Count the reigning World Series champion Astros among the most serious suitors for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Houston and Miami have discussed the backstop, according to SiriusXM’s Craig Mish, who adds that the Marlins have requested high-end outfield prospect Kyle Tucker in return. The Astros haven’t ruled out dealing Tucker, Mish reports (Twitter link).
Realmuto would be the second major trade acquisition of the winter for the Astros, who previously dipped into their pool of young talent to pick up right-hander Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. Despite that move, the Astros’ farm system remains in the majors’ top 10, according to Baseball America, which regards the 21-year-old Tucker as their second-best prospect and the majors’ 15th-ranked farmhand. MLB.com (No. 8) FanGraphs (No. 10), Baseball Prospectus (No. 20) and ESPN’s Keith Law (No. 21) also think highly of the lefty-swinging Tucker, who ascended to the Double-A level in 2017 and slashed .265/.325/.512 across 318 plate appearances.
Should the Marlins land Tucker, he’d become arguably the premier prospect in a system that has climbed from dead last to 19th in Baseball America’s rankings since the beginning of the offseason. Of course, the Marlins’ improved farm is the result of an aggressive major league teardown that has come during a payroll-slashing campaign by new owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. The Marlins have already dealt star outfielders Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, not to mention second baseman Dee Gordon, leaving Realmuto as the face of a team that seems unlikely to contend in the near future.
The 26-year-old Realmuto, sensing Miami is more likely to compete for the No. 1 pick than a playoff berth in 2018, has made it known he’d like to follow Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna and Gordon out the door. Given that he wants to play for a contender, going to Houston would surely satisfy Realmuto, and it would give the club a potential long-term solution behind the plate. While the Astros got solid production from catchers Brian McCann and Evan Gattis in 2017, the two 30-somethings could become free agents next winter. Moreover, Gattis will primarily occupy the DH spot this year, leaving the unproven, out-of-options Max Stassi as the Astros’ projected No. 2 catcher.
Unlike Stassi, Realmuto has done plenty to establish himself in the majors. He truly broke out in 2016 and has since accounted for 7.2 fWAR, trailing only the Giants’ Buster Posey and the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez in that category among catchers. Most of Realmuto’s value has come from his bat, as the righty-swinger combined for a quality .290/.337/.440 line across 1,124 plate appearances from 2016-17.
While there have been questions about Realmuto’s defense (his reviews as a pitch framer have been mixed), both his bat and long-term affordability combine to make him extremely valuable, which has led to offseason interest from contenders such as the Astros and Nationals. Realmuto is set to play his first of three potential arbitration-eligible seasons in 2018, during which he’ll make a relatively modest $2.9MM.