J.T. Realmuto’s name has been at the center of Marlins trade rumors for the better part of a year, but Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill tells Joe Frisaro of MLB.com that he plans to approach Realmuto’s camp about a potential extension this offseason. As it stands, the Marlins control him for two more seasons.
“At the appropriate time, we’ll get to his representative and see if we can do something longer-term than the two years,” Hill said. “That time hasn’t happened yet, but it’s something we definitely want to pursue.”
As a quality young player in an organization known for its habitual sell-offs and rebuilding cycles, Realmuto has been in trade speculation for a few years, but his name emerged in earnest last offseason when new Marlins ownership embarked on the most aggressive tear-down in the past half-decade. Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon were all shipped out in separate trades, leaving Realmuto as the last piece of that once-formidable offensive core standing. Understandably frustrated at the time, Realmuto reportedly requested a trade in December. When no deal materialized, his agent, CAA’s Jeff Berry, told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald in early February that Realmuto still hoped to be traded to a potential contender.
It’s unclear now whether those feelings have changed. The Marlins’ season, as virtually everyone expected, resulted in a last-place finish in the NL East. Miami’s 63 wins were the fewest in the National League and the fourth-fewest in all of baseball, trailing only the Orioles, Royals and White Sox. Outfielders Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra, key prospects acquired in the trades of Yelich and Ozuna, each hit under .200 with OBPs of .240 and .222.
On the other side of the coin, the Marlins did see signs of encouragement from young pitchers Sandy Alcantara (acquired in the Ozuna deal), Pablo Lopez, Trevor Richards and Caleb Smith (before a lat tear ended Smith’s season). Starlin Castro and Derek Dietrich had solid years at the plate, while rookie Brian Anderson quietly enjoyed a terrific debut campaign (.273/.357/.400, 3.9 rWAR, 3.7 fWAR). At the very least, one can imagine Realmuto feeling more optimistic about the team’s outlook than he did a year ago when those names were largely unknown to him.
For the time being, Realmuto’s camp can likely focus on his upcoming arbitration case. The 27-year-old had a career-best season at the plate even though he missed much of the opening month due to a back injury, hitting .277/.340/.484 with 21 homers, 30 doubles and three triples while plating 74 runs. Those numbers should give him a nice platform as he seeks a raise from 2018’s modest $2.9MM salary in his second trip through the arbitration process.
In the case of Realmuto, the timing of the talks will be of particular interest. The majority of offseason extension talks tend to take place in Spring Training, once teams have concluded most of their offseason shopping and once arbitration has been completed. At that point, clubs have a better idea of their long-term payroll outlook than they would when negotiating deals early in the offseason. But if the two sides are far enough apart that an agreement isn’t deemed realistic, Realmuto would once again emerge as a fairly clear-cut trade piece. The Marlins aren’t going to compete in 2019 and likely won’t in 2020, either; if Realmuto can’t be extended, it’s only rational to maximize his trade value.
It’d be more prudent, then, for the two sides to get a general feel of asking price and comfort zones sooner rather than later. That way, if Realmuto’s asking price is simply leagues beyond what the Marlins are comfortable offering, they’d have the ability to market him to other clubs this offseason before those teams have completed their shopping in the spring. With two seasons of club control remaining, a steady progression of improvement both on offense and defense and a still-modest salary, Realmuto would once again become one of the game’s most coveted trade assets. Miami could, of course, elect to carry Realmuto into the 2019 season even if no long-term arrangement can be reached, but doing so only shortens the amount of control an acquiring team would have over him while also welcoming the risk of injury or decline.