NL East Division position comparison: catcher

My position-by-position evaluation of the National League East Division teams moves behind the plate today after covering the full infield over this past week.

The Philadelphia Phillies projected starter was ranked third in the division at each of first base, second base, shortstop, and third base. That is not the case at catcher. The man who is arguably the best backstop in all of baseball plays his home games at Citizens Bank Park.

Even though the Phillies catcher is indeed among the cream of the crop in the game today, the other four teams are not weak behind the dish. Despite the fact that two of the top contenders for the division crown are likely to go with a platoon situation, catcher is generally a position of strength in the division.

Over the next week I’ll begin to work across the outfield from left to right. That will be followed by separate pieces covering each club’s projected starting pitching rotation, their benches, bullpens, and finally the managers.

Once this evaluation process is complete, fans should have a better idea of where the teams in the division actually stand. Pitchers and catchers are due to begin reporting to Clearwater, Florida for Phillies spring training on February 11.

Let’s take a look now at what is easily the single most volatile, unpredictable position in the division for the upcoming 2020 campaign.

NL EAST – 2020 CATCHER RANKINGS

1) J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies: Depending on who is doing the evaluating, Realmuto is either the best or second-best overall catcher in the game today, with Yasmani Grandal of the Chicago White Sox at times rated above him. Turning 29-years-old in the middle of spring training, Realmuto has been an NL All-Star in each of the last two seasons. In his first year in a Phillies uniform, Realmuto was awarded his second straight Silver Slugger Award and his first career Gold Glove Award. He slashed .275/.328/.493 with 25 homers, 36 doubles, 83 RBIs, and 92 runs scored. The big question for the Phillies is whether or not general manager Matt Klentak can get Realmuto to sign a long-term contract. He is due to become a free agent following the upcoming 2020 campaign. There is a big drop-off, especially offensively, when backup Andrew Knapp gives Realmuto a break. But the 28-year-old Knapp is at least competent defensively and has a good rapport with the pitching staff. It is possible that Deivy Grullon, who turns 24 in mid-February, could beat out Knapp for the backup spot in spring training or pass him during the season at some point.

2) Wilson Ramos, New York Mets: The 31-year-old Ramos signed as a free agent with the Mets in December 2018 after ending the prior season in a Phillies uniform. He produced a solid offensive year in New York, slashing .288/.351/.416 with 14 homers and 73 RBIs. Ramos has plenty of experience in the division, having been the starter in Washington for most of the 2011-16 seasons. He won a Silver Slugger and was an NL All-Star in his final year with the Nationals before moving on to Tampa Bay, where he became a 2018 AL All-Star. Ramos is guaranteed $10.25 million this year and the Mets hold a $10 million option for the 2021 season. The backup will likely be Tomas Nido, who turns 26 in mid-April. The drop-off from Ramos to Nido is similar to the Phillies situation with Realmuto and Knapp.

3) Kurt Suzuki / Yan Gomes, Washington Nationals: Gomes just might be the second-best defensive catcher to Realmuto within the division. He turns 33 in the middle of July and will be appearing in his ninth big-league season. Suzuki is a 36-year-old who will be playing in his 14th season. The two combined for 29 homers and 106 RBIs, and each now has a ton of postseason experience to draw on after splitting time behind the plate as the Nationals won the first World Series crown in franchise history in 2019.

4) Tyler Flowers / Travis d’Arnaud, Atlanta Braves: A year ago, Atlanta won their second consecutive NL East Division crown using Flowers and veteran Brian McCann as a fairly strict right-left hitting platoon at catcher. McCann chose to retire after the season. Flowers, who turned 34 just days ago, will return for his 12th big-league campaign. Atlanta signed former Phillies farm hand and Mets catcher d’Arnaud as a free agent and he is expected to see significant playing time at age 31. The two catchers combined numbers a year ago add up to 27 homers and 103 RBIs over 661 plate appearances.

5) Jorge Alfaro, Miami Marlins: Traded by the Phillies to the Fish last February as one of the keys in the deal to bring Realmuto to Philly, Alfaro turns 27 in mid-June. He slashed .262/.312/.425 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs his first year in a Marlins uniform. Alfaro possesses a cannon for an arm behind the plate, but otherwise will never be more than just passable defensively. With a young team building from within, and with Alfaro inexpensively under club control for another four years, he is likely to become a fixture behind the plate in Miami, and thus within the division. Veteran Francisco Cervelli, who turns 34 during spring training and will be appearing in his 13th season, was signed as a free agent to provide the Marlins with an experienced backup.

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