The first rule of Hot Stove baseball is: Don’t be captive to the narrative. Gerrit Cole wanted to go back home to California. So did CC Sabathia. Cliff Lee wanted the most money, just like everyone else. Even a grizzled hack like myself still falls prey to the narrative sometimes, because sometimes the narrative turns out to be true. Nevertheless, you must open your mind to all possibilities.
So let’s tackle a suddenly soaring narrative involving free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto, most recently of the Phillies, who reportedly would rather stay put than come north to the Mets:
The Mets should go after Realmuto. There’s every indication that the Mets will go after Realmuto — and that the 29-year-old gladly would become Steve Cohen’s first big buy if the purchase price was right.
This narrative emanates from the reporting of Jim Salisbury, the Phillies insider for NBC Sports Philadelphia, who is the answer to an unrelated trivia question: Who covered the Yankees for The Post in 1996, between the legendary runs of Joel Sherman (1989-95) and George A. King III (1997-2020)? Salisbury, extremely respected in the industry, wrote last week, “According to a person close to Realmuto, the catcher, an Oklahoma native, would like to remain in Philadelphia and is not particularly keen on playing in New York. However, if that’s where the record-setting money is, Realmuto will eat heroes instead of hoagies.”
I wholly believe Salisbury’s reporting — I predicted that Realmuto would stay with the Phillies for $ 100 million over four years — and I wholly believe that the reaction to it has exceeded the actual content.
Preferring to remain in Philly, preferring hoagies over heroes (who doesn’t?), doesn’t preclude a move to the Big Apple, just as Salisbury wrote. If it gives the Mets pause, they can vet the report easily enough by meeting with Realmuto, which teams typically do before committing immense dollar amounts to a player, and talking through the issue.
We don’t know the Mets’ precise plan of attack once Cohen’s purchase of the team from the Wilpons officially closes, which is expected to be on Monday. Sandy Alderson will take over as team president, with general manager Brodie Van Wagenen likely to be dismissed; as The Post’s Mike Puma reported, Alderson could serve as interim general manager until he puts together a baseball operations group. Cohen, who mentioned free agency in his statement upon being approved by his fellow owners, sure sounds like he wants to make at least one thundering acquisition to fire up the already frothing Mets fans.
George Springer, the Connecticut native, clearly likes the idea of joining the Mets, and the center fielder looks like he’d be a great fit because of his playing profile and championship background (yes, yes, the Astros cheated). Trevor Bauer, who announced Wednesday that he would reject the Reds’ qualifying offer, clearly likes the idea of joining anyone who will pay top dollar, and the pitcher looks like he’d be a questionable fit because of his propensity for stirring up social media trouble.
Realmuto, known as a great teammate and a better athlete than your standard catcher — only he, Mike Trout and Christian Yelich have averaged a sprint speed of 28 feet per second as well as an average exit velocity of 88 mph with at least 300 plate appearances (100 in 2020) every year since 2015 — adds an element of intrigue: Signing him would remove him from the rival Phillies, who have put together a strong foundation with a great manager in Joe Girardi but haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2011. With their front office in transition, general manager Matt Klentak recently demoted and the plan to replace him hazy due to team president Andy MacPhail’s impending retirement, could the Mets capitalize on that?
It’s hard to believe they won’t seriously consider it. That Realmuto won’t seriously consider them. After all, the new narrative for the Mets, one we’re inclined to believe until proven otherwise, is that everything is possible.