Upgrading the catcher position seems to be the top priority for the Astros. Oh, look, another J.T. Realmuto rumor. Excuse the lack of surprise shown in my work.
We’ve all known for a while that the Astros have been interested in a specific Marlins’ catcher. At Climbing Tal’s Hill, the rumored interest has been detailed here last February, again in July, and numerous times in between. In what became an inside joke at Climbing Tal’s Hill, Realmuto has taken the mantle from Chris Archer — now with the Pirates — as the most-discussed off-and-on trade rumor involving the Astros.
As stated by Realmuto’s agent, Jeff Berry, on MLB Network Radio a few days ago and reported by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the All-Star catcher will not sign a contract extension with Miami. Based on Sherman’s report, the Astros are “an expected strong player” with the Dodgers also in the mix to “a slightly lesser extent.” Quite frankly, this isn’t a surprise to much of anyone.
The fit is obvious for the Astros as their catching corps are relatively thin. Brian McCann, the club’s starting catcher during their championship run, is a free agent following Houston’s decision to not exercise his $15 million club option just a few days ago. Martin Maldonado was acquired before the trade deadline to shore up the position, but he is mainly a defense-first catcher. Max Stassi filled in admirably, but his production faded over the second half of the season. Evan Gattis, another free agent, has played catcher in the past, but he is viewed more as a DH-only option today. There is an obvious hole at the position for 2019 that general manager Jeff Luhnow hopes to fill.
Realmuto would’ve be an upgrade over every catcher on the Astros’ roster last season. Generally considered the best hitting catcher in 2018, he slashed .277/.340/.484 with a 131 OPS+ in 531 plate appearances. While he wasn’t the best in terms of framing runs (-0.4 runs) by Baseball Prospectus, he was 21st in Fielding Runs Above Average (4.2 FRAA) last season. To his credit, he did throw out 38% of would-be base stealers. While his defense isn’t arguably better than Maldonado, Realmuto provides a lot more value as an hitter.
Even though I risk sounding like a broken record, the key to acquiring Realmuto will remain the return package to Miami. You’d have to reasonably expect that the starting point in any trade discussion is either Kyle Tucker or Yordan Alvarez, Houston’s top two position prospects. Forrest Whitley, the club’s top pitching prospect, will likely remain off-limits in any trade talks. But the package won’t end with the headliner as the Marlins would likely demand a few well-regarded prospects in return.
Stay tuned for further updates as the offseason is just starting to simmer. I am crossing my fingers that it isn’t a repeat of last year’s slow crawl to spring training.