Blue Jays: Toronto arguably best suitor for J.T. Realmuto

The Blue Jays have added catcher J.T. Realmuto to their offseason wish list.

The Toronto Blue Jays need to upgrade their roster. They have money to spend. And, perhaps most importantly, they have an ownership group willing to spend it and a front office actively exploring every opportunity to improve.

Enter J.T. Realmuto, the free agent All-Star catcher who is rumored to be among the Blue Jays targets this offseason, according to Craig Mish of SportsGrid. Realmuto is coming off an 11-home run season in 47 games with the Philadelphia Phillies, driving in 32 and batting .266 with a .840 OPS. He leads all catchers with a .825 OPS over the last three seasons; his 189 RBI in that span are 17 more than any other player at the position.

He’s on the short list for the best catchers in the league and would be a significant addition to the Blue Jays roster. The Blue Jays made the postseason in 2020 for the first time in four years relying on three young catchers, Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, and Alejandro Kirk. Neither of the three is older than 25. Together, they hit just .181 and ranked 22nd in the Majors in OPS last season.

Realmuto fills an obvious need for the Jays

Adding Realmuto won’t be easy for a club that was swept in the opening round of the postseason by the Tampa Bay Rays. Teams have been reluctant to throw big-money deals at veteran catchers because of the risk of injury and breaking down with age. Joe Mauer’s eight-year, $184 million he signed with the Twins before the 2010 season remains, a decade later, the largest ever given to a catcher. Mauer’s catching career, however, was over by 2013; the Twins moved him to first base and he only caught one game over the last five seasons of his career.

It was a lesson that catchers don’t age well, but Realmuto is poised to shatter that trend. He’ll be 30 by the start of the 2021 season, his eighth in the big leagues. Realmuto, though, has only been behind the plate for 663 games through his age 29 season. Mauer had 845 games at catcher by the same age; Buster Posey, whose $22 million average salary currently leads all catchers, caught 699 games before turning 30.

Realmuto’s new contract will likely rival the $23 million that Mauer earned per season. He’s proven he has the best bat among catchers in baseball as well as providing Gold Glove-caliber defense behind the plate. Last season, he ranked 10th among catchers in pitch framing and allowed only one passed ball all season; Blue Jays catchers were 20th in framing and combined for six passed balls, fifth-worst in the league. He’s also a solid baserunner, leading all catchers with a 28.2 ft/sec foot speed last season. Only Teoscar Hernandez was faster on the Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays have already been active in free agency this offseason, re-signing Robbie Ray and nearly reaching a deal with Kevin Gausman. General Manager Ross Atkins has made known his willingness to chase every possible available player, from George Springer to Francisco Lindor. He has money to work with; thanks to a young roster that has not yet reached arbitration eligibility, the Blue Jays have just $70 million in payroll committed to next season. Last season, they had $118 million in salary commitments.

“What we’d like to do is add another really good player, or two, or three,” Atkins told MLB Network Radio last week. “We’ll see. It’s really hard to acquire elite players. This will be another opportunity for us to do it. We’ll see what happens. Whether that’s in the form of an elite pitcher, or an elite offensive player. Hopefully, we’re making the team better in several ways.”

Atkins’ commitment to getting rid of high-priced veterans and giving the Blue Jays some salary flexibility by building from the ground up paid off last season, when they were able to give Hyun Jin Ryu an $80 million contract. But that was just the beginning for the rebuilding Blue Jays. They’re in a position to target any free agent they want, and Realmuto is firmly in their sights.

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