Detroit Tigers: J.T. Realmuto was the right signing but not with Chris Ilitch

(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports) /

There was a time when the Detroit Tigers signing J.T. Realmuto was realistic, with Christopher Ilitch at the helm of the organization, that is not the case.

The Detroit Tigers are not in the market for a major talent this offseason. Some of the rumors, however, have had the organization connected with backstop J.T. Realmuto. He is arguably the best catcher in baseball and could get a hefty pay-day before the 2021 season begins.

Now, I know what you’re thinking; I wrote in the headline that the signing was the right move, but not anymore. There’s a particular reason I wrote that, and it all stems back to the Ilitch family and differences between the person at the helm now versus years ago.

Awhile back, Detroit Jock City Site Co-Expert Bob Heyrman wrote about how things have been vastly different under the watch of Christopher Ilitch and how the outcome would mortify Mike Ilitch. I’d like to think Bob’s right, which draws me back to the title; it WAS the right move.

CBS Sports writer Mike Axisa wrote his five bold predictions for the Winter Meetings that are unfolding virtually right now. Under one of his five predictions, he dropped in the following teaser that the Tigers could be in on Realmuto:

"“Don’t forget the Mystery Team™ either. The Tigers signed Ivan Rodriguez after going 43-119 in 2003, right? Maybe they’ll sign Realmuto so he can help groom their young pitchers.” (Mike Axisa, CBS Sports)"

If Mike Ilitch were still alive and running the Tigers, he would be readying an offer for Realmuto, pitching him on the idea suggested below. While there would be a slew of things being done differently, focus on the signing of Realmuto for the purposes of this.

Mike Ilitch would have been all over J.T. Realmuto for the Detroit Tigers, but his son Christopher Ilitch operates differently.

Similar to Ilitch bouncing back from a near-120 loss season by signing, arguably the best catcher in the game at the time to a four-year, $40 million contract in Ivan Rodriguez. Granted, the Tigers are coming off of a 23-35 record in their 60-game sprint season, but I would bet that Ilitch would be fixing to sign Realmuto for a nice chunk of change.

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A case can be made for signing Realmuto, an all-star in 2018 and 2019, silver slugger award winner in both years, and gold glove award winner in 2019.

In 2020, Realmuto played in 47 games where he hit .266/.349/.491 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI for the Philadelphia Phillies.

A career .278 hitter who averages 21 home runs and 79 RBI would be a heaven-sent thing for this Tigers team. Not to mention the defensive skillset he brings to the table and the ability to work with a pitching staff.

Realmuto would be a dream come true for these young pitchers, helping them develop and grow into the starters all the fans are hoping for.

But…. back in reality…

The pocketbook of Christopher Ilitch is not going to squeak open enough for the Tigers to sign Realmuto. It’s a more likely scenario that the Tigers renew a one-year deal with Austin Romine or sign a former Tigers catcher like Curt Casali.

The most exciting move that Chris Ilitch might contemplate would be shelling out a bit extra on a catcher to bring back James McCann. Even that is asking “a lot” of this organization at the moment and is highly unlikely.

The truth is, the Detroit Tigers are not going to open up the checkbook for J.T. Realmuto.

Now, personally, I do not think signing Realmuto is their smartest decision. Is he a dream come true of a catcher? Yes. Is he arguably the best catcher in the game? Yes. Would he drastically increase the development of the pitching staff? Yes.

But, it feels like the money it would cost might be a bit more than the Tigers want to spend right now. Ilitch’s unwillingness to spend aside, it seems like a 5-6-7 year deal would be too hefty of a commitment and expense on this Tigers team.

So the comparisons between singing Realmuto to signing Pudge many years ago sound wonderful but come back to reality where Christopher Ilitch runs things now. The Tigers will not shell out the money for Realmuto; they will spend again, but not yet.

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The Detroit Tigers may still be under the Ilitch family ownership, but Mike’s style versus his son Christopher’s is vastly different. Take the J.T. Realmuto rumors with a grain of salt this offseason.