It’s midnight in Manhattan, this is no time to get cute
It’s a mad dog’s promenade
So walk tall, or baby, don’t walk at all
Walk tall is to stand up and show pride and self-respect. It’s my opinion that the way you walk tall as a blogger is to give people information or opinions or stories that they’re not getting anywhere else. And it’s not an easy thing to do when there are a hundred different sites out there writing about the Mets.
That’s why generally we don’t do trade articles even though they’re popular with readers. Do you want to be the 75th person this week to write about the Mets trading for a catcher? We violated that tenet on Monday when David spoke about what kind of a farm system package it might take to land J.T. Realmuto. It was worthwhile because it wasn’t what these devolve into too often – hey let’s package our trash and get something good! Instead, he put together guys that my preseason top 50 list had rated 3rd, 12th and 22nd.
Some felt that this was not enough and they’re probably right, at least from the Marlins’ point of view. They have a desirable asset and no reason to squander it. Miami should not make a trade unless it clearly wins the deal.
But this is a blog about the Mets, not the Marlins.
Sometimes it’s okay to overpay in a trade. But when you do that, you have to determine if this is the right time and if this is the right player. In those 75 other articles about trading for Realmuto, most have addressed the former. But no one’s really addressed the latter. Instead it’s just been assumed. Not wanting to make an ass out of either one of us, let’s take a minute to examine whether this is true. Let’s start off with what we know:
1. Mets need a catcher
2. The state of catching is pretty sorry and not a ton of quality backstops are on the market
3. Realmuto has combined for 7.1 fWAR the past two seasons
4. He doesn’t want to be in Miami and new ownership there isn’t opposed to trading
OK, let’s do a little history on Realmuto. He was a third-round pick of the Marlins in 2010 and he made his MLB debut in 2014. Prior to the ’14 season, Chris St. John of Beyond the Box Score did a compilation of the Marlins’ top 28 prospects, combining lists from 19 different sources. Realmuto ranked 10/11 on these lists. After a cup of coffee in ’14, he was solid in ’15 and very good the past two seasons. He began 2018 on the DL but has been back for six games and is off to a very hot start.
This is all positive. But it’s important to note that this is not Buster Posey we’re talking about. This was a third-round pick who the year of his debut was at the back of the club’s top 10 list. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that – amateur evaluators and minor league mavens are far from perfect. But this is not someone who was projected to be an All-Star from either the moment he signed his first professional contract or when he made his major league debut.
Realmuto’s first big year came at age 25 when he posted a 3.5 fWAR. That’s young, but it’s not elite. Posey had a 4.0 fWAR season at 23, Joe Mauer had a 3.4 fWAR at 22 and Brian McCann had a 4.3 fWAR at the same age as Mauer. The best catchers in major league history since World War II were all established in the majors by age 24.
To be clear, this is not meant to knock Realmuto. It’s just to establish that he’s someone who worked himself from being a solid amateur to a good minor leaguer to an above-average major leaguer at his position. At no point was he a can’t miss prospect, he’s yet to make an All-Star team and it’s incredibly unlikely that he’ll be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Hopefully we can all agree that Realmuto is a good but not great catcher. If we can all agree to that, the question becomes what’s an appropriate value to place on a good but not great catcher in his age 27 season?
Coming into this season, Realmuto had played in 415 games, amassed 1,621 PA and accumulated 9.0 fWAR. Let’s look at the good catchers since World War II who have amassed at least 1,000 PA thru their age 26 season. The top catcher in this time frame is Johnny Bench, with 43.6 fWAR. But again, we’re looking at good but not great catchers. Carlton Fisk had 13.5 fWAR thru his age 26 season, so let’s use that as our cutoff point. Remember Realmuto had 9.0 fWAR, so we’ll look at his peers, some who were slightly better and some who were slightly worse. Oh, and we’ll ignore Craig Biggio, who started as a catcher but then moved to two different positions. Here’s our list. The first number after the name is his fWAR thru age 26 and the second number is his combined fWAR in his age 25 and 26 seasons:
Rich Gedman – 13.1, 8.8
Played six additional years, never exceeding 332 PA or 1.3 fWAR in a single season
Mike Scioscia – 12.5, 9.0
Played seven more seasons, ranging from 2.0-3.2 fWAR in the first six of those
Jim Sundberg – 11.7, 7.3
Played 12 more seasons with a personal-best 5.2 fWAR in his age 27 season. He also tacked on four additional fWAR seasons of 3.0 or better and one at 2.9
Matt Wieters – 11.6, 8.3
Still active and this is his sixth year after his age 26 season. He had a 2.5 fWAR in his age 27 season and has not cracked 2.0 since, although there have been injury problems, too.
Charles Johnson – 11.6, 6.5
Was very good the next three seasons – putting up a combined 11.5 fWAR. Played four additional seasons but was no longer a good player.
John Stearns – 10.8, 9.3
Played six more seasons, with a combined 7.9 fWAR, although injuries were a problem. He posted a 3.3 fWAR in 392 PA in his age 30 season.
Earl Williams – 10.2, 1.0
Played just two seasons after age26 and did not distinguish himself in either.
Del Crandall – 12.1, 4.9
Played 10 more seasons, including three straight years with at least a 4.0 fWAR. Five of those 10 seasons had a mark under 1.0, including two that were in negative numbers.
Ed Bailey – 9.8, 8.8
Played nine more years, with a 9.3 combined fWAR over his age 27-29 seasons.
Jim Pagliaroni – 9.8, 5.6
Played five more seasons and was very good at age 27 but forgettable after that
Rick Wilkins – 9.7, 8.7
Played eight more seasons, never topping a 1.7 fWAR
Ray Fosse – 9.6, 4.3
Played five more years, never topping a 1.6 fWAR
Earl Battey – 9.2, 7.5
Played six more seasons, three where he was close to his age 25-26 production and three where he wasn’t.
Realmuto – 9.0, 7.1
Tony Pena – 9.1, 7.5
Played 15 more seasons and was good in four of those, including a career-best 5.0 fWAR in his age 27 season.
Milt May – 9.0, 1.4
Played seven more seasons, putting up a 2.3 fWAR in his age 31 season, the only time in those seven seasons where he topped a 2.0 mark.
Kurt Suzuki – 8.9, 4.5
Still active and this is his eighth year since his age 26 season. Last year at age 33 was his first time cracking a 2.0 fWAR since he was 25.
Clay Dalrymple – 8.7, 7.0
Played eight more seasons and was not very distinguished in seven of those. Put up a 2.7 fWAR at age 29, though.
John Romano – 8.7, 7.5
Played six more seasons and was very good in four of those, including a 4.9 fWAR in his age 27 season
Gene Tenace – 8.6, 5.2
Played 10 more seasons and was very good in seven of those and excellent in a part-time role for two of the other three.
Yadier Molina – 8.5, 5.8
Still active and this is his ninth season after age 26. He was solid at age 27 and excellent from age 28-31. He’s still good but his reputation has been cemented.
Alex Avila – 8.3, 2.8
Still active but has never come close to his 4.6 fWAR from his age 24 season.
Javy Lopez – 8.3, 5.7
Played nine additional seasons, sprinkling in four good years, including a 6.8 fWAR in his age 32 season.
There’s no clear pattern and whatever bias you come in here with, you can find something that fits your point of view. Think Realmuto is a must-get? Point to Scioscia, Sandberg or Tenace to support that opinion. Think he’s overrated? Point to Gedman or Wieters or Wilkins to buttress that position. But there was more here than I was expecting. Entering this, my opinion was that Realmuto was not worth getting. Now my position has changed in that they should look to make a deal that makes sense. They don’t have to “win” the trade. But they shouldn’t get held up, either.
The last big trade the Mets made for a position player was when they acquired impending free agent Yoenis Cespedes at the 2015 trade deadline. In that deal, the Mets gave up two upper level arms who’ve both gone on to reach the majors. Michael Fulmer was considered the big piece and he won Rookie of the Year in 2016 and made the All-Star team last year. Luis Cessa has pitched in 30 games in the majors, including 14 starts and has been essentially a league average pitcher in that stretch with a 98 ERA+. Both players have probably exceeded expectations that existed when the trade was made.
Cespedes was in the middle of a very strong year when the Mets got him. But Realmuto is younger, plays a more premium defensive position, comes with a much cheaper current contract and also has two additional years of control. The wild card in here is how you view the volatility of catchers who are Realmuto’s peers as listed above. Even though he was older and more expensive, Cespedes was more likely to give strong production.
My take is that Realmuto’s worth acquiring so long as you’re ready, willing and able to let him walk once he becomes a free agent. There are enough success stories on the above list to make this a worthwhile gamble but nearly all of them have just three or four productive seasons left. It’s better to let a guy leave a year too soon rather than a year too late.
When he was dealt, Fulmer was a 22 year old having a very nice season in Double-A after a so-so season in Hi-A the year before. That’s pretty close to the definition of Corey Oswalt, or more precisely Oswalt last season. Let’s say Fulmer’s the better prospect because he was drafted higher and is a year younger. So, how much more do you have to add to Oswalt to equal Fulmer? And what’s the equivalent of Cessa? And what’s a realistic sweetener to make the deal worthwhile for the Marlins? It’s probably easy to answer the first two questions. But the deal will hinge on the third one.
To me, Chris Flexen is the equivalent of Cessa. And I look to answer the other two questions in one swoop. My offer to the Marlins would be Oswalt, Flexen and their choice of any player in the org. There are several players I’d hate to lose – Oswalt among them – but this is the cost of doing business. And if the Marlins want more then walk away.
Miami should be asking for the moon. But just because someone asks something, doesn’t mean that you have to give it. There’s room for negotiation. If the Marlins want two additional players then perhaps you designate a couple of prospects as off-limits, say Andres Gimenez and David Peterson. Maybe it’s Oswalt, Flexen, Peter Alonso and Kevin Plawecki.
No doubt some of you are exasperated and feel that the Marlins wouldn’t even consider my proposals. Perhaps you’re right. But giving more than that from the Mets’ side is my belief where the Mets should say thanks but no thanks and walk away. Prospects are risky but so are good but not great catchers. And the Mets shouldn’t pretend otherwise, even if they need a catcher right now.