Could J.T. Realmuto Be Returning Home This Winter?
Veteran Francisco Cervelli has retired, and his replacement Jorge Alfaro ended up on the bench for the last half of 2020. That chain of events led to longtime backup Chad Wallach taking over as the regular catcher for the Miami Marlins, who will head into the winter meetings in need of shoring up that position.
Not only has new Miami General Manager Kim Ng made history as the first female GM in the sport, but she could also become endeared to Marlins fans in the first month of her tenure in the front office. She can begin negotiating with the best catcher on the free agent market, a guy Miami drafted ten years ago and developed him into an All-Star.
Such a deal would require the often frugal Marlins, now owned by Derek Jeter, to open their pockets. They will never have the financial resources of the Yankees or Cubs or Dodgers, but they did open up some payroll space last month.
Cervelli's retirement freed up at least $2 million, added to another million after reliever Brandon Kintzler was allowed to enter free agency. Realmuto will certainly request almost three times that amount even in the conservative market expected this winter, but the combined salaries of those two departures could help offset the cost of once again making Realmuto a Marlin.
True, Miami does seem a long shot for landing a top free agent such as Realmuto, and baseball forecasters have the Mets as his likely future employers. New York, after all, has no current catcher, as well as a new owner who has openly stated a desire to bring in some stars.
What the Marlins have in their favor, in addition to an eager new general manager, are several factors. They have a long history with Realmuto, who has spent all but two years of his professional career in the organization.
Unlike the Mets, Miami actually made the playoffs last year, mainly because of a talented corps of young players. Realmuto could help lead his first organization to build on what has already become a postseason team, while playing under 2020 Manager of the Year Don Mattingly.
Since he is seeking a five year deal similar to the one Joe Mauer signed ten years ago, Realmuto might be a better fit in Miami. With the designated hitter likely to remain in both leagues, he could get more opportunities to be in the lineup on non-catching days than he would in New York.
Realmuto did play about a quarter of his games at either DH or first base last season, a percentage which will no doubt increase as he ages. The Mets already have two DH-first base type of young stars in Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso, who would be extremely difficult to take out of the lineup on days when Realmuto does not catch.
No such problem exists in Miami, where he could easily be slotted in at either DH or first base on any game he was not behind the plate. Increased days off from the physical toll of catching would keep him fresh for the tenure of his contract, and possibly enable him to play for a half dozen years after that.
Miami's ace in the hole of course for any prospective free agent is the fact that it rests in the state of Florida, which has an attraction well beyond its gorgeous sunshine and countless beaches. By signing with the Marlins, Realmuto could thereby avoid paying any state income tax, a considerable factor in a deal that could reach $120 million over five years.