I decided while working on the Top 50 Free Agents post that it would make sense to also write up the top trade target on the market. Since new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said the team plans to compete in 2019, it seems like Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are unlikely to be dealt — or, at least not during the offseason. That points to J.T. Realmuto as the clear top trade target in the league (and No. 24 in July’s Trade Value Rankings) — and that’s before nearly half the questions in my chat on Wednesday were asking me how much it would cost for various teams to trade for Realmuto.
I could approach this from an insider-y perspective and tell you what teams are telling me the price probably is, but that approach is limited in a few ways. First off, I’m not sure anyone really knows what the price is: the Marlins have turned down strong offers for a year now and still seem inclined to try to extend Realmuto, even thoughhis agent said he’s not having it. Since Miami has this one major asset left to move in its rebuild, they may act irrationally, but the market pieces may be falling into place for someone to pay a price that justified this delay.
If forced to succinctly describe the current state of catching in the major leagues, I would say it sucks. I’ll let Mike Petriello to provide some details and point you to the positional leaderboard, but if you just tried to predict which catchers would be worth two-plus wins and remain at catcher primarily for the next five seasons, how many would you have? Realmuto is one, and if you think Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez may play a lot more first base or get hurt or be inconsistent in this span, it’s possible that there isn’t another one. Being charitable, there’s just a handful, and they all cost a lot or aren’t available.
Putting all of this together, Realmuto offers the age-28 and age-29 seasons of the best long- and short-term catcher in the game, and he’ll cost between $15 million and $20 million for those seasons, depending on how his arbitration salaries work out. You have him long enough to make two runs at a title and get a comp pick at the end, an exclusive negotiating window for an extension, a non-risky length of a deal, and cheap enough salaries that any team can afford it.
What happens when we approach the a possible trade from a cold, economical standpoint? The first step is to establish a market value for Realmuto, as if he were a free agent and would only accept a two-year deal. Steamer projects Realmuto for 3.7 WAR in 2019, which I think can reasonably be pushed to 4.0 with framing. Call it 3.5 to 4.0 in 2020, as well, since he’s still in the prime years. A $9- to $10-million dollar per WAR figure is a generic value across all 30 teams, but with the supply/demand at catcher, motivated contenders with money to spend, and the short-term nature of the contract (along with the comp picks and negotiating window), you could argue that the retail price of this projection (two years, $70-80 million) is a starting point. I would think the bidding would settle somewhere under $90 million in this hypothetical situation.
This coming Monday, we’ll be running a series by Craig Edwards that formally answers the question that writers often have to confront at this point in an article like this: how do you value prospects in terms of dollars? Without revealing too much of Craig’s research or the precise figures at which he arrives, I will give you an idea of what sort of tier of prospects should be in play for a Realmuto deal.
If we use round numbers and say Realmuto is worth $85 million and is getting paid $15 million, that’s a $70 million asset value, probably lower, as both numbers are on the aggressive side. If I asked you which prospects in baseball are definitely worth more than $70 million and you said only Vladimir Guerrero Jr., then you would be correct. That’s the only one.
Every other prospect in baseball “should” be on the table, but you can realistically eliminate a few more simply because the clubs don’t seem inclined to push all their chips in right now (the Twins with Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis, the Reds with Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammell), or they have multiple prospects just below this level, so they can still give a market value offer while holding back their top prospect (the Padres with Fernando Tatis Jr., the White Sox with Eloy Jimenez, the Rays with Wander Franco, the Braves with Cristian Pache, and the Astros with Kyle Tucker).
Of the teams that seem likely to bid aggressively on Realmuto, here’s some packages that make sense from the perspective of FanGraphs’ soon-to-be-released prospect asset values:
It’s been reported that, in July, the Marlins turned down an offer of RHP Mike Soroka (No. 25 on the Top 100) and 3B Austin Riley (No. 28) for Realmuto, though I’m told that package was never offered. If we’re gonna say Realmuto is worth $70 million or so, a two-player package needs to be some multiple above that number, since the Marlins would prefer all of that value in one player. What’s the right number, though? Maybe 20% higher? We’ll research past trades and try to nail that down, but this offer is right about there. The Braves have nine more prospects in our Top 115 beyond these two and Pache, so the ammunition is clearly there. I would imagine the price may be just a bit higher, for the market-based reasons to which I alluded earlier, so a solid third piece like LHP Kyle Muller should get it done. That said, it’s possible the Braves have deemed that, or even Soroka-plus-Riley, to be too much.
The Astros could deem RF Kyle Tucker (No. 8) off limits and still put together a strong two-player offer of RHP Forrest Whitley (No. 12) and LF Yordan Alvarez (No. 47), which essentially comes out to the same value as the Soroka/Riley offer. It’s unclear if Houston would trade Tucker or Whitley in a deal like this, but they could come up with the strongest offer, trading just one of them plus Alvarez and one more top-10 piece from their system, like RHP J.B. Bukauskas, possibly a lesser piece. Houston may also deem Whitley off limits as he and Tucker could both be important 2019 contributors making the league minimum.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have arguably the deepest system in the game, so it’s more a matter of picking the right pieces to move. I would imagine SS Wander Franco (No. 6) is off the table here, but that still leaves LHP/1B Brendan McKay (No. 14) and RHP Brent Honeywell (No. 23) as potential headliners. McKay and RF Jesus Sanchez (No. 46) would represent one example of a Rays two-player package that’s on par with Soroka/Riley and Whitley/Alvarez. That said, it looks like they just traded for Mike Zunino, so this is looking much less likely than when I started writing this post.
The Nats have long been tied to Realmuto and it’s unclear what their offseason strategy is, but it appears they’re still aiming to win the division in 2019. The name long tied to this deal is CF Victor Robles (No. 4), and he’s probably the best asset who will be discussed with Miami by any club. The asset values suggest a player in the 75- to 100-overall ranking would be the second piece to match up a two-player package with the aforementioned deals, but the Nationals have a shallow system that doesn’t include this sort of prospect.
SS Carter Kieboom (No. 10) in addition to Robles is a drastic overpay, and their third-best prospect in RHP Mason Denaburg (45+ FV, roughly No. 150 if we ranked that tier of prospect) was just drafted out of high school and is probably a little light. Obviously, young big leaguers who aren’t prospects can be added to make up this gap, so the Nats can make the best offer if they want, it’s just a little more difficult than it would be for other clubs.
Top prospect RHP Sixto Sanchez (No. 16) has missed much of 2018 with various injuries, so his value isn’t as certain as it is for the players mentioned above. The Marlins could be wary of his health or just not want the risk of a pitcher who was pulled out of the Arizona Fall League. That said, if healthy, Sanchez is right there with Whitley as one of the top arms in the minors. With Sixto on the table, adding in recent third overall pick 3B Alec Bohm (No. 68) gets you within spitting distance of the two-player packages above, while Sanchez plus their second-best prospect RHP Adonis Medina (No. 40) is heavier than those offers, but could land Realmuto using just two players.
Here are some less likely suitors that would still make some sense for a Realmuto trade, and their projected core offers:
I omitted the Red Sox since they don’t have a significant prospect with whom to start a deal (but could deal from their big league club) and the Rockies, who come up just short using only their system, but have a good starting piece in SS Brendan Rodgers (No. 11). The three clubs most often mentioned with Realmuto (Atlanta, Houston, and Washington) still seem most likely to end up with him, with the separator likely being which team is prepared to act most boldly.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.