Soto, 20, set the league ablaze last season, rocketing in two months from Low-A to the big leagues, where he posted an astounding .292/.406/.517 mark with the league’s third-highest walk rate, arguably the best ever season from a teenage bat. The lefty was off to a slower start this year, though his 15.2% walk rate still ranked among the league’s best.
We can expect an update tomorrow from the Indians on injured righty Corey Kluber, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. It’s not yet known whether Kluber will require surgery for a forearm fracture. Even if he’s able to avoid a procedure, though, he’s likely to be sidelined for a lengthy stretch. Kluber is one of the game’s most accomplished hurlers, even if he hasn’t quite been himself to open the yea. The hope is that he’ll at least be able to target a late-summer return.
While we wait to learn more on that health situation, here’s the latest on a few others of note from around the game:
- Shohei Ohtani is nearing activation by the Angels, manager Brad Ausmus tells reporters including Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times (Twitter link). The precise timeline isn’t yet clear, but the DH is expected to return to action before the club opens a homestand on May 17th. Ohtani won’t be able to make it back to the mound this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2018 season, but he’ll be able to contribute from the batter’s box.
- The Braves seem to have averted a significant problem with third baseman Josh Donaldson and his ailing calf. That’s the same area that wiped out a huge chunk of his 2018 season. But Donaldson is due back this weekend, manager Brian Snitker tells reporters including Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). The 33-year-old Donaldson has thus far rewarded the faith of the Atlanta organization, slashing a smooth .258/.395/.495 through 119 plate appearances with the club.
- There’s also generally positive news for the Nationals on the injury front. Outfielder Juan Soto was held out tonight owing to back spasms, but MLB.com’s Jamal Collier tweets that an MRI did not reveal any cause for concern. It’s not yet clear when he’ll be back in action, but Soto hasn’t gone on the injured list and will likely be slotted right back in the lineup as soon as he feels up to it. The club also can begin to look forward to a return from shortstop Trea Turner. As Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reports (via Twitter), Turner is moving a bit faster than had been expected and could be ready to begin swinging a bat this weekend. That’s a significant step for a player nursing a fractured finger.
The results of the AL and NL Rookie Of The Year Award balloting will be announced tomorrow, capping off a season that saw one of the more distinguished rookie classes in recent history make some immediate impacts in the big leagues.
Put it this way — Walker Buehler, Brad Keller, Jaime Barria, Dereck Rodriguez, Ramon Laureano, Lou Trivino, Seranthony Dominguez, Jack Flaherty, and Harrison Bader all had strong-to-outstanding rookie campaigns in 2018, yet none of this group is expected to crack the top two in balloting in their respective leagues. (The AL rookies might not even reach the top four.) The races in both leagues have been dominated by some major names and eyebrow-raising statistics, leaving voters with a tough choice as the regular season ended. As a reminder, the Rookie Of The Award doesn’t cover the postseason, so Buehler’s performance during the Dodgers’ NL pennant run has to be ignored.
Let’s sort though the big six options and then let the MLBTR readers decide on their preferred choices…
This has been a two-horse race between the Braves’ Ronald Acuna and the Nationals’ Juan Soto for months. While a quick breakout wouldn’t have been surprising for either player (Acuna was heralded as baseball’s top prospect prior to the season, while Soto was also ranked in the 20-60 range of preseason top-100 prospect lists), it was still rather stunning to see both post numbers that will net them some MVP votes, let alone Rookie Of The Year consideration. Making it an even more difficult choice for voters, both players had remarkably identical numbers:
Acuna: .293/.366/.552 over 487 PA, 26 homers, 78 runs, 143 wRC+, 144 OPS+, 3.7 fWAR
Soto: .292/.406/.517 over 494 PA, 22 homers, 77 runs, 146 wRC+, 142 OPS+, 3.7 fWAR
Adding to the similarities, both posted slightly below-average defensive numbers (Defensive Runs Saved, UZR/150) as left fielders, though Acuna boosted his overall DRS and UZR/150 totals with 96 2/3 solid innings in center field and right field. The two also had similar amounts of batted-ball luck — both had a .366 xwOBA, indicating that each was moderately fortunate with their real-world weighted on-base averages (Soto .392, Acuna .388).
Soto supporters can point to their man’s OBP edge, plus the fact that Soto did all of this during his age-19 season, setting several Major League single-season records for a teenage player along the way (such as highest OBP, highest OPS, and most walks). Acuna fans can counter with the argument that the Braves outfielder was only 20 years old, accomplished his feats in the heat of a pennant race, and could’ve outpaced Soto in numbers had Acuna not missed a month on the disabled list with a sprained ACL.
All eyes were on Angels right-hander Shohei Ohtani in his attempt to become the first two-way player in the modern era, and the results were astounding. As a hitter, Ohtani posted a 152 wRC+, 22 homers, and a .285/.361/.564 slash line over 367 plate appearances. As a pitcher, Ohtani had a 3.31 ERA, 11.0 K/9, and 2.86 K/BB rate over 51 2/3 innings, before arm problems that eventually required postseason Tommy John surgery derailed his time on the mound.
After Aaron Judge was the unanimous AL Rookie Of The Year pick in 2017, the Yankees’ youth movement continued as Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar quickly stepped into everyday roles at second and third base, respectively. Torres was the centerpiece of the prospect package New York received from the Cubs in the 2016 Aroldis Chapman trade, and the infielder lived up to the hype by hitting .271/.340/.480 with 24 homers over 484 PA. Andujar swung an even mightier stick, with 27 homers and a .297/.328/.527 slash over 606 plate appearances.
While none of the five rookies featured were contributors on defense, the Rays’ Joey Wendle’s excellent glovework at multiple positions fueled his value. This combination of solid defense and a strong bat (.300/.354/.435 over 545 PA) resulted in Wendle posting a 3.7 position player fWAR that tied both Acuna and Soto in the category among all rookies in baseball. Wendle was in many ways the manifestation of the Rays as a whole in 2018 — an unheralded player who surprised many by emerging as a versatile and productive threat.
3:24pm: Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets that the Nationals are indeed taking offers on impending free-agent relievers such as Herrera, Madson and Kelley. However, Rosenthal adds that Washington is trying to pry more away from rival teams than it gave up to acquire Herrera in the first place, seeking top-tier prospects in return.
Passan, meanwhile, tweets that he’s heard even further since writing this morning’s column that the Nationals’ clubhouse is a growing problem, and organizational confidence in Martinez has faded. Nationals ownership has been notoriously fickle with its managerial preferences, and the reported discord between Martinez and higher-ups is merely the latest data point in that bizarre trend.
Beyond all that, Janes now reports (via Twitter) that the Nationals and Marlins have held “extensive” negotiations regarding Realmuto in recent days, but Washington still deems the price tag to be too high. At the same time, they’re also listening to offers on rental players whose subtraction would help to reduce payroll, she adds.
1:27pm: The 52-53 Nationals have emerged as one of the most interesting teams to watch with just under 26 hours remaining before the non-waiver trade deadline. The presumptive NL East favorites sit six games back in a divisional race that has seen them outplayed by the upstart Phillies and Braves to this point in the season.
It was reported late last week that the Nats were preparing for the possibility of selling some veteran pieces in the event that their four-game set against the Marlins didn’t go well. Washington took the first two games of that series, only to see Miami rally and salvage a 2-2 split. The Nats have actually made up a game in the standings since the time of that report, but the talk of a potential sale persists.
For instance, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan kicks off his weekly 10 Degrees column with a lengthy, fascinating exploration of the apparent disarray in the clubhouse of a Nationals team that has underperformed in a transitional year both in terms of on-field management (where rookie skipper Dave Martinez replaced veteran Dusty Baker) and in terms of ownership (after owner Ted Lerner ceded control of the organization to his son, Mark). One source bluntly told Passan that the Nats’ clubhouse “is a mess,” and three others backed that sentiment. The details are well worth a full read-through for anyone, though Nats fans in particular should take a look.
Broadly speaking, Passan goes on to suggest that the Nationals had hoped to win three of four games in the series they split with Miami this weekend, and though the one-game difference may not prove to be pivotal, ownership will be involved as the club weighs potential trades of short-term veterans. There’ll be a substantial swath of names for decision-makers to consider, with Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, Shawn Kelley, Gio Gonzalez, Mark Reynolds, Matt Adams, Daniel Murphy, Brandon Kintzler and Jeremy Hellickson all serving as potential free agents.
The Nationals have not, to this point, given any real consideration to trading Bryce Harper, Passan adds, which aligns with last week’s comments from Mike Rizzo to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, in which the general manager suggested that it’d take “something extreme” in order to consider trading Harper. Heyman, meanwhile, tweets that rival teams believe there’s virtually no chance the Nats will consider moving Harper, whom they hope to retain long-term.
Heyman adds, though, that other clubs expect the Nats to “investigate” possible trades of Herrera, Madson, Kelley and Of course, with so many relievers available on the market, it’s worth wondering just how much the Nationals could even extract for the majority of those bullpen rentals.
Given the sheer volume of rental players the Nationals could potentially peddle to other clubs, it’s also unlikely that there’d even be time to orchestrate an all-out sale. To that end, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post tweeted even after yesterday’s loss that she’d still be “stunned to see a major fire sale.” USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets that other teams expect the Nationals to largely stay the course, perhaps preferring to try to pass some players through waivers next month. It’s possible that some smaller-scale moves will come together, but it hardly seems that the Washington front office is prepared for any type of significant tear-down.
In fact, it seems it’s not yet entirely out of the question that the Nats would make a significant addition. Heyman tweets that they haven’t completely closed the door on a late push for Marlins star J.T. Realmuto. More interestingly, he suggests that the Nationals would at least consider parting with prized outfield prospect Victor Robles or top shortstop prospect Carter Kieboom, but the Marlins have been pushing for both to be included in a deal (as MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reported Saturday). Whatever talks have taken place have not been serious enough that anything has been brought to Marlins ownership, tweets Craig Mish of SiriusXM.
Though this isn’t any real indication that a Realmuto deal has a legitimate chance of coming to fruition, Josh Norris of Baseball America tweeted last night that Miami had vice president of player development and scouting Gary Denbo in Durham, where Robles and the rest of the Nationals’ Triple-A club squared off against the Rays’ top affiliate. As ever, it’s probably best not to read too much into one specific scouting assignment, but the timing of the two reports is of at least some note.
Suffice it to say, the Nats seem to have a number of avenues they can explore. While trading short-term veterans and acquiring a big-name player such as Realmuto would seemingly run counter to one another, the two ideas could coexist. Adding Realmuto would give the Nationals a boost for two years beyond the current season, as he’s controllable through 2020. Trading some veteran rentals, meanwhile, would modestly supplement the farm while saving some money that could be put toward adding to a core of Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Adam Eaton, etc. this coming offseason. With just over a day to make so many crucial decisions, the Nats will be at the center of much of the intrigue surrounding the 2018 deadline.
Though the Marlins made a few headline-worthy changes in the front office following the franchise’s transfer of ownership to Derek Jeter and company, there wasn’t a dramatic overhaul right away. Instead, as FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman notes, the club is “experiencing turnover as they go; it’s happening organically, and perhaps uncomfortably in a couple cases.” Director of player development Gary Denbo is reportedly “appalled by much of what he sees” as he surveys the Marlins system and attempts to turn the franchise around. Denbo’s primary focus is accountability; it’s reported that within the old regime, decisions could “come from anyone,” and weren’t always made by the person who is accountable for them. “We’re hoping to develop a sense of urgency to become the best organization in baseball. That is the objective,” said Denbo. Though he’s reportedly ruffled a few feathers, perhaps that’s acceptable considering the Marlins have put up a losing record every year since 2009.
A few other items from around the NL East…
- Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic sat down for a Q&A with Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long. Among the highlights are rookie Juan Soto; Long raves about his “tight”, “compact” and “connected” swing along with his plate discipline). “I can go on and on about this kid. His routine is flawless. He came in and knew exactly what he wanted to do. I was like, ‘Wow.’ He’s at ease. He’s confident.” Long also discusses Bryce Harper’s relative struggles as well as Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton and the fly-ball revolution.
- In a separate piece, Rosenthal notes at one point that the Nationals are attempting to add one starter and one reliever (according to his sources). With the recent placement of Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler on the DL and Jeremy Hellickson still recovering from a hamstring strain, pitching is thin for Washington outside of Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez.
- “It feels as if Maikel Franco is being phased out,” writes Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports. While it’s (somewhat) worth noting that Phillies management has denied this, Franco has been relegated to a part-time role after enduring continued struggles to get on base this season; struggles he doesn’t particularly make up for in any other way. Clearly this hasn’t been lost on Franco, who is aware of the circumstances. “I understand what’s happening right now,” he said on Sunday morning. “I understand what the manager is trying to do with everybody. I know the situation.” Rookie J.P. Crawford has been getting looks at third base, and the team is also looking for a positional home for Scott Kingery. Franco owns a .233/.281/.408 slash line since the start of 2017.
The Nationals “checked in” on the availability of star Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto within the past couple of weeks, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports in his latest notes column, though it sounds as if little has changed since the offseason. The Marlins are still seeking a “haul” in exchange for Realmuto, which only makes sense given the 27-year-old’s brilliant start to the season. Heyman suggests that the Nats aren’t willing to meet the price at this time.
MLBTR’s Jeff Todd profiled Realmuto’s trade candidacy at length about a month ago, and Realmuto has maintained his strong play since that was written. Realmuto missed nearly a month to open the season thanks to a lower back issue, but he’s been among the game’s best-hitting catchers (if not the best-hitting catcher in the Majors) since being activated. In 179 plate appearances, he’s hitting .311/.376/.534 with six homers, 12 doubles and three triples. He’s also halted eight of 19 stolen-base attempts against him (42 percent) and turned in strong framing and blocking numbers, per Baseball Prospectus.
Given that terrific all-around profile, a modest $2.9MM salary in 2018 and an additional two years of club control beyond the current season, it’s no surprise that the Marlins were seeking a package of multiple young players headlined by an elite talent in the offseason. Reports at the time indicated that Miami was interested in both Victor Robles and meteoric rising star Juan Soto, who has shocked baseball by soaring from Class-A to the Majors in two months and raking at a .346/.443/.538 pace in his first 16 big league games — all at the age of 19. It’s hard to imagine that the asking price on Realmuto has done anything but increase.
Heyman writes that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Nationals are currently planning to keep Soto in the Majors even when the rest of their outfield is healthy. Washington was loath to part with either Soto or Robles in a Realmuto deal this offseason, and one would have to imagine that Soto, at least, has firmly entrenched himself as an untouchable young talent in the eyes of the D.C. front office. Robles, meanwhile, has played in only four games this year due to a hyperextended elbow, but the Nats have to be dreaming of a controllable outfield anchored by that pair of exciting potential stars beginning no later than 2019.
Other clubs, too, seem likely to gauge the asking price on Realmuto as the trade deadline approaches. The Twins are without Jason Castro for the rest of the season following knee surgery, while more definitive contenders like the Rockies and Brewers have received little in the way of production from their backstops. The market will likely bear other options — Wilson Ramos chief among them — but barring another injury, Realmuto will inevitably be the prize of the trade market in terms of available catching talent. Of course, because the Marlins control him for another two seasons, they also have the luxury of holding onto him should no offers to their liking materialize. Realmuto’s trade value will scarcely diminish from July to November, and rival teams would again line up to express interest should the Marlins hang onto him and market him in the offseason.
SUNDAY: Soto’s promotion is now official. To make room for him on its roster, Washington designated Sierra for assignment and optioned righty Jefry Rodriguez to Double-A. Sierra, 29, signed a minor league deal with the Nationals during the offseason. He went on to amass 60 PAs with the Nats and bat .167/.217/.204 prior to his designation.
SATURDAY: The Nationals will promote outfield prospect Juan Soto, Byron Kerr of MASNsports.com tweets. Soto will join the Nats on Sunday, Kerr adds. Given that Washington’s 40-man roster is at capacity, it’ll need to make a corresponding move to create a spot for Soto.
The 19-year-old Soto is one of the game’s most exciting prospects and will immediately become the majors’ youngest player, though his promotion comes under unfortunate circumstances for the Nationals. The club has been dealing with a spate of injuries in the outfield, where Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin and high-end prospect Victor Robles have missed most of this season, and Howie Kendrick will sit out the rest of it after suffering a ruptured Achilles on Saturday. Moreover, the Nats lost minor leaguer/40-man option Rafael Bautista to a season-ending knee injury earlier this week.
Now, thanks in part to the hits the Nats’ depth has taken, Soto is set to join a Bryce Harper-fronted outfield alignment whose other 25-man choices at the moment include Michael A. Taylor, Matt Adams, Moises Sierra and Andrew Stevenson. It has been a meteoric rise for the Dominican-born Soto, who signed with the Nationals as a 16-year-old in 2015. Soto was among the most highly regarded players available in that year’s international class, and the $1.5MM he received represented the biggest bonus the Nats had given to a Latin American teenager at the time.
Since immigrating to the United States, the lefty-swinging Soto has paid back the Nats by running roughshod over minor league pitching. Dating back to his minors debut in 2016, he owns a tremendous .361/.433/.608 batting line across 508 plate appearances. Soto has racked up 178 of those trips this year among the Single-A, High-A and Double-A levels, though only 31 came with the latter affiliate prior to his promotion. He was hardly overmatched during that small sample of work, however, evidenced by his .296/.387/.556 slash.
Judging by his history, Soto will emerge as an offensive centerpiece in Washington either this season or down the line. He’s also a capable corner outfielder, notes MLB.com, which ranks him as the game’s 15th-best prospect. While Soto has spent the majority of his pro career in right field, Harper figures to man that spot in D.C. at least through this season. As such, Soto seems likely to line up in left for the Nats, who have gotten off to a respectable start (24-20) but could use a boost if they’re going to overcome the Braves and Phillies en route to a third straight NL East crown.
Matt Wieters sustained a leg injury when rounding first base after hitting a single and will undergo an MRI this morning, writes Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. It’s not clear if the damage is specific to his hamstring or something in his knee. Wieters told reporters that he felt something “behind [his] knee, kind of go a little bit.” The veteran switch-hitter has been more productive so far in 2018 than he was in 2017, hitting .231/.342/.385 through his first 76 plate appearances. While he’s still not the hitter he was in his best years with the Orioles, the loss of Wieters for any period would put the Nationals in a bind. He’s one of just two catchers on the 40-man roster now that the Nationals released Miguel Montero last month and placed Jhonatan Solano on the 60-day DL (depth chart). Either journeyman Tuffy Gosewisch or longtime Nats farmhand Spencer Kieboom seem likely to have his contract selected from Triple-A this weekend, as Janes notes that Wieters has already been deemed unavailable for tonight’s game and will “almost certainly” land on the DL for a second time this season.
More on the Nats…
- Outfield prospect Juan Soto, perhaps the quickest rising star of any prospect early in the 2018 season, was bumped from Class-A Advanced to Double-A yesterday. The 19-year-old Soto opened the year in Class-A and was moved to Class-A Advanced after just 16 games. His stay in High-A only lasted another 15 games though, as Soto obliterated pitchers there before somewhat incredibly homering and hitting a double in last night’s Double-A debut as well. Soto has raked at an otherworldly .373/.477/.817 clip across three levels so far, belting 13 homers, nine doubles and four triples while walking more often than he’s struck out (26-to-21 BB/K ratio).
- Janes also writes that the Nationals don’t expect to make a splashy move to acquire an outfielder in the wake of yesterday’s ankle surgery for Adam Eaton. Skipper Dave Martinez said that Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick will platoon for the majority of left field at-bats, listing Andrew Stevenson and a mending Brian Goodwin as additional options for the organization. Soto won’t be rushed to the big leagues, Janes notes, and fellow top outfield prospect Victor Robles is still working his way back from a hyperextended elbow. But Eaton could be closer to returning by the time clubs are willing to start selling off legitimate outfield upgrades, and the Nats have some depth right now as it is. Janes suggests within her column that the Nats may even subtract outfielder Moises Sierra from the roster at some point to open a spot for Mark Reynolds to come up from Triple-A. (It’s worth noting that jettisoning the struggling Sierra would also represent a means of opening a spot for a catcher to be added to the 40-man roster tonight.)
Over at The Athletic, Pedro Moura held a fascinating conversation with Angels slugger Justin Upton. (Subscription link.) There’s plenty of interest in the chat, though Upton’s comments on free agency are of particular interest and relevance. The thrust of his sentiment is that teams seem to be looking to score free-agent value rather than identifying and “courting” players they actively wish to employ. “Teams don’t value players as people anymore,” says Upton. “They value them as a number on a sheet of paper.”
Of course, Upton forewent a chance at returning to the open market by agreeing to a deal with an organization he was comfortable with. Here’s the latest on the unusually high number of quality free agents still not in camp and other market notes:
- The likelihood remains that the Rays will enter the season with Chris Archer on the staff, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag reports among other notes. That’s due in no small part to the team’s lofty asking price; one rival executive suggests that the Tampa Bay front office “wanted our whole farm system” to move Archer. The club has given that impression publicly, too. Senior VP of baseball ops Chaim Bloom reiterated that the expectation is to hang onto Archer and others in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (Twitter link). He added that the internal expectation is that it will begin to reap the rewards of an effort over recent years to bolster the farm depth while still trying to compete at the MLB level.
- It has remained interesting to consider whether the Nationals might pry catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins. But there isn’t much recent indication of serious talks, and Heyman indicates that’s due to what seems to be a big gulf in the sides’ valuations. Washington won’t give top prospects Victor Robles and Juan Soto, per the report; while the club might part with young infielder Carter Kieboom or outfielder Michael Taylor, it seems Miami was asking for too much additional talent to be included in a package.
- The outfield market has certainly delivered some surprises thus far. Heyman says Jarrod Dyson spurned an early two-year, $14MM offer, though a source tells MLBTR that is not accurate. Dyson ultimately signed for $7.5MM with the Diamondbacks. It remains to be seen what’ll happen with players such as Carlos Gonzalez and Jon Jay, each of whom were rated among the fifty best free agents this winter by MLBTR. Heyman says the Indians are still looking at right-handed outfield bats, though it would surely be a surprise for the team to plunk down any meaningful money to make an addition. Perhaps the trade route could still hold some surprises, though that’s pure speculation on my part.
- Veteran reliever Greg Holland might have overplayed his hand in spurning the Rockies earlier in the winter. Colorado was willing to give him something approaching the three-year, $51MM deal the team ultimately inked with Wade Davis, Bob Nightengale of USA Today suggests in an appearance on the podcast of Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. It’s premature, perhaps, to declare that Holland won’t be able to top that number, though it’s frankly difficult to see where that level of interest might come from — as MLBTR’s Steve Adams has recently explained.
- Holland’s list of suitors is in question at the moment. One thing that seems clear, per Heyman, is that the Cubs aren’t planning on making a surprise run at the closer. Rather, Chicago seems largely committed to utilizing Brandon Morrow in the ninth inning and is likely to hold back its remaining payroll reserves for potential mid-season additions.
- So, how low could the remaining pitchers go? Presumably there’s a point at which some bidding would occur. But it’s notable that, per ESPN 1500’s Darren Wolfson (podcast link), the Twins expressed interest in Lance Lynn in the range of just $10MM to $12MM over two seasons. Just how that level of interest came about and was expressed isn’t clear. The team has also made some fairly notable recent commitments and may just not have much more payroll flexibility. And it certainly shouldn’t be taken as evidence of Lynn’s current market value. Still, it’s interesting to learn that’s the current extent of Minnesota’s interest.
Jan. 26: Pete Kerzel of MASNsports.com tweets that the while the Nats aren’t willing to include Robles or Soto, he’s gotten the sense that the Marlins may be willing to accept a package of prospects that doesn’t include either young outfielder as the headliner.
Jan. 25: As the Marlins’ offseason fire sale continues with the trade of Christian Yelich, it seems attention will now turn to catcher J.T. Realmuto. With three years of control remaining, he’s even closer to free agency than was Yelich, so perhaps only a sufficient offer stands in the way of a deal.
At this point, the Nationals are the organization that is “most heavily engaged” in pursuit of Realmuto, according to Craig Mish of MLB Network Radio (via Twitter). But the Fish are maintaining a high asking price, with Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweeting that they are trying to pry top Nationals prospect Victor Robles loose.
Interest in Realmuto has been brisk ever since he reportedly requested a trade earlier in the winter. MLBTR took a look at Realmuto’s possible trade market recently, noting that the Nationals appear to be a strong match. As I explained in breaking down the Nats’ offseason outlook, the organization could be an ideal fit for Realmuto as they look into possible upgrades over veteran Matt Wieters and youngster Pedro Severino behind the dish.
Realmuto, who’ll turn 27 in March, is entering his first of three arbitration seasons after two-straight quality offensive campaigns. His arb case remains unresolved, but he’ll be cheap regardless. Realmuto, who is perhaps the only established young catcher who’s really available by trade at all, popped 17 home runs and slashed a solid .278/.332/.451 over 579 plate appearances in 2017. He’s an athletic backstop who grades well in throwing and blocking. Though his framing numbers have lagged considerably by measure of StatCorner, the Baseball Prospectus grading system felt he turned a corner and added value with his receiving effort in 2017.
So, can the sides hammer out an agreement? It seems something will have to give first. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post writes that the club isn’t willing to consider top prospects Robles and Juan Soto — each of whom ranks among the fifty or so best pre-MLB assets in baseball.
The Nats are obviously weighing some other considerations in their pursuit of Realmuto. With Bryce Harper entering a contract year, the elite outfield prospects are of added importance. Washington is also interested in free agent Alex Avila, Castillo notes, keeping a free-agent option available as well.
Plus, there are competing priorities. As Castillo explains, there’s also the possibility of adding a reliever, with the competitive balance tax operating as a limiting factor. The report suggests the Nationals are “not very high” on closer Greg Holland, who’s the best remaining relief pitcher MLBTR’s ranking of the top 50 free agents.
For Miami, it stands to reason that there’s a minimum price tag beyond which the team just won’t be willing to deal Realmuto. Even if he’s disappointed with staying on board, he’d surely be seen as a valuable asset to help along a young roster and could still be dealt at the trade deadline or next winter.
Then again, the Marlins could take a closer look at the Nationals’ possible trade chips. Righty Erick Fedde and lefty Seth Romero could each represent near-to-the-majors rotation pieces in Miami. And shortstop Carter Kieboom could profile as a future regular at the position for the rebuilding Marlins. Plus, Severino or Raudy Read could turn into young replacement assets behind the dish. Of course, whether and in what combination those players might be available isn’t known.
At the end of the day, one of the two organizations will need to blink, or both will need to find a creative way to compromise, in order to get something done. But it’s not just a staring contest. Other teams, too, are surely still looking into Realmuto and could attempt to slide in with better offers if the Nats continue to be protective of their best young assets.