Miami Marlins

How long will ‘the best catcher in the world’ remain a Marlin? Time will tell.

Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto (11) retires Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Sean Newcomb (15) on a sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning of the game at Marlins Park in Miami, Monday, July 23, 2018.
Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto (11) retires Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Sean Newcomb (15) on a sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning of the game at Marlins Park in Miami, Monday, July 23, 2018. snavarro@miamiherald.com

The “best catcher in the world” according to Marlins pitcher Adam Conley isn’t an easy figure to spot. If he could make himself any less conspicuous, hidden beneath all that catching gear when he’s on the field or sequestered in some office nook studying up on other team’s hitters when he’s not, J.T. Realmuto might be in a witness protection program.

Heck. He was a mostly lost figure in the Marlins’ lineup when it included the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

“In that lineup, I was the fourth or fifth best hitter,” Realmuto said. “I was down the lineup a little bit and pitchers would kind of breathe a sigh of relief once they got past that gauntlet of three or four guys we had.”

They were traded. Realmuto was left behind to become the “face of the franchise,” even though hard-core baseball fans probably couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup.

And now he, too, could be the next out the door.

The Marlins’ final home game of the season on Sunday could be his last in a Miami uniform in South Florida.

The Marlins are expected to offer Realmuto a contract extension after the season. If he accepts, Realmuto could be around for years to come, the cornerstone around which the organization rebuilds the franchise. If he doesn’t, it’s more likely than not he’ll be traded while his value his greatest.

“You never know what’s going to happen, so I don’t try to think too much about that,” Realmuto said of the possibility of Sunday being his final home game with the Marlins. “We’ll see if that ends up being the case.”

This much is all-but-certain: if the Marlins are to hang on to Realmuto, they’ll have to offer him a premium deal. No catcher in the majors enjoyed a better season than Realmuto’s.

One measuring stick could be Giants catcher Buster Posey, who landed a 9-year, $167 million deal when he was 26. Realmuto, who will be 28 by Opening Day next season, shares the same agent as Posey, Jeff Berry of CAA Baseball.

Only time will tell how the Realmuto situation with the Marlins plays out.

For now, Realmuto is closing out the best season any Marlins catcher has ever had. Better than Pudge Rodriguez’s long season with the Marlins in 2003 and better than any season turned in by Charles Johnson, Paul Lo Duca or anyone else.

Realmuto’s OPS+ of 139 (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage adjusted by ballparks) is the best ever by a Marlins catcher. Rodriguez posted an OPS+ of 120 in ’03 to rank second. Realmuto has three of the top five seasons by a Marlins catcher in that category.

Going on conventional stats, Realmuto has hit .284 with a career-high 21 home runs, and managed to do so despite being the most dangerous hitter in the lineup, the one player other pitchers worked around.

“You definitely get pitched a lot more carefully,” Realmuto said, comparing this season to the previous one when he was surrounded by good hitters.

Said Conley: “Anybody can look at the numbers on paper and say, he, that guy’s a great player. But we have the privilege of watching him and understanding things that most people can’t see, which makes him more impressive to us.”

Conley said Realmuto is “definitely the best athlete who plays catcher in the major leagues. He threatens the other team in every way.”

Whether he’s still around in 2019 to keep his presence known remains to be seen.

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