Detroit Tigers: The Marathon Move is Signing J.T. Realmuto
By Jon Erkkila
If we can mostly agree over a one-year Jonathan Schoop contract being a sprint and a possible five-year deal for J.T. Realmuto being a marathon, then perhaps we can also reach a consensus the Detroit Tigers need to seriously consider putting in the road work to get ready for long distances.
Let’s start by acknowledging what’s been out there. Anything written around the baseball world regarding free agency has not linked the Detroit Tigers to J.T. Realmuto, George Springer, D.J. LeMahieu, or any of the top bats available. That’s fine. Rebuilding clubs aren’t expected to make the loudest splash over the winter. The Tigers would need to insert themselves into these discussions by the brute force of dollars offered.
The Tigers, however, are in a spot where idleness makes little sense. Even the short term one-year sprinter’s contracts seem problematic when looking into their future.
Detroit just went out on a limb and hired the controversial, but so far rather popular, A.J. Hinch to manage the club. Eye-opening events on the SouthSide of Chicago have dwarfed the Tigers PR issues with Hinch. It appears the baggage Hinch carries from his ill-fated ending as the Astros’ skipper might not be an anchor tied to him. Especially should the Tigers show marked improvement in year one.
Hinch has brought in a coaching staff that is also garnering mostly nods of approval from all quarters. The questions this seems to bring up is….why waste year one with Hinch on basically a replica roster of 2017 through 2020?
The Tigers organization has to be mentally ready to attempt to wash off the acrid stench of continual losing they’ve endured of late. As far as Hinch goes, he has to be ready to excise his demons from Houston and prove he can lead a team out of the deep wilderness and into contention. Hinch must prefer to do it sooner than later if possible.
Burning a year of Hinch’s staff being on hand is a waste if no real effort is made to take large steps with the roster. Lloyd McClendon and the remnants of the Gardenhire crew could easily finish 5th again with a ragtag roster. Hinch was a winner’s move to the Tigers credit. But it’s a move requiring following up with equally large investments on the field.
J.T. Realmuto would be one such move. The Tigers’ organizational weakness at the catching position is fairly obvious. No one on the major league roster is worth much. Prospect Jake Rogers didn’t even merit a call-up at the end of a lost season. Other youngsters are in various stages of development but no one is knocking any doors down for big league playing time.
J.T. Realmuto would immediately fortify the position for several years. He’s arguably the top free agent on the market. His athleticism and running abilities are hailed as reasons why he’s as good a bet as any to defy the aging curve for catchers at least for much of any proposed deal. Realmuto has been successful in throwing out runners and gets solid grades on pitch framing to add to his value.
J.T. Realmuto also gets his solid bat into a fair number of games each year. He does not have an injury problem reputation in baseball. Plugging in a consistent 120 or higher OPS+ hitting catcher into the lineup for 125 games immediately provides a ceiling Grayson Greiner and the rest of the Tigers backstops will never sniff.
In short, the benefits of signing a player of J.T. Realmuto’s caliber don’t have to be extolled too long. He “fits” on most clubs. Realmuto would be a potential game-changer in Detroit. The Tigers payroll is dropping to such minuscule levels they could afford to make a real run at signing two premium hitters on the free-agent market and still afford to fill in a few slots with shorter deals.
Would J.T. Realmuto even consider Detroit? If your answer is somewhere between “no” and “Hell no!” I won’t argue too much. The Tigers would need to fearlessly step up and overpay in years and/or money. They would need to stun the baseball world and offer deals out of the comfort range of other clubs. That might include a 6th year at a record AAV for a catcher ($24M?). Does 6-yr/$144M bring Realmuto to Detroit? No one knows until the offer is on the table.
The Tigers could follow up with a move on Springer or Marcel Ozuna. Suddenly their offense would have some juice and have it sprinkled with the hope of Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene being on the way and possibly soon. Add in a shorter-term deal for Schoop or perhaps Jackie Bradley, Jr. if you like. One-year pitchers like Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello could affordably fill spots on the pitching side as well.
Bringing on Hinch to manage the club was a move designed around long term success. A marathon in other words. In many instances, a marathon runner paces themself early. Detroit doesn’t need to do that. Hinch is in place. Torkelson and Greene are close enough. The owner is a multi-billionaire. The free-agent market during COVID 19 looks depressed and possibly short on competition. The need for premium position players is obvious.
Any decision made by the Tigers’ front office to sit out the off-season pursuit of premium players is purely a choice they’ll make…not an imposed sentence
There is no need to lope along. This would be the first off-season of this rebuild process where being quiet and conservative would seem like an opportunity lost. There is no guarantee what will be available in future seasons. J.T. Realmuto and George Springer are out there right now. Go the distance. Get prepared to run 26.2 miles with Realmuto types instead of C.J. Cron level fellows.
It might not be realistic to expect the Tigers to go on a spending frenzy this off-season. But it sure sounds like the new Mets owner intends to explore every avenue to improve fast. Steve Cohen is looking to compete. Chris Ilitch has the resources to do the same. Will he unsheathe the sword of his vast wealth now or wait like some seem to believe he will?