We don't need to tell you that J.T. Realmuto is the top free-agent catcher available, because he just might be the best catcher in baseball, or at least close to it. As we recently detailed, catchers this good rarely reach free agency in the first place, and there's a decent shot that he'll age well over the next few years, which is what a new contract would be paying him for.
There's also the fact that if you need a catcher and you don't get Realmuto, there's an enormous drop-off after him. Just look at the free-agent catcher list, briefly. There's some mid-30s-placeholder types, like Jason Castro or Alex Avila. There's Yadier Molina, who is 38 years old. The best alternative is probably James McCann, though it's difficult to know how much to put in his up-and-down the past two years (he was great in the first half of 2019, poor in the second half, and very good in only 111 plate appearances in 2020) after four unimpressive seasons with Detroit.
So in that sense you might want to argue that all 30 teams could use Realmuto, and maybe they could, but that's not really going to happen. As we did with another top free-agent catcher last year, Yasmani Grandal, let's count down the 30 teams to see where Realmuto fits best. We did, for the record, nail Grandal to the White Sox almost exactly. Can we do as well again this time?
(Do note that there's no meaning to the orders of teams within the tiers, just focus on the groups they're in.)
The teams that don't really need a top catcher
30-21) White Sox, Dodgers, Giants, Royals, Twins, A's, Red Sox, Padres, Cubs, Orioles
Here's a list of starting catchers for those clubs, excluding Baltimore: Yasmani Grandal. Will Smith. Buster Posey/Joey Bart. Salvador Perez. Ryan Jeffers/Mitch Garver. Sean Murphy. Christian Vázquez. Austin Nola. Willson Contreras/Victor Caratini.
Now: Would you take Realmuto over some of those names? Sure, some of them. You wouldn't displace Grandal for him, and the A's and Dodgers aren't going to move young stars like Smith or Murphy. The Padres just traded for Nola. Realmuto is better than the Posey/Bart combination in San Francisco or the Contreras/Caratini duo in Chicago, and you'd take him over Perez, but the Giants, Cubs and Royals aren't realistically making this move. "Wait, don't the Orioles need help everywhere," you're saying, and they really do, but they also have catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 2 overall prospect in baseball, expected to debut in 2021.
For this group, it's less "is he better that what we have" than it is "are we going to bother with a new catcher when we have other things to worry about," the answer to which, generally, is no.
The team that already traded him away
It would, to be clear, be objectively funny if Realmuto returned to Miami, adding the slugging bat the Marlins so desperately need, while also catching fireballs from Sixto Sánchez and generally driving Phillies fans nuts 19 times a year for the foreseeable future. Plus, the Marlins have new leadership in first-time general manager Kim Ng, so we don't entirely know how she's going to approach team building. This is probably not going to happen, both because the Marlins don't generally play at this level in free agency and it's rare for players to return to a place that traded them like this. It would certainly be entertaining, though.
The teams that don't have a catcher
19-18) Rockies, Rays
We're being a little specious with the Rockies and very literal with the Rays. Let's start with Tampa Bay, which declined Mike Zunino's option, lost Michael Perez on waivers to Pittsburgh and had earlier cut loose third catcher Kevan Smith. Currently, the Rays have one catcher on their 40-man roster. That catcher, Ronaldo Hernández, was last seen putting up a .299 on-base percentage in 2019 in the Class A Florida State League. All due respect to Mr. Hernández: The Rays do not have a catcher.
The Rockies do, kind of, even after non-tendering starter Tony Wolters, because they also avoided arbitration with Elias Díaz by signing him to a one-year deal. Díaz has never hit much, though (a career .248/.300/.355 hitter in parts of six seasons), and he's never been a full-time starter either. Maybe rookie backup Dom Nuñez will fare better, but there's a reason Tampa Bay and Colorado rank as the bottom two teams in the FanGraphs 2021 catching projections. There's just no there there. Neither team, however, is likely to be a suitor for Realmuto.
The rebuilding teams with larger issues to worry about
17-15) Pirates, Mariners, Rangers
Yeah, no. Realmuto is better than Pittsburgh's Jacob Stallings, and even though the Mariners would like to see what they have in Luis Torrens and Tom Murphy, as would the Rangers with Jose Trevino and Sam Huff, Realmuto is better than they are, too. But those are at least options, and on teams very far away from competing. Realmuto isn't going to this group.
The contending teams with larger issues to worry about
14-13) Indians, D-backs
Your mileage may vary on the "contender" level of these clubs, but catcher is probably not the place where this is going to happen. It's true that Cleveland's Roberto Pérez hit a cover-your-eyes bad .165/.264/.216, but he was also battling injuries, and in addition to being one of the best defensive catchers in baseball -- better than Realmuto, probably -- did pop 24 homers in 2019. Cleveland has larger issues, especially in the outfield. The D-backs could potentially improve on Carson Kelly and Stephen Vogt, but they're not doing it this way.