- The Marlins intend to strengthen their bullpen from outside in the coming days, president of baseball operations Michael Hill told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald and other reporters Saturday. “Hopefully, we’ll get that taken care of before pitchers take the field [on Wednesday],” said Hill, who wants a “veteran bullpen piece to help with” the unit’s younger pitchers. There’s still a good amount of familiar free-agent relievers the low-payroll Marlins should be able to afford as they seek to bolster a relief unit that was among the majors’ worst in 2018.
- As you’d expect, the Marlins are high on catcher Jorge Alfaro, one of the players they acquired from Philadelphia in Thursday’s blockbuster trade centering on Realmuto. Manager Don Mattingly raved about Alfaro’s arm Saturday, saying that “J.T. threw great” but “[Alfaro] throws better,” via Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Indeed, Realmuto finished second only to Alfaro in arm strength in 2018, according to Statcast, and the latter also beat out the former (and nearly every other catcher in the sport) as an overall defender, per Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average metric. But whether Alfaro succeeds offensively will help determine how well the Marlins did in this trade, of course, and Spencer points out the 25-year-old is no sure thing at the plate. Alfaro produced respectable bottom-line results from 2017-18, a 491-plate appearance span in which he slashed .275/.332/.432 (103 wRC+). At the same time, though, he struck out in nearly 35 percent percent of trips while walking just 4.3 of the time. Mattingly acknowledged that Alfaro has work to do in that area, but the skipper noted he has an “efficient” swing and improvement’s “just a matter of approach and thinking.”
A return to Milwaukee for Mike Moustakas “seems inevitable,” writes The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who also suspects the Crew aren’t willing to extend a multi-year offer to the 30-year-old third baseman. Moustakas, who yet again has garnered little interest in his repeat foray into the free-agent market, would figure to reprise his role as the team’s primary third baseman, shifting Travis Shaw across the diamond to second. Moose’s 105 wRC+ output was slightly down from the previous three seasons, though his hard-hit rate jumped to a career-best 41.2%. His ZiPS projection, released yesterday on FanGraphs, shines brightly, perhaps as a result: the system forecasts a 116 OPS+/3.2 WAR output for the longtime Royal, seeing him as an easily above-average big-league third baseman. MLB teams, it seems, are hardly in accord.
Here’s more from around the NL . . .
- Milwaukee, who’s yet to tire of yo-yoing Shaw back and forth from second to third, also hasn’t begun extension talks with the now-versatile 28-year-old, reports Rosenthal. Fresh off his third 118 or better wRC+ season in four years, the former ninth-round selection of the Red Sox has found a home in Wisconsin, turning in consecutive 3.5+ fWAR campaigns in his first two seasons with the team. Peripherals paint an even better picture: Shaw upped his walk rate by nearly four percent, to 13.3, and dropped his strikeout rate to a career-low 18.4%, his first MLB season under 20 in the category. Though the minor-league track record was mostly stellar, save for two stints in AAA, the son of longtime MLB closer Jeff Shaw was never a highly-touted prospect, even in the hyped-up Boston system, and it’s certainly possible that the Brewers would like to see more before offering him a hefty chunk of change. Still, another season like the last two, and it may not be Milwaukee on the next deal’s bottom line.
- The quartet of prospects sent from Milwaukee to Miami in the Christian Yelich deal, headlined by the trio of Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, and Isan Diaz, top 100 guys all, have yet to look the part. Still, Miami doesn’t view the return as a “lost cause,” writes Rosenthal, who notes that the Fish are still particularly high on minor-league strikeout king Harrison. Diaz, too, has flashed an intriguing power/plate-discipline combo in the upper minors, and appears poised to get his second-base shot in the upcoming campaign. Brinson, to be sure, suffered through a rookie campaign that almost could not have gone worse, but figures to get all the ship-righting opportunities he needs in the seasons to come.
- Third baseman-turned-right fielder Brian Anderson will move back to the hot corner for 2019, tweets the Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer. Anderson handled the shift with aplomb last season, posting 4 DRS and a +5 UZR on the way to an impressive 3.4 fWAR rookie campaign. Still, a young, well-rounded third baseman is a tougher find, and the Fish will surely like to test their young outfielders in the months to come. One-time incumbent Martin Prado may be on his last leg, and it seems the Marlins will again to look to the 35-year-old to fill his early-career super-utility role in 2019.
In an offseason that will be remembered for teams’ reluctance to shell out big money for the Hot Stove season’s biggest names, the NL East has been an outlier. Three of its teams–the Mets, Nationals, and Phillies–have gone against the grain, employing aggressive strategies and eyeing a 2019 division title in what appears to be an open field. Certainly, the division projects to be one of baseball’s most competitive in the upcoming season, featuring four teams that have at least a fighter’s chance at seizing the NL East crown. After the Nationals’ dominating run atop the division in recent years, the club took a step back in 2018, all while the Braves and Phillies enjoyed seemingly premature success. And with the Nationals preparing to bid goodbye to their franchise player, there is no clear favorite to win the division as spring training draws near. Which team’s slate of offseason moves will lead to a postseason appearance?
The Mets turned heads with their blockbuster December trade to acquire Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano from the rebuilding Mariners, loudly marking the arrival a new front office regime headed by general manager Brodie Van Wagenen. Van Wagenen has placed his club firmly in “win-now” territory, supplementing the Diaz deal with signings of solid regulars Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie, to say nothing of his efforts to shore up a lackluster bullpen with the additions of Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, and Luis Avilan. Van Wagenen has not been shy about making trades, swinging three separate deals that brought Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis to New York and shipped backstop Kevin Plawecki to Cleveland. The club was also rumored to have offered $64MM to Yasmani Grandal–who ultimately declined and signed with the Brewers–and has been linked to Gio Gonzalez to round out an already-stellar starting rotation. The Mets will also count on a contribution from first baseman Peter Alonso, who made a name for himself with his display of power in 2018, slugging 36 total home runs across two levels of the minors. It remains to be seen whether the revamped roster will be enough to carry the Mets into October, but the team’s aggressiveness this winter has certainly put them in position to compete.
Though it’s entirely possible that Bryce Harper has played his last game in a Nationals uniform, the team still appears well-equipped for another run at the postseason in 2019. Owner Ted Lerner, for his part, has exhibited a willingness to invest heavily in the current iteration of the Nationals: the team has already doled out the offseason’s single largest contract of the offseason, adding standout lefty Patrick Corbin to a pitching staff that already features Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Furthermore, the club was reported to have offered Bryce Harper at least $300MM to remain in the nation’s capital for the next decade. All that not to mention the additions of Brian Dozier, Kurt Suzuki, Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, Matt Adams, and Anibal Sanchez. Dozier, who was hamstrung by injuries in 2018, will look to return to form as a right-handed power bat who can play up the middle. Suzuki will work in tandem with trade acquisition Yan Gomes to stabilize the catcher position, where the Nationals sorely lacked for production in 2018. Sanchez, who enjoyed a career renaissance last season, will slot in behind the big names as the fourth starter. Even if Harper decides to play out his prime elsewhere, the Nats still feel comfortable with their outfield mix moving forward. Standout rookie Juan Soto will be joined by highly-touted prospect Victor Robles and veteran Adam Eaton, who has posted an impressive .816 OPS in his injury-shortened Nationals career.
With today’s acquisition of catcher J.T. Realmuto, one of the offseason’s most sought-after prizes, the Phillies have vaulted themselves into the conversation atop the NL East. Entering the offseason, the circumstances were clear: Phillies ownership was sitting on heaps of money, fully preparing to invest it into one, if not both, of the top available players. While Phillies fans have thus far had to settle for the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, David Robertson, and now Realmuto, both Harper and Manny Machado remain unsigned, and Philadelphia remains in play for the two megastars. Even without one of Harper or Machado, the Phillies can’t be discounted in the race to the top of the NL East. Though the team finished with an unimpressive 80 wins in 2018, Philadelphia kept pace with the Nationals and Braves for much of the season, until a late-season collapse took them out of the race. Gabe Kapler and his staff will lean on leadership from veterans Realmuto, McCutchen, and Robertson in an effort to prevent the club from running out of gas again in 2019. Considering the possibility that Philly’s biggest moves have yet to come, Phillies leadership must feel optimistic about their team’s chances moving forward.
The 2018 division winners, the Braves, have largely remained quiet in the winter. With their rebuild taking off seemingly a year ahead of schedule, team leadership, sitting on a farm system brimming with potential impact players, may be hesitant to commit fully to a win-now mentality. After inking 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal early in the offseason, the team’s biggest move has been to bring back 2018 All-Star Nick Markakis on a one-year contract. Many onlookers have expressed frustration at the team’s hesitance to pursue big names, but Atlanta evidently feels content to bank on steps forward from its young core, including Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson, as well as contributions from its gaggle of young pitchers–Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, and Kyle Wright, among others. Meanwhile, in Miami, expectations are low. The trade of J.T. Realmuto is the latest in a series of trades that have gutted the major-league roster over the last two years. Other casualties of the offseason include Derek Dietrich, Nick Wittgren, and the aforementioned Barraclough. And while the club has made canny signings of Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker, the focus in Miami is firmly on the future. Although a growing crop of farmhands may make the Marlins a real threat in the 2020s, fans should prepare for another season in the cellar of the NL East.
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2:15pm: The Phillies have announced the trade, acquiring Realmuto in exchange for Alfaro, Sanchez, Stewart and international funds. It seems, then, that the bonus money was the fourth component of the deal, rather than an additional minor league talent.
1:30pm: One of the winter’s biggest storylines has finally drawn to a close, as the Phillies and Marlins have agreed to a deal that will send star catcher J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia, according to Jim Bowden of The Athletic (Twitter links). A four-player package will go to Miami in return, headlined by young backstop Jorge Alfaro and top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez. Southpaw Will Stewart is one of the other pieces in the deal. The Marlins also acquire an international signing slot worth $250K, per ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan and the New York Post’s Joel Sherman (Twitter links).
The course of negotiations surrounding Realmuto took many twists and turns. At various times, it seemed he’d end up at a variety of different teams, with the Dodgers, Padres, Reds, Braves and Astros all rumored to be involved to varying extents. Ultimately, the Phillies emerged late as the winning suitor, with their willingness to include Sanchez, one of the game’s top-ranked pitching prospects, seemingly pushing things over the finish line.
With the move, the Phils will add two seasons of Realmuto, a player who has established himself as the game’s best backstop. He’s earning just $5.9MM in 2019 with one more season of arbitration eligibility still remaining. It’s certainly possible that the Phils will pursue extension talks with the 27-year-old, though there is no indication that the possibility of a long-term contract is an element of today’s transaction.
Some may wonder whether this represents an alternative to the Phils’ longstanding pursuit of top free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Odds are, it only enhances the odds of such a major outlay. Parting with the years of cheap control over Alfaro and the upside of the two pitchers clearly positions the Phillies as a win-now club. And Realmuto is an affordable piece who won’t remotely clog the still-wide-open current and future Philadelphia balance sheets. His addition only further underscores the Phillies’ desire to win, which one would figure to be an appealing trait for either Machado or Harper. Of course, both are still expected to go to the highest bidder, but Philadelphia’s aggressive commitment to winning this offseason could be a tipping point in its favor should either top free agent be weighing similar offers from the Phillies and another suitor.
Future maneuverings aside, Realmuto himself provides a significant boost to the Phillies’ 2019 playoff chances. The 27-year-old missed the first few weeks of the 2018 campaign due to a minor back injury but came storming back with a terrific .277/.340/.484 batting line, 21 home runs, 30 doubles and three triples in 531 plate appearances. Realmuto’s OPS+ (which is adjusted for home park and league) checked in at 139 — effectively indicating that he was 39 percent better than a league-average hitter. That’s all the more impressive when considering that catchers, on the whole, were about 10 to 15 percent less effective than a league-average bat. Put simply — there are few, if any catchers in baseball who could upgrade a lineup more than Realmuto.
Defensively speaking, Realmuto is solid across the board. He’s thrown out would-be base thieves at a 35 percent clip across the past three seasons and has turned in average or better pitch-blocking marks, per Baseball Prospectus, throughout his career. While Realmuto’s framing efforts graded out poorly early in his big league tenure, he drew above-average marks in 2017 and average marks last season, so the Phillies can likely expect at least average output in that regard. Realmuto isn’t the framer that Alfaro was in 2018, but he’s a better blocker, and it’s not unreasonable to think that he could be a three- or four-win upgrade over Alfaro on his own.
As one would expect for a player of Realmuto’s caliber, the cost of acquisition was hardly cheap. Alfaro will step directly into the Marlins’ lineup as the team’s primary new backstop. While his bat is a work in progress, his framing in 2018 was excellent, and scouting reports on him as a prospect often pegged him with an 80-grade arm (top of the 20-80 scale).
Alfaro hit .262/.324/.407 with 10 homers in 377 PAs last season, but there’s reason to doubt his ability to replicate that output. Specifically, Alfaro whiffed in 36.6 percent of his plate appearances and benefited from an eye-popping (and clearly unsustainable) .406 average on balls in play. The 25-year-old will need to improve on his contact skills if he’s to carve out a career as a regular, but the tools he possesses are undeniably enticing — particularly for a rebuilding club like Miami.
Sanchez, meanwhile, has rated among the game’s top pitching prospects for the past couple of seasons thanks to a triple-digit fastball and the potential for three average or better secondary offerings. The biggest question with him is health, as the righty was limited to 46 2/3 innings last season thanks to arm troubles (though none that required surgery). Sanchez reached the Class-A Advanced Florida State League as a 19-year-old last year — making him about four years younger than the average player in that league. Despite facing more advanced and experienced hitters, Sanchez pitched to a pristine 2.51 ERA with a terrific 45-to-11 K/BB ratio and a 52.3 percent ground-ball rate in those 46 2/3 frames when healthy. He’s likely at least a year away from MLB readiness, but he’ll immediately become not just the most highly regarded pitcher in the Marlins organization but their clear-cut top prospect.
The addition of Stewart, 21, isn’t a throwaway note for the Marlins, either. A 20th-round pick back in 2015, the lefty has elevated his status with a strong showing to this point in his pro career and was ranked 18th among Phillies farmhands by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs just last month. Stewart was two years younger than his average opponent in Class-A last season but nonetheless worked to a 2.06 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a sensational 62.9 percent ground-ball rate in 113 2/3 innings as a starter. His sinker is complemented by a trio of potentially average offerings, and his significantly improved walk rate in ’18 is reason for further encouragement. The ceiling on Stewart is certainly lower than on Sanchez, but as ground-ball oriented pitcher with solid control, he could function as a nice back-of-the-rotation piece in the Marlins’ spacious home park if all pans out well.
In all, the Marlins have certainly positioned themselves to come away from the trade with a fair bit of value. While there’s certainly risk to the assets which they acquired — as is the case when trading any star player for unproven talent — Alfaro was long one of the game’s top catching prospects before debuting, and the most optimistic scouting reports on Sanchez peg him as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter. It’s feasible that by mid-to-late 2020, both could be on the Marlins’ big league roster, and the addition of a solid arm such as Stewart, even if he’s more “high floor” than “high ceiling,” deepens the farm and presents another potential rotation piece.
The Phillies traded a pair of high-upside players, Alfaro and Sanchez, who could prove to be dynamic pieces for a division rival down the line but did so at a time when the NL East could legitimately be seized by any of the division’s top four teams. Realmuto will join new additions Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen alongside holdover Rhys Hoskins in the top portion of the Phillies’ lineup, and with the potential addition of Harper or Machado looming, his presence should be a key element in a dramatically improved lineup. The Phillies are aggressively looking to atone for last season’s late collapse, and the moves they’ve made, to date, seem quite likely to help the organization achieve that goal.
Reports emerged this morning that momentum was growing between the Phillies and Marlins on a deal to send star catcher J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia. Now, it seems, the sides have made yet further strides, to the point that they appear to be on the cusp of a completed transaction.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post cites multiple sources (Twitter link) for the proposition that the negotiations are “down to physical reviews” and the supplemental prospect pieces in the swap. He reports that top Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez would join young backstop Jorge Alfaro as the two key pieces of the package.
That report builds upon prior indications of a nearing agreement. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that two of the other organizations that had been pursuing Realmuto now believe he’s destined to land with the Phils. Craig Mish of MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM tweeted that he expects a deal to occur today, while MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported the growing momentum with the Philadelphia organization specifically.
In terms of the final details of the package, it seems that’s still open to discussion. (One wonders whether other Marlins players or third teams could also be involved.) Sherman reports (Twitter links) that players under consideration including top-ten organizational prospects Mickey Moniak, Adam Haseley, and Adonis Medina, with Jon Heyman of MLB Network reporting (Twitter links) that Alec Bohm, Luis Garcia, and Spencer Howard all also being talked about.
That bunch of names covers most of the top portion of the Phillies farm, so there’ still a good bit of variability in the outcome here. Sherman says the outlook for the deal still looks good — indeed, Sanchez’s medicals are already under review in Miami — but there’s haggling left to go. The Marlins want four total players and are unsurprisingly trying to pry loose some of the Phils’ best remaining farm assets.
THURSDAY: The Phillies are “gaining momentum” in their pursuit of Realmuto, according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi. Precisely what that means isn’t clear, but it seems the sides have reason to believe they could line up on a swap.
Mish tweets that he expects a deal to occur today, though he does not specify that Realmuto will necessarily be sent to the Phils.
WEDNESDAY, 4:00pm: Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Daily News also hears that the Marlins’ preference is to find a deal for Realmuto in the very near future (Twitter link). Like Frisaro, he notes that Sanchez is viewed by the Marlins as a key piece in the deal, adding that young catcher Jorge Alfaro would need to be included in the swap as well.
Frisaro notes that the Miami organization would like to wrap up a deal with one of the remaining suitors before the club holds its annual FanFest event this Saturday.
TUESDAY: The Phillies appear to be re-emerging as a candidate to land Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted earlier today that the clubs have been in contact of late, while Yahoo’s Tim Brown now notes on Twitter that “there could be some traction” between the clubs, suggesting it is a situation to monitor.
As ever, it’s worth taking this news with a grain of salt. The trade saga surrounding Realmuto has dragged on for the entirety of the offseason, with numerous reports suggesting that certain suitors were rising or falling in likelihood. With February upon us, Realmuto remains a Marlin.
That said, this match makes potential sense on paper and these particular journalists aren’t prone to dropping bread crumbs of information in a scattershot manner. On the Marlins’ side, it seems all but certain that the Miami club will end up shipping Realmuto elsewhere. Following an outstanding 2018 season, and with two seasons to go before he reaches free agency, his value will never be higher. There are plenty of interesting assets in the Phillies system that would hold appeal to the rebuilding Marlins.
The Phillies have been eyeing up major acquisitions all winter long, but haven’t yet pulled the trigger. While the focus has been elsewhere, it’s plenty arguable that the team could stand to improve behind the dish. Jorge Alfaro has promise, and has been rather productive thus far in the majors, but is far from a sure thing after striking out 138 times in 377 plate appearances last year. Meanwhile, Andrew Knapp struggled a fair bit in his first full effort at the game’s highest level.
This latest chatter may not lead to anything. We recently heard that the Reds were progressing in talks on Realmuto, only for that talk to fall off. Over the weekend, reports emerged and were then shot down that the Rays were back in the hunt. It has been suggested that negotiations were nearing a crescendo, but things remain unresolved.
Still, it’s certainly intriguing to imagine that the Phils are making a push here. The club could conceivably envision a strike for Realmuto as part of a broader late-market push to land multiple high-end players. Realmuto, after all, is earning only $5.9MM in 2019, so his salary won’t make much of a dent and surely won’t preclude much larger expenditures. Alfaro could in theory be a part of the return, as he’d be just the sort of controllable, reasonably high-upside MLB asset that would help the Marlins feel good about parting with their best player. And it may be coincidental, but it’s worth noting that the Phils just struck a deal with veteran Drew Butera, who might in theory make for a sensible reserve to pair with a heavily used regular such as Realmuto.
The Marlins have announced a minor-league deal with outfielder Curtis Granderson. It includes an invitation to participate in MLB Spring Training. He’ll earn $1.75MM in the majors with $250K in possible incentives, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter).
Granderson turns 38 in March but can still get the job done at the plate. He ended the 2018 campaign with 403 plate appearances of .242/.351/.431 hitting, good for a 116 wRC+. That’s right at his career mark for overall productivity (117 wRC+), though the most recent iteration of Granderson relied a bit more on on-base percentage than the power that has traditionally driven his value.
There are certainly some major caveats here from an on-field perspective. Granderson was not trusted to face lefties last year, reflecting his longstanding struggles against same-handed pitching. And metrics have increasingly soured on his glovework in the outfield.
Still, it seems like a nice addition for the Marlins, who likely gave Granderson assurances that he’d have an inside track to a roster spot and semi-regular playing time. The team is likely headed for another rough season in the standings, but needs to maintain some fan interest and provide veteran leadership. Granderson, a widely respected clubhouse presence, is more a contemporary of Marlins CEO Derek Jeter (his former Yankees teammate) than of the many young players on the Miami roster. He’ll join recent signee Neil Walker in providing some affordable gravitas before potentially transforming into a mid-season trade chip.
The Marlins announced that they’ve claimed right-hander Austin Brice off waivers from the Orioles and designated outfielder Isaac Galloway for assignment in order to open a spot on the 40-man roster. Miami also announced its previously reported trade of Nick Wittgren to the Indians.
Brice, 26, returns to the organization for which he made his MLB debut back in 2016. The right-hander was initially a ninth-round pick by the Marlins back in 2010 and has spent part of the past three seasons in the Majors after going to Cincinnati with Luis Castillo in the Dan Straily trade, but he’s yet to find any real success. Brice saw a career-high 37 1/3 innings with the Reds last year but was knocked around for a 5.79 ERA with a 32-to-13 K/BB ratio (although, notably, six of those walks were intentional in nature).
It’s been an eventful offseason for Brice, who was claimed by the Angels back on Nov. 2. He went to Baltimore on a waiver claim two months later in early January and will now join his fourth organization since the season ended. If he heads to camp with the Fish, he’ll bring a fastball that sits 94 mph and a solid, albeit unspectacular career swinging-strike rate of 10.1 percent.
Galloway, 29, reached the big leagues for the first time in 2018 but hit just .203/.301/.391 in 74 trips to the plate. He did swat three homers and doubles apiece in that short time, but he’s never been much of a power threat in the upper minors. A career .256/.304/.393 hitter in parts of four Triple-A seasons, Galloway has logged more than 7600 innings in center field as a professional and has experience at all three outfield positions.
2:55pm: The Marlins have announced the trade, revealing that they’ll acquire fellow righty Jordan Milbrath from Cleveland in the deal.
Milbrath, 27, reached Triple-A for the first time last season but was hit hard in a small sample of 13 2/3 innings. He spent the bulk of the season in Double-A, where he notched a 3.42 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a gaudy 60.9 percent ground-ball rate. Milbrath’s ground-ball rate has exploded over the past two seasons — he was north of 70 percent in 2017 — though his success to date has come against younger competition. He’ll turn 28 on Aug. 1, making him a bit too old to be considered a “prospect,” perhaps, though his ground-ball tendencies still make him an intriguing bullpen candidate for the Marlins.
1:50pm: The Indians have reached a deal to acquire right-handed reliever Nick Wittgren from the Marlins, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets. Cleveland will send a minor league pitcher to Miami in return.
Wittgren, 27, was somewhat surprisingly designated for assignment by the Marlins last week. On the surface, the righty pitched quite well, working to a 2.94 ERA with 8.3 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 0.27 HR/9 and a career-best 46 percent ground-ball rate in 33 2/3 innings for the Fish. It’s unlikely that he’d be able to replicate the good fortune he had in terms of allowing home runs (one allowed; 2.7 percent homer-to-fly ball ratio), however, and the four walks he averaged on a per-nine-inning basis was the highest mark of his career.
Nonetheless, Wittgren has a career 3.60 ERA, 8.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 127 2/3 of big league relief and still has a minor league option remaining, so the Indians will be able to shuttle him back and forth between Cleveland and their Triple-A affiliate in Columbus this season if need be. Wittgren doesn’t throw especially hard, averaging a bit better than 92 mph on his heater, and he doesn’t generate gaudy spin rate totals. However, he’s still managed solid results to this point in his career and represents a sensible addition for a Cleveland club that is facing enormous uncertainty in the bullpen while also navigating payroll concerns.
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.