On February 7, 2019, the Phillies and Marlins lined up on a monumental intra-division trade. Miami sent J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia in exchange for pitching prospects Sixto Sánchez and Will Stewart, as well as MLB catcher Jorge Alfaro. The then-rebuilding Marlins relinquished their final pair of seasons of club control over one of the game’s premier catchers in exchange for longer-term value. With Realmuto now having played out those two years in Philadelphia, it’s worth taking stock of the progress of the players involved.
To date, the trade is shaping up to be a rare win-win. Realmuto more than lived up to his end of the bargain. Since the start of 2019, the former third-rounder has hit an above-average .273/.333/.492, all while rating as a high-end pitch framer and throwing out an elite 42.9% of attempting basestealers. He and Yasmani Grandal are well clear of the rest of the field when looking at FanGraphs’ WAR leaders among catchers the past two seasons. The Phillies didn’t find much in the way of team success, but that’s not the fault of Realmuto, who has been one of the sport’s two most productive catchers since the trade.
Of course, the Phillies-Realmuto relationship didn’t end once he reached free agency. Philadelphia brought back the franchise backstop on a five-year contract last month. The Realmuto acquisition would have been a successful one for the Phils regardless of whether they managed to re-sign him; trading for Realmuto during his arbitration years is a separate decision from the one to sign him to a long-term deal in free agency. Still, the Phillies acquiring Realmuto two years ago certainly couldn’t have hurt their chances of winning the bidding for him this winter.
The Marlins’ end of the deal is a bit more uncertain (as one would expect when a team trades away an established star for a group of talented younger players) but certainly looks bright. Sánchez was seen as the prize of the package at the time of the deal, and he’s only elevated his stock since then. The young righty spent most of the 2019 season in Double-A, where he was very good, and then made his MLB debut last season.
Over his first seven starts at the big league level, Sánchez pitched to a 3.46 ERA/4.18 SIERA. His strikeout rate (20.9%) was a bit below-average, but Sánchez posted better than average marks in both walk rate (7.0%) and ground ball rate (58.0%) as a 22-year-old. It may be too early to definitively declare the flamethrower a future ace, but he’s clearly a central piece of a young rotation the Marlins hope will allow them to perennially reach the postseason, as the Fish did in 2020.
Alfaro and Stewart remain in the Miami organization, but their respective stocks have fallen since the trade. After a decent 2019 season, Alfaro struggled in 2020 and was eventually supplanted on the depth chart by Chad Wallach. Stewart, meanwhile, had a difficult 2019 season in High-A. Eligible for this offseason’s Rule 5 draft, Stewart was left off Miami’s 40-man roster but went unselected.
Even if neither of the secondary pieces in the deal become core pieces for the Marlins, the Realmuto-Sánchez central framework of the trade will be fascinating to follow. There figures to be plenty of times for broadcasters and fans to rehash the details of the blockbuster when the two square off against one another over the coming years.