In a surprisingly candid interview with Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (Twitter link, with audio), Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo largely quashed rumors and speculation that have tied his team to star Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. According to Rizzo, the Nationals touched base with the Marlins on Realmuto’s availability but haven’t really circled back this season.
“They’ve got a great player in Realmuto,” said Rizzo. “They’re not going to sell him cheap. We know what the return has to be on Realmuto, and we’re not willing to meet that price. So unless something changes there, on their end, we’re going to go with [Matt] Wieters when he gets healthy and a combination of [Pedro] Severino and [Spencer] Kieboom to back him up.”
Washington’s offseason interest in Realmuto was reported on at length over the winter. Multiple offseason reports suggested that the Marlins asked the Nats for a package headlined by one of their two most-coveted outfield prospects, Victor Robles or Juan Soto, the latter of whom has exploded onto the scene in the Majors at the age of 19. Robles, meanwhile, has missed much of the season with a hyperextended elbow but is still considered by many to be among the game’s 10 best prospects.
While that’s a lofty asking price, to be sure, it’s also not difficult to see why the Marlins would hold Realmuto in such high regard. The 27-year-old batted .290/.337/.440 in 1124 plate appearances from 2016-17 and has taken his offensive game to new heights in 2018, raking at a .297/.355/.524 pace (143 OPS+, 140 wRC+). After missing nearly a month with a minor lower back injury early in the season, Realmuto has already belted nine homers, 15 doubles and three triples in just 232 plate appearances.
Beyond his offensive prowess, Realmuto is considered a strong defensive catcher. He’s thrown out 11 of the 26 runners who’ve attempted to steal against him for a career-best 42 percent caught-stealing rate, and he generally rates as an above-average pitch framer and pitch blocker, per Baseball Prospectus. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly when assessing his trade value, he is eminently affordable from a financial standpoint and can be controlled through the 2020 season. Realmuto is earning $2.9MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility and will be eligible twice more before reaching free agency in the 2020-21 offseason.
Catcher was the Nationals’ most glaring need in the offseason, but the team did surprisingly little to address the deficiency outside of a minor league deal for veteran Miguel Montero, who was quickly released after cracking the Opening Day roster. To Wieters’ credit, he looked to be in the midst of a potential rebound at the plate after a last year’s dreary .225/.288/.344 slash; through a small sample of 76 PAs early in 2018, Wieters hit .231/.342/.385 with three homers and vastly improved strikeout and walk rates. But, he’s now been on the shelf since May 11 due to a hamstring injury that required surgery.
There are other catching options on the trade market, of course. Wilson Ramos’ name figures to be oft-mentioned on the rumor circuit as the deadline approaches, and the Mets would presumably be open to flipping recently acquired Devin Mesoraco when they inevitably begin to trade veteran pieces. Other speculative options include Robinson Chirinos and Francisco Cervelli. Blake Swihart, too, will be a rumored possibility, though it’s more difficult to see a contending club acquiring him and immediately inserting him into a regular role behind the plate when he’s scarcely played there in 2018.