The Marlins no longer have Giancarlo Stanton, who is extremely good. They no longer have Marcell Ozuna, who is very good. And they no longer have Dee Gordon, who is pretty good. Even if you trust that the Marlins’ new ownership group is trying to act in the team’s long-term best interests, it’s obvious that the club is rebuilding, and therefore won’t be any good any time soon. Given the circumstances, eyes have turned to Christian Yelich, an excellent player who might be traded. He’s not alone, however. J.T. Realmuto is a lesser-known player, but he’s a quality everyday catcher, and he wouldn’t mind being granted some freedom.
Craig Mish broke the news that Realmuto would like to be traded. Ken Rosenthal confirmed the report. Via Bob Nightengale, we learn the Marlins aren’t in a hurry to make a move. It’s not clear whether Realmuto made a demand, or if he just spoke to the possibility. And, of course, Realmuto has limited leverage here, since he can’t force his way out. Even the prospect of Realmuto performing worse because he’s unhappy would be bad for both the player and team. Whatever happens with Realmuto will happen. It’s not so much up to him. But — well, why stop at Ozuna? Where do the Marlins think that they’re going? Realmuto might as well be traded, and he would bring back a significant haul.
Realmuto will turn 27 in March, and he has three more years of team control. In his first year of arbitration, he’s projected to earn a little over $4 million. When the Marlins have talked about Realmuto before, they’ve underscored the fact that they’d love to build around him. He’s a young, athletic, moderately powerful catcher. Yet the Marlins are no longer even close to competitive. They’ve been stripping away their present value, and the farm system’s still lousy. It’s difficult to see the Marlins being good again before 2021, and that’s with the owners acting in good faith, making an honest effort to improve.
The argument for keeping Realmuto would be: You can’t trade everyone, and the fans would be pissed. But this is the Marlins we’re talking about. They’ve already traded Stanton, Ozuna, and Gordon. They already have a history of being, you know, the Marlins. The fans are already pissed, if they’re even still paying attention. The cost of also trading Realmuto within the next few weeks would be limited, because fan sentiment has more or less bottomed out. Trade Realmuto soon and it’s just another log on the fire. It blends in. Keep him and either the fans are annoyed later on, when he’s traded down the road, or the team misses out on a big trade return. It seems like, if you’re going to do this, and do this now, you might as well get all the worst parts over with. Go into 2018 with pretty much every good player converted into prospects. Give the fans time to warm up to it. Give the roster a chance to stop hurting.
Realmuto is a better value than you might assume. Stanton, Ozuna, and Gordon were all exchanged for somewhat underwhelming returns, but Realmuto doesn’t necessarily belong in that group. Stanton came with the matter of his contract. Ozuna has two more years of control. Gordon’s about to turn 30. Realmuto is under control for his age-27 to age-29 seasons. Through arbitration, he’s probably going to earn something like $25 – 30 million, combined.
In each of the last two seasons, Realmuto has been an above-average hitter. I mean overall, and not just among catchers. Playing in Miami might have been bad for his power numbers, but here is a glimpse of what he can do:
Realmuto doesn’t have massive, light-tower power, but he can clearly go deep, and although he doesn’t draw that many walks, that’s offset by his better-than-average bat-to-ball skills. Realmuto profiles as a strong hitter for his position. And that’s not everything.
From Statcast, we’ve learned that Realmuto is exceptionally fast for a backstop.
He just stole eight bases, a year after stealing 12 bases, and his career baserunning value is positive. That’s uncommon for a catcher, and this speaks to Realmuto’s athleticism. It’s worth remembering that, when Realmuto was in high school, he played as a shortstop. And to keep adding on, the evidence suggests Realmuto just made a large improvement defensively. According to Baseball Prospectus, Realmuto in 2016 was 9 runs below average as a defender. This past year he was 6 runs above average. That’s mostly thanks to a pitch-framing improvement, and some chunk of that might be noise instead of signal, but 2017 J.T. Realmuto provided all-around value. He looks like one of the better catchers in baseball.
Since Realmuto became a big-league regular, he’s ranked second among catchers in WAR. Looking at the Steamer projections, Realmuto is eighth among catchers, but, really, he’s part of a giant cluster tied for third, behind Buster Posey and Gary Sanchez. Is Realmuto better than, say, Salvador Perez or Mike Zunino? I don’t know. Maybe. You can make good arguments in either direction. What’s important is that Realmuto has both good talent and a young age. Were he on the market, there would be no shortage of demand.
Headed into his age-32 season in 2015, Russell Martin signed with the Blue Jays for five years and $82 million. Realmuto might not be quite as good as Martin was, but it’s close, and Realmuto, again, is under control from ages 27 to 29. In terms of surplus value, we’re talking tens of millions of dollars, which is what would allow the Marlins to turn him into an impressive prospect package. It’s pretty obvious that, say, the Nationals, Rockies, and Diamondbacks would be interested in adding Realmuto, and I imagine he’d also pique the interest of the A’s and the Brewers. Other teams could also jump in, if they knew Realmuto was out there. He wouldn’t be just a short-term value. He’d also be extremely affordable.
When the Brewers moved Jonathan Lucroy with a year and a half left on his contract, they packaged him with Jeremy Jeffress and received two top-100 prospects, in Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz. Lucroy was 30 years old. That would probably more or less set the floor for any Realmuto talks, if the Marlins go ahead and engage the market. Realmuto is worth it, and, one more time, him staying around in Miami wouldn’t do a whole hell of a lot for anyone.
We know, now, that Realmuto wants out. We know that he doesn’t actually have much leverage, but we also know the Marlins can presumably see the writing on the wall. They know they’re going to suck, and they know Realmuto is a probable goner in another three years. Why not move the rebuild further forward? There are teams out there who would be delighted to stock the Marlins’ farm. Realmuto is good enough to make everyone happy.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.