A new ownership group in Miami (headlined by Derek Jeter) has kicked off a fire sale. Dee Gordon is now a Mariner, Giancarlo Stanton a Yankee, and Marcell Ozuna a Cardinal, and there’s no telling whether the Marlins are done yet.
In the wake of this significant shift in direction for the organization, catcher J.T. Realmuto has reportedly requested a trade out of the city. While the team has stated that they have no intention to trade him (via Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports), the club had similar things to say about Ozuna early this offseason before shipping him to St. Louis for a package of prospects. On that note, there’s reason to at least explore his trade value and market.
Unlike Stanton or Gordon, Realmuto has significant surplus value on his contract. He’s been worth a combined 9 WAR across the past three seasons due to his excellent defense, above-average bat and good baserunning skills. He’s projected to make just a $4.2MM salary in his first trip through the arbitration process, and comes with two additional years of team control beyond the 2018 season. The former third-round pick out of Oklahoma’s Carl Albert High School is just entering his prime; he’ll begin the 2018 season having turned just 27 years old.
Realmuto, then, doesn’t help the Marlins’ with their loudly-stated goal to shed salary. However, by taking Stanton, Gordon and Ozuna off the books, they seem to have already reduced their payroll significantly. They don’t seem to have any intention of competing for an NL East pennant this year, and it’s looking more and more like Realmuto won’t be around for the next winning Marlins club. After all, teams like the Astros, Cubs and Nationals all took longer than three years to go from teardown to contention.
So with a realistic time frame to contend in mind, it’s difficult to believe the Marlins wouldn’t move Realmuto for the right offer. The question, then, is a matter of what kind of package would tempt them enough to move their backstop. Above-average major leaguers with three arbitration years remaining typically cost a small fortune; one need not look any further than the Braves’ recent trades of Andrelton Simmons and Craig Kimbrel for evidence. It would likely take at least one “blue-chip” prospect to even get the Marlins to pick up the phone, and probably another prospect within or near the top 100 to ultimately get a deal done.
A trade partner, then, would need to have a strong farm system along with a significant need at the catcher position. That club wouldn’t necessarily need to stand out as a contender this season, but Realmuto would fit best on a team with a fairly obvious multi-year window in the near future.
The Nationals jump off the page as the most obvious trade partner for the Marlins in a hypothetical Realmuto trade. They have a great farm system, including outfielder Juan Soto, who doesn’t have an obvious path to the majors. The Nationals’ outfield is crowded, and superprospect Victor Robles is ahead of him in the pecking order. Thanks in part to a terrible season from Matt Wieters, Nats catchers ranked dead last in the majors with -1.1 fWAR. Washington would definitely benefit from the sizable upgrade Realmuto would provide them at the catcher position; in theory the team would have won about five more games last year if they’d had him instead of Wieters.
Beyond that, the Rockies and Diamondbacks are fairly good fits. Both clubs ranked in the bottom ten in WAR value from the catcher position in 2017, and neither has any promising backstops in their farm system. Additionally, both teams are obvious contenders in 2018. Either team could feasibly deal from its prospect depth in order to add Realmuto to their lineup.
The Padres may be ready to give up on Austin Hedges at this point, and while the team probably won’t win next season, they could feasibly be contenders before Realmuto hits free agency. The Twins could make a play if they’re not content with mediocre offensive production from Jason Castro. If the Brewers aren’t buying last year’s breakout from 30-year-old Manny Pina, they’d have plenty of prospect depth to get a deal done.
Although there’s no rush to trade him at the moment, there are a host of teams that would probably be willing to fork over enormous value for a catcher who ranked third in the majors in fWAR this past season. The Marlins would be wise to keep their ears open if they’re approached teams who are interested in, or desperate for, an elite backstop.