The Nationals’ Lack of Urgency Is a Problem for the Marlins

The Marlins have already had what would be a record-setting sell-off. Not only have they completely dismantled arguably the best outfield in baseball; they’ve also traded away a quality second baseman about to move to center. So, in a sense, the Marlins’ teardown has involved the trading of four starting outfielders, and there’s only so much meaningful selling left to do. Dan Straily could get something, sure. Justin Bour is better than his pretty much non-existent reputation. Yet the one jewel left is J.T. Realmuto. He’d be the ticket to one last Miami blockbuster.

Realmuto is a catcher who turns only 27 years old in a month and a half, and he’s got another three seasons of club control. As a player, Realmuto is incredibly valuable, and, even more, he’s expressed an interest in getting the chance to play for someone else. Even though Realmuto’s actual leverage here is low, the Marlins wouldn’t hesitate to grant his wish, should the right offer come along. And, say, wouldn’t you know it, but the Nationals could use a quality backstop! Matt Wieters probably shouldn’t be that guy. Miguel Montero isn’t likely to be that guy. The Nationals have been included in catcher rumors all offseason long.

It seems like there should be a reasonable fit. And maybe something here will actually happen. It’s just that there’s a stumbling block: The Nationals are already perhaps too good.

This is something Dave Cameron wrote about in general in his final public baseball post. I felt like we might as well focus on the Nationals specifically, since they continue to surface in Realmuto chatter. It’s no secret the Nationals would like Realmuto. Reportedly, they’d be open to trading Carter Kieboom and Erick Fedde. The Marlins, in turn, would prefer Victor Robles or Juan Soto. Those requests have gone nowhere.

A note: Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel just released their updated top-100 prospects list, and they actually have Kieboom a little ahead of Soto. Kieboom slots in at No. 40, with a Future Value listing of 55, while Soto’s at No. 50, with a Future Value listing of 50. But while I love Eric and Kiley, I do think it’s my duty to point out other sources disagree. Over at MLB.com, Soto is ranked at No. 29, while Kieboom is ranked at No. 90. And at Baseball America, Soto is ranked at No. 56, while Kieboom isn’t in the top-100 at all. Robles shows up at fourth, sixth, and fifth, respectively.

We can’t say too much without knowing all the details. Maybe the Marlins have been asking for one of the outfielders and Kieboom. Not sure. And I can’t imagine the Nationals would ever get around to trading Robles for a Realmuto-level catcher. In a would-be move like this, Robles is presumably untouchable. But, should Soto be? In the middle of 2016, a 30-year-old Jonathan Lucroy was packaged with Jeremy Jeffress in exchange for Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell. Lucroy, at that point, was under contract for another season and a half. Brinson was Baseball America’s No. 30 prospect, and Ortiz ranked at No. 74. Realmuto should command a significant haul. The Nationals just haven’t met the Marlins’ price, and while you could say it’s just normal haggling over players, I think what’s at least as important is the context.

In isolation, the Nationals are a talented and fairly deep baseball team, but a team that could be better. Catcher is easily the clearest weakness, and Realmuto is a good catcher who’s on the market. So, there’s interest.

In context, however, the Nationals just won their division by 20 games, and they haven’t gotten substantially worse. If anything, they should get to benefit from a full year of Adam Eaton. Now, I don’t think anyone expects the Nationals to win by 20 or more games again, not with the Mets probably healthier and with the Phillies and Braves gradually improving, but various projections put the Nationals’ division advantage somewhere around ten games or so. The Nationals aren’t just the favorites in the NL East. It would be fairly astonishing if they came up short.

Which is not to say it can’t happen. You’ll recall that the 2015 Nationals were an enormous disappointment. One should never put too much faith in the projections. But from the Nationals’ standpoint, they don’t have to hurry to try to assemble their playoff team right now. They have an excellent shot of getting to the NLDS, and there would exist an organizational belief that the team could keep itself more or less as is for the next several months. If catcher were still a problem in July, something could be done about it then. Perhaps, say, Russell Martin hits the market. Maybe Francisco Cervelli. Maybe someone else. Maybe Realmuto! The Marlins have leverage in talks right now, because they have a valuable player who could make the Nationals better. But the Nationals have their own leverage, in that they don’t feel the pressure to make a move today or tomorrow. There’s no team right behind them, causing them to feel the heat. The Nationals don’t have to cave to the Marlins’ demands, because they can probably win the division again with Wieters behind the plate. Or they can at least play well for a handful of months, and then reconsider.

There are some bigger-picture issues here. Some people think this could be the Nationals’ last chance for a while. After this season, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy will be free agents. So, too, could be Ryan Madson and Gio Gonzalez. The Nationals are likely to take a step back after 2018, just as the Phillies move further forward. So, from one perspective, the Nationals might want to maximize their chances right now. The window might well be closing. The counter to that would be — would it really be such a good idea to consolidate even more in the shorter-term? Realmuto would fill in as a quality three-year player. But he’d cost longer-term value, value that could later help prop the team up. Windows close when there are no longer those internal reinforcements. You can understand why the Nationals would hesitate, when they probably don’t feel like, right now, a catcher would put them over the top. They don’t have to give up more than they want to, because they can at least make it to July with the group that they have. Who knows how much progress Juan Soto might make between now and then.

It’s not as if the Marlins are screwed, or anything close. They still have Realmuto, and Realmuto is still very good. And the Nationals aren’t the only team that could stand to add him. As it happens, Realmuto could make the Brewers — as one example — better. Something just as fascinating would be the Phillies entering the mix. They’re not altogether that far from making the Nationals look over their shoulder. Baseball would benefit from some half-decent teams working to close the gaps between themselves and the favorites. That’s exactly what the Brewers have done.

And yet it feels like Realmuto would fit best on the Nationals. They’re the good team with the clearest immediate need. But for the fact that their need isn’t quite so immediate. The Nationals would appear to have too great a divisional margin of error. That doesn’t mean an agreement can’t be reached. It just means the Nationals can always fall back on doing nothing.

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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.

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JR and the Off-Balance Shots
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JR and the Off-Balance Shots

but at least the nats might flop in another division series while the mets sit at home after a disappointing season. lol at the nats for winning this many division titles

frangipard
Member
frangipard

You miss the point of the article. Choosing to enter the season with Weiters is not the same as choosing to enter the playoffs with Weiters.

It makes all the sense in the world for them to wait a couple of months to see if he rebounds to pre-2017 levels. If he does, he’s no longer a problem and they can trade prospects for other needs. If not, Realmuto or someone else will still be available mid-season, quite possibly at a lower price.