With their 26 wins in 2020, the Rockies finished fourth in the NL West, a finish made all the more painful given their torrid start to the season. Their .433 win percentage would translate to 70 wins in a full 162 game season, their worst mark since 2015 when they won just 68 games. Problem areas were abundant for the Rockies, making it difficult to choose a single highest priority for the offseason, but the lack of offensive production outside the top four hitters points to at least one aspect of the club that certainly needs fixing.
An upgrade at the catcher position in the form of top free agent hitter, J.T. Realmuto would go a long way towards helping rescue the Rockies bottom half of the order. Let’s take a look at how Realmuto performed in 2020 compared to the catchers the Rockies sent out.
In his 47 games in 2020, J.T. Realmuto hit for a .266 average, crushed 11 home runs (tied for the most of any catcher in baseball), and put up a career-high .840 OPS. In those same categories, The combination of catchers to suit up for the Rockies in 2020 managed a .230 batting average, two home runs, and a .569 OPS. Realmuto also comes with strong fielding credentials as a winner of the 2019 NL Gold Glove Award. Rockies catchers did perform well behind the plate in 2020, but Realmuto has been a top fielder at his position over the past several years and would be a steady force behind the plate.
Now, it’s clear that J.T. Realmuto is a great fit for the Rockies on the basis of need, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all the other pieces are set to fall into place to see him playing half his games at Coors Field in 2021. The two biggest obstacles at this point are money, and ownership’s willingness to spend (or lack thereof ), and the competition from other teams.
Financially, landing Realmuto is going to be tough for any team as he’s specifically stated his desire to be the highest paid catcher of all-time, passing a mark currently held by former Twins great Joe Mauer. It’s hard to tell where the Rockies fall in this conversation as the front office bounces between dishing out large contracts in free agency and standing pat with what they have in-house. Trauma caused by recent high-dollar commitments to relievers may cause the Rockies to be extra cautious when spending, but Realmuto is lower risk than those past endeavors. His consistent success across recent years with the Marlins and Phillies reduces the chance of a strong drop in performance and the fact that he’s just 29 years old means he’s right in the prime of his career.
As far as competition from other clubs, back-to-back losing seasons likely put the Rockies behind other teams, but Bleacher Report did give them the ninth best shot to land the catcher in their recent ranking of every team’s chances at signing Realmuto. This was a bit higher than I expected and had them firmly in the “dark horse” category.
The coming days and months will give us a better idea of what direction the Rockies plan to go in 2021, but a surprise free agent splash in the form of J.T. Realmuto would be a statement signing for a club desperately in need of some change after a tough 2020. With that said, it doesn’t seem like owner Dick Monfort has any interest in spending big this offseason, at least according to his recent letter to season ticket holders, which could quickly take the Rockies out of the running barring any philosophical changes from the owner.
That very letter presumably will cause more concern for Nolan Arenado who once again expressed his strong desire to play for a winning club when speaking to ESPN’s Karl Ravech.
“I think this year will be interesting. I’m hopeful that wherever—I wanna play for a winner. If that’s in Colorado, that’s great. And, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about: I just wanna win.”
Yes, Nolan’s performance at the plate was down last year so it’s fair to say he deserves some blame for the team’s struggles, but his difficulties at the plate were not entirely responsible for the team’s lackluster season. If the Rockies continue their ways of last offseason by sticking with what they have, Nolan may up his demands to get out of Denver, but an attempt, at least, to get Realmuto might reassure Arenado of the direction of this team.
With Daniel Murphy now a free agent and Ryan McMahon seemingly the Rockies best option at second base, first base is up for grabs. Josh Fuentes made a solid case for himself on a good run towards the end of the 2020 season, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to continue his upward trend and maintain that over a full season.
Again, we come back to Dick Monfort’s seeming plan to not spend a lot of money this offseason, but even if he did, the options at first base are limited. Tommy La Stella and Mitch Moreland are two names that jump out, but neither appears to be that much of an upgrade over what the Rockies have in-house. For now, we’ll assume Josh Fuentes will get these duties in 2021 but that is far from a settled issue. A lot will be up in the air when players report to Spring Training in just under four months.
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