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January 21, 2021

How worried should Phillies be about Braves' reported interest in J.T. Realmuto?

Phillies MLB
JT-Realmuto_031620_usat John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Free agent catcher J.T. Realmuto.

On the surface, the Phillies should be extremely worried about any other team showing interest in free agent catcher J.T. Realmuto. And they should be even more concerned that the reported interest is coming from one of their own division rivals. 

But perhaps the bigger question should be just how serious are the Braves about going after Realmuto, widely considered to be the best catcher in all of baseball?

When we last checked in with the Phillies, things were looking good for their quest to sign the 29-year-old slugging backstop. They had a respectable, nine-figure offer in to Realmuto and his team, one that an even more recent report suggests is in the five-year, $110 million range. 

They also appeared to be the clear frontrunners to land the prized free agent, in large part because several other suitors had dropped out of the running because they either addressed their vacancy behind the plate with a lesser player, or they used the money they could've spent on Realmuto on another top-tier free agent. Some of the teams dropping out of the running include the Mets, Yankees and Angels — all big-market teams that surely could've pushed the Phillies to the brink had a bidding war broken out. 

Now, it seems a new team has joined the fold, and there could be others waiting to pounce should the Phillies be unable to work out a deal, according to FanSided's Robert Murray.

But why would the Braves, who already have catcher Travis d'Arnaud under contract for the 2021 season, be interested in Realmuto, especially with D'Arnaud coming off a career year in which he slashed .321/.386/.533 with nine home runs and 34 RBI in 44 games?

Well, for starters, Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball, and with that being the case, he'd be an automatic upgrade at the position for any team that signs him. Beyond that, d'Arnaud, while coming off a solid season in Atlanta, has just one year left on his deal, so perhaps the Braves are thinking more longterm here. Would they really consider platooning Realmuto? Or starting him and benching a guy who hit .321 a year ago? It would have to be one or the other, as all reports indicate that there won't be a universal DH in 2021. 

Beyond the Braves, Murray mentions some West Coast teams are showing interest, but there's not really much to go on there, and no word whether interest means anything more than a team exec saying, "Gee, that Realmuto guy is good. I wish we could sign someone like him to play catcher." 

What this might be, however, is an agent-fueled rumor in an attempt to drive up the asking price for his client, perhaps because he doesn't like the reported $22 million per year that the Phillies have already offered. Or, as was reported last year, perhaps Realmuto is still hoping to earn the richest annual contract ever for a catcher, beating Joe Mauer's $23 million per year. 

Either way, it still feels like a deal the Phillies not only will get done, but one that they need to get done. Even if they sign Realmuto, it feels like Philly has fallen even further down the NL East pecking order as some of their rivals have undergone massive upgrades this offseason. At TheLines.com, the Phillies are currently +3000 to win the World Series, tied for the 12th best odds in baseball, but well behind some of their division counterparts, like the Braves (+1000) and Mets (+1200). 

But perhaps Phillies fans shouldn't be too concerned. According to the experts at MLB.com, it's all but a done deal. In a recent poll, all six of them picked the Phillies as the landing spot for baseball's top remaining free agent. Here's a look at what two of them had to say...

Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand, executive reporter): Phillies -- A return to Philadelphia has always felt like the inevitable ending for Realmuto’s free agency, and the hiring of Dave Dombrowski to run the team’s baseball operations did nothing to change my mind. Once the Mets signed James McCann, this felt like the most sensible landing spot for Realmuto. [...]

Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports, reporter): Phillies -- Things are reportedly moving in this direction even more, and it’s what most people have expected throughout the offseason. The Phillies need to bring Realmuto back or add another impact player to compete with the Mets, Braves and potentially Nationals atop the division, and there hasn’t been much news on other potential suitors for the star catcher.  [mlb.com]

[NOTE: Five of their six experts also picked the Phillies as the eventual landing spot for Didi Gregorius.]

Of course, this came out before the Braves news was reported, but as we said earlier, we're not sure that's much more than an agent trying to get the best possible deal for his client. 

Stay tuned, as things could move quickly from here. The MLB offseason has really started to heat up in the last week, and the Phillies might be smart to get something done with fan- and team-favorite Realmuto before other clubs decide to get back in on the sweepstakes and drive the price up even further.

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