SUNDAY: The Rays “appear content” with their current lineup, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin, who adds it would be “unexpected” for the club to make any more trades with spring training nearing. That seems to cast doubt on the possibility of the Rays acquiring Realmuto.
SATURDAY: Twists and turns continue in the saga of Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, who has been a dominant presence in trade rumors throughout the offseason. As of Thursday, the Padres, Reds, Dodgers and Braves were reportedly the last remaining suitors for Realmuto, but the Rays have worked their way back into the mix, according to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. While it seemed earlier this week that Tampa Bay had exited the race for Realmuto, the club has “re-engaged” as spring training nears, per Frisaro.
Fresh off a surprising 90-win season in 2018, the Rays entered the winter as candidates to make noteworthy upgrades, despite their low-payroll ways, but have mostly shied away from headline-grabbing moves. The Rays’ biggest pickup thus far has been right-hander Charlie Morton, whom they inked to a two-year, $30MM contract, and they’ve also reeled in the less expensive trio of catcher Mike Zunino (via trade with Seattle), infielder Yandy Diaz (via trade with Cleveland) and outfielder Avisail Garcia (one year, $3.5MM guarantee). With those four in tow, the Rays are only projected to open the season with a $59MM-plus payroll – far below their $76MM-plus mark from 2018 – as Jason Martinez of Roster Resource estimates.
Fortunately for the small-spending Rays, acquiring Realmuto would not cause a sizable dent in their budget. He’ll earn $5.9MM this year, his second-last arbitration season, and that relatively inexpensive sum only increases his appeal from their standpoint. At the same time, it also helps explain why the Marlins have been holding out for a bounty for the soon-to-be 28-year-old Realmuto, who was the majors’ top catcher last season. And the Rays, whose farm system features nine of ESPN’s Keith Law’s top-100 prospects (subscription required), likely have the ammunition to get a deal done if they’re motivated.
However, should the Rays land Realmuto, it’s an open question whether Zunino would remain in place. Tampa Bay could simply keep Zunino as Realmuto’s backup, thus giving it the game’s best behind-the-plate tandem, but the former may once again become a trade chip in his own right. With a quality track record, two years of arbitration eligibility remaining and a sub-$4.5MM salary for 2019, Zunino could bring back a player(s) capable of helping the Rays’ roster at another position. Zunino has already netted a solid return in a trade once this offseason, as the Rays acquired him in a five-player deal in which they parted with a cheap, starting-caliber outfielder in Mallex Smith.
The Marlins, meanwhile, may receive a Realmuto replacement as part of a trade, which could make Zunino an attractive target for them. While that’s merely speculation, they have discussed veteran backstop Tucker Barnhart in trade talks with the Reds, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com tweets. Additionally, a potential deal with Cincinnati could include 22-year-old third baseman Jonathan India (previously reported) – whom the Reds selected fifth overall in last summer’s draft – as well as at least one “lesser” prospect, Mayo relays. Acquiring Realmuto would be the latest sign that Cincinnati’s aiming to return to contention in 2019. The Reds are currently coming off their fifth straight sub-.500 season and fourth straight campaign with fewer than 70 wins, but they’ve since picked up a slew of household names in various trades.
Like the Reds, the Padres seem hopeful they’ll put several years of irrelevance behind them during the upcoming season. Although the Padres haven’t made any significant improvements yet, they’ve been connected to Realmuto and other stars in the rumor mill. Trading for Realmuto would surely take a bite out of the Padres’ loaded farm system – a unit which includes a whopping 10 top-100 prospects, per Law; subscription required). Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported last week that the Marlins wanted big-hitting catcher prospect Francisco Mejia from the Padres in exchange for Realmuto, but it doesn’t seem that’s the case anymore. At this point, Miami’s interest in Mejia isn’t “especially high,” according to Morosi, Therefore, it’s “likely” that the Marlins would instead need one of Fernando Tatis Jr., MacKenzie Gore or Luis Urias from the Padres in a Realmuto package, Morosi writes. Tatis, Gore and Urias rank first, second and fourth among the Padres’ prospects at MLB.com, which places Mejia third.
It’s currently anyone’s guess which uniform Realmuto will don in 2019, but it seems we’ll find out in the coming days. The Marlins are within two weeks of opening camp, and it’s unlikely Realmuto will still be on their roster at that point, Frisaro suggests.