LAS VEGAS — I am here to answer perhaps the biggest question of the winter meetings. No, not where are Bryce Harper and Manny Machado going?
But why are so many teams — including the Mets — so zealous to get J.T. Realmuto? After all, if you look at his batting average or RBIs, you see a good player, but not a great one. So let’s try to delve into why so many see a player they would do so much to get, and why the Marlins are asking so much in return:
1. In modern baseball, teams try to determine if they are getting surplus value or negative value in a player. Each club has a formula to determine the overall (hitting, base running, defense) Wins Above Replacement level of a player, and they put a dollar value on a win. Let’s use what is publicly available (Fangraphs) and a basic concept that a Win Above Replacement is worth $8 million.
Realmuto had a 4.8 WAR last year. He is in his prime, so it is not bold to suggest he will be worth 5.0 WAR in each of his next two seasons before free agency. That total of 10 WAR is worth $80 million. Realmuto is likely to make around $18 million. That is a surplus value of $62 million. Within the current game, this is known as a bonanza.
2. But wait, last year Realmuto was 4.8 WAR and Brandon Nimmo was 4.5, so why would the Mets ever trade Nimmo plus a lot more for Realmuto?
Because productive corner outfielders are much easier to locate. Prime-aged, two-way catchers are like jeweled squid (look it up) — good luck finding one. With the decline last year of Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez, in particular, the breed pretty much vanished.
This is basic supply and demand. There is availability of talent at just about every position. But the rarity of difference-making catchers in their prime elevates Realmuto’s value substantially. Any team that has Realmuto will likely begin a game with a significant edge at catcher for a few years — perhaps more than any other player for what it is worth.
3. But couldn’t a team just buy Yasmani Grandal, who is strong on both sides of the ball? Yep. And that is a good fallback. But it will cost a good deal of free-agent money for a player who at 30 is two and a half years older than Realmuto and has lost his job in the past two postseasons for failures on both sides of the ball.
Realmuto is still a stock on the rise. He is 27. His OPS-plus has risen every year in the majors to 131 last year. That is the same as Indians star Francisco Lindor, just two points behind Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado. Remember, this is from a catcher.
And his best season last year was produced after Miami pretty much got rid of all the protection around him (Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich). It was produced playing home games in a pitcher-friendly stadium. He had an .870 road OPS last year (.773 at home). So teams with strong lineups and offense-friendly homes could project even more from Realmuto.
Plus, Realmuto is not an elite athlete for a catcher. He is an elite athlete. He was a state champion quarterback in high school and an infielder converted to catcher, who could probably move out to first or third on occasion to keep his bat in the lineup.
And it does not take much digging to get a load of checkmarks on his leadership and smarts. He was, for example, not part of the Marlins’ pre-series/game scouting meetings. He ran those meetings.
Put it all together: Huge surplus value, positional scarcity, prime age, two-way effectiveness, high-end athleticism, strong intangibles, and this is why the Mets and many others are working diligently to try to land Realmuto — and why Miami is trying to maximize this trade piece.
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