Entering the offseason, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Marlins would trade their best player, catcher J.T. Realmuto, prior to the 2019 campaign. Not only is Miami a rebuilding team whose control over Realmuto is dwindling (he’s due to become a free agent after 2020), but the 27-year-old has shown no desire to sign an extension with the club.
At this point, a trade of Realmuto hardly seems imminent, but considering the offseason’s still in its infancy, there’s ample time for a deal to come together. However, in order for that to happen, the Marlins may have to lower their asking price for Realmuto, as Buster Olney of ESPN reported Nov. 16 that the Fish are seeking a “beyond staggering” return for the All-Star backstop. Since then, National League East rival Washington – a well-known Realmuto suitor – may have taken itself out of the sweepstakes by signing Kurt Suzuki to a two-year, $10MM contract in free agency. The Nationals could still try for Realmuto, who’d form an elite tandem with Suzuki, but there’s clearly less of a need for them to pay a bounty for a catcher than there was at the outset of the offseason.
Certainly, should talks between the Nationals and Marlins end or continue to stagnate, there would still be a slew of teams interested in Realmuto. As arguably the majors’ premier catcher, Realmuto would easily improve other prospective 2019-20 contenders such as the Astros, Rockies, Mets, Athletics, Brewers, Braves and Dodgers, to name some. As of now, though, the sense from other clubs is that the Marlins will retain Realmuto heading into next season, per Olney.
Because the Marlins seem unlikely to contend in the next two years, it’s fair to wonder whether they’d be mistaken in holding Realmuto this winter. In the Marlins’ view, Realmuto’s value actually increased in 2018, according to Olney, though it may be unrealistic on their part to expect a repeat in 2019. Even if the well-rounded Realmuto continues his run as a top-tier catcher next season, his diminishing team control isn’t going to do his trade value any favors. Plus, by keeping Realmuto, Miami would run the risk of a decline in performance and/or a significant injury – either of which would be disastrous from its perspective.
While many are tired of seeing the Marlins sell off proven veterans, as they did last offseason with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon, they may not have a choice with Realmuto. Even after last winter’s firesale, the Marlins continue to feature a below-average farm system, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball America. Moving Realmuto would immediately better their outlook on that front, and if they’re going to trade him, it may be in their best interests to do so in the next few weeks. After all, with bona fide No. 1 options Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos headlining the free-agent catcher class, Miami could soon have two fewer suitors for Realmuto if it doesn’t act quickly.