The Los Angeles Dodgers have been connected to J.T. Realmuto in a trade after losing Yasmani Grandal to free agency. In this whole situation, everyone is overlooking Austin Barnes.
With elite prospect Keibert Ruiz in the farm system, the Dodgers likely would not sign Grandal to a contract any more than two seasons. Unless Grandal has a Mike Moustakas situation, in which no one offers him the money he wants, he is more than likely going to be suiting up for another team in 2019.
With that in mind, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been heavily connected to Miami Marlins catcher, J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto reportedly wants out of Miami and the Dodgers are one of the front-runners for him.
However, the reported trade packages are a bit absurd. Some have reported that it will take as many as three elite prospects to get Realmuto; others have stated that it is going to take some deal including Cody Bellinger and/or Yasiel Puig.
As good as Realmuto is, that is simply too much for a guy that is only a slight upgrade from Grandal. Despite his late season woes, Grandal’s .815 OPS was only ten points lower than Realmuto’s .825.
Realmuto did have the edge in FanGraphs WAR last season with a 4.8 WAR compared to Grandal’s 3.6. That was a result of Realmuto being better defensively (at least statistically) despite having eight passed balls, only one fewer than Grandal, in 23 fewer games played behind the dish.
My point is there is no point in selling away huge pieces when Realmuto won’t be exceptionally better than what the Dodgers had last season, especially when there are prospects in the system.
However, my point is also that the Dodgers should be just fine with Austin Barnes as the catcher in 2019. While a lot of fans would disagree, Barnes is getting seriously overlooked in this entire discussion.
The Dodgers are still going to have to make some sort of addition. Whether that is plucking Will Smith from AAA to serve as the back-up catcher, signing A.J. Ellis or making a cheaper trade for a catcher (like Francisco Cervelli), Barnes needs some sort of relief.
While that is true, what is not true is the idea that Barnes is a poor catcher. Many fans are masked by a poor season that Barnes had that really was not his fault.
He had to split time with Yasmani Grandal behind the plate and was often brought in late in games or taken out early in games depending what the matchup dictated. Barnes had virtually no chance to get in a rhythm and when you’re aren’t seeing big league pitching as often, that will happen.
Look at Enrique Hernandez. His batting average rose 41 points and his OPS rose 77 points just from the luxury of getting a chance to get in a rhythm. He had 120 more plate appearances in 2018 than he did in 2017.
Barnes will not be as bad as he was last season with a longer leash. And let’s not forget, this is the exact same guy that many baseball analysts touted was a top-10 catcher before 2018. Obviously, his performance moves him out of that list but he has already proven that he can be an elite catcher.
At the very least he provides a consistent presence behind the dish and will work good at-bats and get on base. That is all you need out of the eighth hitter and it was something that Yasmani Grandal failed to do after August.
His speed and ability to work the count and hit for contact, not for power, would be a huge change of pace for a team that relies so heavily on the long ball. Of course, this is if Barnes can play up to the potential that he showed in 2017.
He is still only 28 and a new hitting coach next season could help tweak some things mechanically that will result in better results. He does not have to be great and if the Los Angeles Dodgers really are in a dire situation behind the plate in the summer, the front office can make a cheaper deal for a catcher then or even bring Keibert Ruiz to the bigs.
I know there is this fear of rushing prospects but Ruiz showed in Spring Training and in the minor leagues last season that he might already be big league ready. Cody Bellinger was rushed and that worked out just fine.