date (123 OPS+, 11 homers in 195 plate appearances) in ’20. Plus, no one controls the running game as well as Realmuto, who routinely tops catchers in Statcast’s pop time and average arm strength metrics.

Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the star catcher, who turns 30 in March. Realmuto will be tied to Draft-pick compensation after opting not to accept the Phillies’ $18.9 million qualifying offer.

Heyman: Realmuto to Braves a ‘long shot’

Jan. 22: While FanSided’s Robert Murray reported Thursday that the Braves are “circling” catcher J.T. Realmuto, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman thinks it is a “long shot” that Atlanta will actually sign him.

“Most see it as a stretch [the Braves would] go past $100 [million] for a catcher when they have [Travis] d’Arnaud,” Heyman wrote in a tweet Friday.

Granted, it’s possible the Braves could look to sign Realmuto and trade d’Arnaud, as MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi mentioned in an appearance Friday on MLB Network, naming the Angels and Blue Jays as potential destinations for d’Arnaud.

The Angels’ new general manager, Perry Minasian, has plenty of familiarity with d’Arnaud. Minasian was the Braves’ assistant GM from 2017-20, and before that, he was a scout for the Blue Jays from ’09-17. Toronto acquired d’Arnaud from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay trade the same year Minasian joined the club.

d’Arnaud was one of the top hitting catchers in MLB this past season, winning a Silver Slugger Award after posting a .321/.386/.533 slash line with nine homers in 44 games. Among players with at least 100 batted balls, only Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. had a higher hard-hit rate (percentage of batted balls with 95+ mph exit velocity) than d’Arnaud (57.8%).

However, d’Arnaud never performed at that level in previous seasons, recording a .719 OPS from 2013-19, and he’s two years older than Realmuto.

He’s also not as strong as Realmuto in the pitch-framing department. Realmuto converted 51.9% of non-swing pitches into called strikes in the shadow zone last season, the fourth-highest mark in MLB. d’Arnaud tied for 32nd (48.9%).

Could Braves snag Realmuto?

Jan. 21: The Phillies have been rumored to be in the lead for J.T. Realmuto, who spent his last two seasons in Philly, but another National League East team is reportedly in the mix, too. The Braves are “circling” on Realmuto, according to a report from FanSided’s Robert Murray. He also notes that some West Coast teams have expressed interest as well.

How Springer deal affects Realmuto market

Jan. 20: With George Springer reportedly signing with the Blue Jays, Realmuto’s market comes into clearer focus. According to a report from MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Phillies’ chances of re-signing Realmuto increase now that the Blue Jays have made their big move. Heyman notes that Toronto didn’t view catching as a big weakness anyway, but now are unlikely to add another player with a nine-figure salary commitment. The Phillies have reportedly offered a contract around $110 million to Realmuto.

Bradley to new team: Sign J.T.

Jan. 18: Archie Bradley is already endearing himself to Phillies fans. On the same day he finalized a one-year deal with the team, the reliever took to Twitter to share his thoughts on what the club should do next, sending a hashtag-only tweet with a simple request: #SignJT.

The Phillies are trying to do just that, as The Athletic’s Jayson Stark (subscription required) reported last week that Philadelphia had extended a new five-year offer worth upwards of $100 million to Realmuto.

Realmuto was reportedly seeking a larger deal at the beginning of the offseason, but at this point, the Phillies don’t appear to have many competitors.

The Mets (James McCann) and Angels (Kurt Suzuki) signed less expensive options, the Yankees opted to hold onto Gary Sánchez and have limited room in the budget with DJ LeMahieu close to a $90 million deal, and the Blue Jays are more focused on George Springer than Realmuto.

Report: Phillies extend nine-figure offer to Realmuto

Jan. 15: The dominoes are beginning to fall at the very top of the free-agent market now that the Yankees are reportedly finalizing a deal with DJ LeMahieu, and Realmuto’s own market might have gained some clarity now that the Angels have reportedly agreed to a deal with catcher Kurt Suzuki. Now, another detail has emerged: The Athletic’s Jayson Stark reports (subscription required) that the Phillies have extended a new five-year offer to Realmuto worth upwards of $100 million.

That offer is similar to what the Phillies expressed to Realmuto’s camp before the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, and thereby triggered a transactions freeze while the two sides were negotiating a contract extension, Stark reports. In November, MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Realmuto would net a five-year, $125 million deal, while FanGraphs’ crowdsourced estimate predicted a five-year, $110 million pact.

Such totals may still fall below what Realmuto and his agent, Jeff Berry, believe he should receive, Stark notes. But Stark also reports that the Phillies have “begun to position themselves as the favorite” to sign the two-time All-Star. The Mets and Angels were seen as two chief competitors before they reached agreements with James McCann and Suzuki, respectively, and the Yankees may be less inclined to spend after agreeing with LeMahieu. Meanwhile the Blue Jays, per a report from MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, appear to be more focused on signing center fielder George Springer.

New Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski confirmed to Stark that he met Realmuto and his wife in person last month.

Does this move take Angels out of Realmuto market?

Jan. 15: The Angels have agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract with veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. The Halos were known to be looking at catchers, leading to some speculation that they could be a suitor for Realmuto, but the move to add Suzuki likely eliminates them from that market.

The Angels now have Suzuki and Max Stassi behind the plate. Stassi enjoyed a breakout in 2020, producing seven homers with an .886 OPS.

Entering the offseason, improving the rotation was expected to be the Angels’ No. 1 priority. While they haven’t made any big moves on that front yet, they’ve managed to address their other needs without breaking the bank, potentially leaving room in the budget to add a top starting pitcher.

So far, the club has acquired shortstop José Iglesias and relievers Raisel Iglesias and Alex Claudio in addition to Suzuki. Those four are owed $15.25 million combined in 2021.

Phillies’ have increased optimism about re-signing Realmuto

Jan. 13: A source told MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki that the Phillies met with Realmuto in Oklahoma shortly before Christmas, confirming a report from NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Per Zolecki, the Phillies are more optimistic about re-signing Realmuto than they have been in the past. The team is also hoping to re-sign shortstop Didi Gregorius.

Realmuto’s market has been slow to develop. The Mets were considered an early favorite, but they opted to sign James McCann instead. The Angels could be a fit, though pitching is a more glaring need for the club.

The Astros, meanwhile, are considered unlikely to sign the 29-year-old, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required).

Houston already forfeited its first- and second-round picks in 2020 and ’21 as penalties for its sign-stealing scandal. After exceeding the Competitive Balance Tax threshold in 2020, the Astros would need to surrender two more picks if they sign Realmuto, who is tied to Draft-pick compensation after rejecting Philadelphia’s $18.9 million qualifying offer.

Does Mets’ blockbuster lessen odds of Realmuto returning to Phils?

Jan. 9: The Mets’ blockbuster move to acquire Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland on Thursday had a ripple effect across baseball, especially in the NL East. The Braves have some competition as they seek their fourth straight division title, but what about the Phillies? The big question in Philadelphia this offseason has been whether or not the club will be able to re-sign star catcher J.T. Realmuto. But according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman, it might all be moot if the Phils aren’t going to have a decent chance at making the postseason in 2021.

“Implicit in the idea of re-signing J.T. Realmuto is the thought that you can make the playoffs and/or contend during his remaining prime years,” Seidman writes. “Yet with every addition the Mets and Braves make to their already strong rosters, that thought becomes less realistic for the Phillies from a short-term perspective.”

Seidman goes on to suggest that the size of the postseason field next season, which is yet to be decided, will be a huge factor in determining whether bringing back Realmuto makes sense.

Dombrowski: ‘J.T. is still out there’

Jan. 5: Everyone was already thinking it, but Dave Dombrowski still reiterated it: the Phillies are looking for a catcher, and they’d love that catcher to be Realmuto.

“Right now, we need a catcher,” Philadelphia’s president of baseball operations said Tuesday on MLB Network Radio. “J.T. is still out there. He’s somebody we’d love to have as part of our organization. But we’ll see what ends up happening in that regard.”

Dombrowski noted that Andrew Knapp is really the only catcher on the Phillies’ roster at this point, and Knapp is a No. 2-type catcher, not an everyday starter. And of course Realmuto is in a league of his own at the catcher position, especially compared to the other top free agents remaining.

Dombrowski only mentioned Realmuto by name — none of the other free-agent catchers like Tyler Flowers, Jason Castro, Yadier Molina or Wilson Ramos.

Realmuto vs. Contreras — who’s best for Phils?

Jan. 1: What’s the best solution at catcher for the Phillies — re-signing Realmuto or trading for Willson Contreras?

The latter looks like an interesting alternative after reports emerged this week that the Cubs are shopping Contreras, writes NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman.

Realmuto is still the better catcher overall, but Contreras has similar upside as an all-around player at the position, with a big bat, strong arm and good speed for a catcher.

“Weighing Realmuto’s cost in dollars against the cost for Contreras in dollars and talent, it’s hard to say which would be the better option from a Phillies perspective,” Seidman writes.

He notes that the Phillies might not be willing to part with their top prospects or best young big leaguers, which could mean signing Realmuto is still the team’s best plan. But, he adds, “there’s no doubt that Contreras is the best Plan B to date in replacing Realmuto.”

Should Phillies be panicking about Realmuto?

Dec. 31: The calendar is flipping to 2021, and Realmuto, one of the top free agents on the market, remains just that — a free agent. Should that be cause for alarm for the Phillies, for whom the All-Star catcher posted an .825 OPS with 36 homers over 192 games from 2019-20, to go along with his stellar play behind the plate? According to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury, the answer is a resounding no.

Salisbury explains his reasoning by pointing out that the free-agent market for top-level talent has been more slow-developing in recent years, as agents try to push price tags up and teams try to push them the other way, causing some signings to border on the opening of Spring Training (in the Phillies’ case, see Bryce Harper and Jake Arrieta). Toss the uncertainty caused by the pandemic on top of that, and it’s not hard to see why Realmuto’s market is taking some time to mature.

But while it’s been slow-developing, Salisbury writes that the Hot Stove should start to “heat up in January.”

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