The Milwaukee Brewers have so far committed to bringing back both of their primary catchers from 2018, re-signing Erik Kratz to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration as well as tendering a contract to Manny Pina (which allows the two parties to continue negotiating until after the new year in order to try and avoid a hearing). But while the team would surely tell you that they’d be content entering Spring Training with that productive tandem behind the plate, that may not be stopping them from looking for an upgrade at the position.
Sources: Still “in" on J.T.Realmuto: NYM, PHI, SD, ATL, TB….not as aggressive but “in” are LA, COL, Milw, Hous, CWS— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) December 7, 2018
According to Jim Bowden of the Athletic (and former MLB GM), the Brewers are one of 10 teams that are still “in” on Miami Marlins catcher JT Realmuto. The 27 year old (28 next March) has a legitimate argument as the best catcher in baseball, batting .286/.338/.454 over the last three seasons with 49 home runs and 23 steals. He’s coming off the finest season of his career after posting a .277/.340/.484 with 21 home runs in 531 trips to the plate for Miami in 2018. Realmuto was an All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner, and he was also chosen to represent the MLB during last month’s Japan All-Star Series.
Realmuto is projected to earn $6.1 mil in arbitration next year via MLB Trade Rumors and will have one more season of arbitration eligibility left after that before becoming a free agent following the 2020 season. According to his agent, Realmuto expects to be wearing a different uniform and a dearth of quality-hitting catchers in the game makes JT and his two years of cheap control especially valuable on the trade market this winter. Miami is undoubtedly asking for quite a haul in return for Realmuto’s services, which may be why the Brewers aren’t thought to be as aggressive as other teams in their pursuit of the All-Star backstop.
It’s not tough to imagine Miami requesting Keston Hiura in any hypothetical trade scenario that would send Realmuto to the Cream City. Hiura is universally considered to be Milwaukee’s top prospect, and while the Brewers didn’t hesitate in sending their former top prospect to Miami last winter in the Christian Yelich deal, the circumstances are different this time around. Milwaukee’s farm system is far thinner than it was as this time last year, largely depleted at the upper levels after several trades and prospect graduations during the playoff run this past season. Putting together a package for Realmuto now that includes Hiura, and probably one the trio of Burnes/Woodruff/Peralta, would leave the Brewers with arguably one of the worst minor league systems in baseball. That could seriously hamper potential efforts to upgrade via the trade market if they’re in a pennant race in July, when unlike during the offseason, signing a free agent upgrade isn’t really an option.
Realmuto doesn’t exactly rate as a top-notch defender, either, coming in with -7 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018 and -24 DRS in over 4,200 career innings behind the plate. Though he’s caught an overall 33% of attempted base thieves (and 38% in 2018), Realmuto has only rated as an above-average pitch framer once during his four full MLB seasons. Baseball Prospectus’ new hitting metric Deserved Runs Created also disagrees with the conventional wisdom regarding just how valuable of a hitter he’s been:
JT Realmuto, last four seasons according to @fangraphs:— Kyle L. (@brewerfan28) December 7, 2018
2015: 89 wRC+
2016: 111 wRC+
2017: 107 wRC+
2018: 126 wRC+
Last four seasons according to @baseballpro:
2015: 93 DRC+
2016: 93 DRC+
2017: 99 DRC+
2018: 113 DRC+
This will certainly be a situation to monitor heading into next week’s Winter Meetings. There have already been quite a few significant transactions at this point in the offseason, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see something definitive happen with Realmuto while all 30 teams are gathered in Sin City. However the Brewers aren’t believed to be close to dealing for Realmuto, or anyone else for that matter, at this point in time.
Just checked in with David Stearns as Brewers officials get ready to head to Vegas for the Winter Meetings. Some talks ongoing, but no imminent trades or signings. Remember, the Brewers have almost their entire team coming back. They feel like they can be patient in 2B search.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) December 7, 2018
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus