As we sail full steam ahead into the Brodie Van Wagenen era, there’s a few things I’m hoping to see as he navigates his first offseason as the Mets’ new general manager. We have a lot of work to do and if this team is truly serious about contending for a playoff spot in 2019, we need to see some action to back those words up.
Unlike his predecessors Sandy Alderson and Omar Minaya, Van Wagenen is not inheriting an organization devoid of talent at the major league level and a minor league system that’s in shambles.
Far from it… the Mets have three of the top ten starting pitchers in the league, including this year’s Cy Young Jacob deGrom. Offensively they have potential All-Stars in Michael Conforto and possibly Jeff McNeil, up-and-coming players in Amed Rosario and Brandon Nimmo, and a potential rookie of the year candidate in Peter Alonso.
This is a team that is 3-4 strategic moves away from putting them ahead of the pack in the National League East. Obviously, we need not one but two legitimate relievers for the bullpen including a closer-type. Luckily, this is one of the deepest free agent crops for relievers that we’ve seen in several years. With their top offensive player Yoenis Cespedes out until at least July, the Mets also need to find a right-handed hitting outfielder with power to tide them over.
However, what I’m yearning to see more than anything else is a significant upgrade at catcher – a significant upgrade that is long overdue.
I’m not going to spend any time singing the virtues of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. Neither of them has done anything to distinguish themselves as big league everyday catchers. Both were first round picks, but they each failed to meet expectations and in the case of d’Arnaud, there were some pretty huge expectations. Moving on…
While there’s plenty of fish in the sea if the Mets wanted to address the catching position via free agency, I would encourage them to hit the pause button and look toward South Beach where the Miami Marlins are dangling All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, the one present I wouldn’t mind having under my Christmas Tree this year.
Realmuto, 27, is certainly not a one trick pony and it’s his incredible athleticism, ability, and plate proficiency that makes him so ideal for the New York Mets.
Arguably the best offensive catcher in the game, Realmuto led all catchers and set career highs with a .828 OPS, 127 wRC+ and 4.9 WAR, while collecting 30 doubles, 21 home runs and 74 RBIs in 531 plate appearances.
FanGraphs pointed out at the beginning of the season, that Realmuto sets himself apart from other catchers because of his baserunning.
“On average, catchers drop about three runs per 600 PA on the bases while Realmuto adds about a run and a half. As a result, Realmuto gains nearly half a win per season over most catchers with decent decisions and wheels. He’s the fastest catcher in baseball, per Statcast, and his sprint speed is a hair faster than Andrew McCutchen‘s and Mike Trout‘s.”
It’s that speed that had him leading all catchers with 77 Runs Created and grounding into only nine double plays. Compare that with free agent catcher Wilson Ramos who grounded into 20 in over 100 fewer plate appearances.
As a backstop, most know about Realmuto’s powerful arm (87.3 mph), but what makes him even more special is how accurate he is – as Amed Rosario, Brandon Nimmo, and Jose Reyes learned first hand. Realmuto had a .382 caught-stealing percentage this past season, the second-best mark in MLB.
Where Realmuto really can upgrade the Mets in a similar regard, is his pop time and arm exchange According to Stat Cast, only Austin Hedges (1.89 seconds) gets the ball faster to second base than J.T Realmuto (1.90 seconds). For a starting rotation that allowed 218 stolen bases over the last two seasons, ask them who they’d like to see calling games in 2019.
After a spectacular defensive gem against the Chicago Cubs, manager Don Mattingly had nothing but praise for his young catcher.
“That was an incredible play on that bunt,” Mattingly said. “He’s a fun guy to watch back there. We’ve seen a couple of plays on this homestand, he’s just been incredible on what he can do, the plays that he makes back there.”
Teammate and Miami left-hander Justin Nicolino, came up through the system with Realmuto and knows him best. “Whether it’s calling a game, blocking the ball, playing that defense, the guy is doing it all. It’s impressive.”
I don’t want the Mets to bring in a garden variety 30-something catcher to fix a position that has been lacking for far too many years.
J.T. Realmuto could be the difference maker the Mets are longing for. His right-handed bat would fit perfectly in the lineup between Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce. The Mets are too top-heavy with lefty bats like Conforto, Bruce, Nimmo, and McNeil. For once the Mets would be putting a square peg in a square hole… what a novel idea.
Of course, if you want something this good you certainly have to pay, and therein lies the conundrum of sorts.
It’s well known that Realmuto wants no part of another rebuild in Miami and has indicated through his agent that he wants to be traded. And according to Mike Puma of the NY Post, Realmuto was “coveted by the Mets last winter and remains on the list of targets for this new regime” according to an industry source.
That’s music to my ears and given the relationship between Realmuto and his longtime agent Brodie Van Wagenen – now at the helm of the Mets – perhaps both parties are interested in a reunion?
Van Wagenen said yesterday about his former client, “That type of impact player offensively and defensively, we’ll be looking to explore all avenues to acquire those types of players, either in free agency or in trade.”
“We’ve got a great starting pitching staff and I think that the better we can make our defense — not just behind the plate, but also behind the pitchers — is something we are going to want to make sure we have shored up.”
Realmuto is under team control for two years, but there’s nothing that prohibits both parties from working out an extension.
However, there’s no time to waste. as teams are already in contact with the Marlins. In fact, Miami sportscaster Craig Mish just reported on a potential deal that could send Realmuto to the Atlanta Braves.
The Marlins are reportedly looking for a high end pitching prospect and a position player for their valuable asset. I don’t think that’s anything the Mets couldn’t handle. Hopefully they will… Let’s put Realmuto in Orange and Blue.