Will Washington regret not signing J.T. Realmuto?
It has been almost two months since J.T. Realmuto re-signed with the Phillies on a five-year deal worth $115.5 million. His new contract is worth $23 million a year, making him the highest-paid catcher per AAV. Dating back to when Realmuto was still with the Marlins, Washington had been tied to the 29 year old for what seems like an eternity (2018). Since then, the Nationals have been interested in the catcher’s services, but hung up the phone when Miami asked for Victor Robles. Now that the veteran reached free agency, Washington was once again tied to signing him. But they held off due to Realmuto’s high asking price.
Now that he re-signed with the Phillies, it’s too late for Washington’s front office to change their mind. With Washington strapped for cash, they decided to look elsewhere to bolster their roster. Now the question arises, did the Nationals make the smart decision. The answer is, yes.
Entering the off-season, the Nationals were lacking a power bat that could add protection for Juan Soto. Instead of splurging, Mike Rizzo traded for Josh Bell and signed Kyle Schwarber. While both lack Realmuto’s consistency, neither are as expensive and add some much-needed pop.
Realmuto turned 30 in March and signed for $23 million a year. That is an expensive deal for an aging catcher, a position with a notably shorter shelf life. Only a few catchers over the years have been worth such a payday, with Joe Mauer and Buster Posey coming to mind. In fact, Mauer and Posey are the top two highest-paid catchers of all time, with the two receiving extensions of $184 million and $159 million respectively. The duo are former MVPs and were game-changers from both sides of the plate. Realmuto is an elite defender, but his bat seriously lags behind the other two.
The Phillies backed themselves into a corner and were forced to come to terms with Realmuto. After all, they shipped out Sixto Sanchez, a highly touted pitching prospect to Miami for the catcher’s services. Sanchez made his MLB debut with the Marlins in 2020 and quickly turned heads. In seven starts, he went 3-2, with a 3.46 ERA, 33 strikeouts, and a 3.50 FIP. The youngster was key in Miami winning their first playoff series since 2003. Philadelphia’s pitching staff is top heavy, with question marks looming behind Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler. The Phillies staff could undoubtedly use Sanchez’s skill in an ever increasingly NL East.
Washington on the other hand, held firm in the past and avoided having to part with young talent for Realmuto. Due to this, they weren’t obligated down the road to reach a deal for the catcher. Instead, they were able to carefully monitor the situation and smartly realized he wasn’t worth the overpay.
While Realmuto has put up solid numbers in the past, he alone won’t get Washington over the hump. The Phillies acquired him to team him up with Bryce Harper in order to run the NL East. Instead, the Phillies had back-to-back third-place finishes, missing the playoffs in both 2019 and 2020. In his two years in Philadelphia, Realmuto hit .273, with 36 homers, 115 RBIs, and an OPS of .825. Solid numbers, but nothing that advocates what he is being paid. To put it in perspective, last season he had a wRC+ of 125, good for 45th in the league. Since entering the league in 2014, his career wRC+ of 109 has him 123rd in the league. This puts him in the middle of the pack.
Catchers who effect the game from both sides of the plate don’t grow on trees, but with the Nationals having so much money invested in the rotation, the front office decided against going over the luxury tax. Washington’s roster on paper seems deeper than the Phillies, despite not having a game changing catcher. Now, only time will tell if Realmuto was worth the pay day.