We’re talking J.T. Realmuto trade rumors in late August? Seriously?
Well, sort of.
The actual news is that the Braves announced on Wednesday a contract extension for catcher Tyler Flowers. It guarantees him $4 million in 2019 with a $6 million team option for 2020 ($2 milllion buyout).
Flowers is a Georgia native—born there, raised there, drafted (twice) by the Braves and developed in their system. They traded him to the White Sox following the 2008 season, but he later returned as a free agent. Since 2016, he’s batted .265/.366/.414 with an even stronger defensive impact and reputation. His pitch framing, for example, has saved Atlanta 58 runs since 2016, in the estimation of Baseball Prospectus. That’s the second-highest total in MLB during that span, behind only Yasmani Grandal (who’s had many more opportunities).
However, Flowers is not suited for an everyday starting gig. Working in tandem with Kurt Suzuki in recent years has been a success. Problem is that Suzuki is due to enter free agency (and a risky bet to sustain his production while approaching age 35).
That’s where Realmuto comes in, per Fancred’s Jon Heyman:
While extending Flowers now ensures that the Braves have some security at the position heading into the offseason, it doesn’t preclude them from attempting to bring in another established name like Realmuto if they deem the price to be right. Flowers’ new extension is affordable enough that the Braves could accommodate he and another higher earner on the payroll at the position.
Let’s go into the specifics, courtesy of Braves Options Guy (“Boggy”) from the Knockahoma Nation podcast crew. How much financial flexibility does the team really have to upgrade for next season and beyond?
UPDATE: ESTIMATED 2019 #Braves payroll obligations, including arb raises & league minimum players:— Knockahoma Nation (@KnockahomaNTN) August 28, 2018
$82.35M for 21 players.
Spots to fill: 1 catcher, third base, outfield, relief pitcher. There should be $30-40M to spend. Feel free to allocate it how you please. #ChopOn https://t.co/rqjg1QvLfT
UPDATE: #Braves payroll outlook (guaranteed contracts/payments/buyouts only)— Knockahoma Nation (@KnockahomaNTN) August 28, 2018
2019 - $46.75M
2020 - $32.0M
2021 - $38.0M
2022 - $1.025M
2023 - $1.0M https://t.co/zBXjWkws8e
Damn: the Braves organization is in such a ridiculously good spot. En route to a 2018 NL East title this season, they’ve received big contributions from their youngest players, most notably Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies. There’s so much more cheap, homegrown talent on the way, too. Those that can’t quite crack the major league roster could be used as assets to acquire more established veterans.
Realmuto is ballin’ out heading into his second year of arbitration eligibility. He’s closing in on career highs in most of the traditional counting stats with overall offensive production that’s approximately 30 percent better than league average. An All-Star selection and possible Silver Slugger hardware should further boost his earning potential to a salary more than double his current $2.9 million.
Keep in mind, among the key reasons why the 27-year-old Realmuto is even on the trade block is the Marlins’ reluctance to sign him to a market value contract extension. The Braves, meanwhile, can comfortably find common ground thanks to their lack of long-term commitments and the healthy revenue streams associated with SunTrust Park and their national fanbase.
Just about every contending team will kick the tires on Realmuto during this upcoming offseason. Grandal is poised to break the bank in free agency and the Cubs won’t part with Willson Contreras, which leaves the athletic Oklahoma native as the clear No. 1 bang-for-the-buck value at the catcher’s position.
This begs the question: Would you be comfortable with the Marlins sending Realmuto to Atlanta if that means competing against him frequently for the rest of his productive years?