Entering this offseason, the Miami Marlins had a clear mission to trade away their core of MLB position players to expedite the rebuilding process. The difficult part was anticipating where exactly they would be traded to.
With Robinson Cano in the midst of a huge contract, the Seattle Mariners didn’t seem like a sensible landing spot for second baseman Dee Gordon. But their organization has optimism that the soon-to-be 30-year-old can still learn a few new tricks, such as playing center field on a full-time basis. Unless you’re one of those “Derek Jeter wants to help the Yankees win” conspiracy theorists, the Giancarlo Stanton blockbuster defied expectations, too.
More movement is still possible as the Marlins aspire for a 2018 payroll of $90 million or less. Catcher J.T. Realmuto tried to force the issue when he delivered an early Christmas present to the front office in the form of a trade request.
Controllable players at that position—Realmuto can enter free agency after the 2020 season—who are just beginning their prime years rarely become available. Even more so than Gordon, Stanton or Marcell Ozuna, he should have mass appeal.
No guarantees that any of these obvious suitors will get a deal done, but eyeing the top prospects in each of their farm systems should keep Marlins fans occupied during this latest spell of offseason inactivity around the league.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are awkwardly caught in between, much like the Fish were at this time a year ago. They have the third-most talented roster in the AL East, which might be enough to sneak into the postseason, but that’s only the best-case scenario. Acknowledging that reality, the club hasn’t significantly altered their roster (in either direction) heading into 2018.
However, if the Blue Jays suddenly decide to “go for it,” they certainly have the ammunition to pull off a Realmuto trade. MLB progeny Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.910 OPS at Single-A/High-A) and Bo Bichette (.988 OPS at Single-A/High-A) are both coming off amazing minor league campaigns. Still teenagers, either one would fit perfectly with Miami’s timeline. Guerrero, in particular, is a consensus top-five prospect in the sport.
Toronto has plenty of room for improvement at the catcher’s spot, anyway. The aging Russell Martin—35 in February—has seen his bat and throwing arm deteriorate over the past two seasons. On a team truly aiming to contend, he’s best utilized as a backup and occasional designated hitter versus left-handed pitching.
4. Boston Red Sox
Re-signing first baseman Mitch Moreland will help, but the Red Sox still have some catching up to do if they expect to keep pace with the American League’s elite.
Their backstop duo of Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon is decent (1.9 fWAR from the position last season ranked 17th in the majors). Unfortunately, “decent” isn’t going to cut it for a franchise that’s clearly shifted into win-now mode. Realmuto represents a significant upgrade over what they have, and either Vazquez or Leon should hold some appeal on the trade market to teams with lesser expectations.
More specifically, Realmuto would mesh well with Boston’s aggressive baserunning philosophy. Since 2016, their players have taken the extra base more than 43 percent of the time (as defined by Baseball-Reference), one of the highest rates around MLB. Seems like a smart way to utilize the man who Statcast considers the fastest catcher in the league.
3. Washington Nationals
Kyle Downing of MLB Trade Rumors calls the Nats the most obvious fit for Realmuto, and makes a compelling case:
“They have a great farm system, including outfielder Juan Soto, who doesn’t have an obvious path to the majors. The Nationals’ outfield is crowded, and superprospect Victor Robles is ahead of him in the pecking order. Thanks in part to a terrible season from Matt Wieters, Nats catchers ranked dead last in the majors with -1.1 fWAR. Washington would definitely benefit from the sizable upgrade Realmuto would provide them at the catcher position; in theory the team would have won about five more games last year if they’d had him instead of Wieters.”
Projected to earn about $4.2 million in his first trip through arbitration, Realmuto is a bargain. However, the Nats are already due to have a franchise-record-setting payroll in 2018 (when accounting for the rest of their arbitration class), and it’s not like anybody will volunteer to take Wieters’ $10.5 million salary off their hands.
For whatever reason, these NL East rivals have been infrequent trade partners in recent years. Their most recent deal was in July 2009 (Aaron Thompson for Nick Johnson), with only three total transactions since the Nats relocated and rebranded.
2. Texas Rangers
In 2017, the Rangers finished just a couple games ahead of the Blue Jays. And like Toronto, their path to immediate contention seems to be blocked by superior teams in the division.
Despite that, history suggests they’ll attempt to improve. General manager Jon Daniels reset the Rangers major league roster at the start of his tenure, but that was more than a decade ago. Otherwise, they have consistently fought for relevance.
Robinson Chirinos quietly gave the Rangers excellent production behind the plate last season (.255/.360/.506, 127 wRC+ in 88 G). But he turns 34 next June and doesn’t have a track record to convince them that such offensive prowess is sustainable. He would be miscast as their primary starter. Another concern: the organization has a dearth of intriguing catching talent in the pipeline for the foreseeable future.
Lacking a legitimate can’t-miss prospect, a package featuring both center fielder Leody Taveras and gifted hitter Willie Calhoun should still be enough to tempt the Marlins.
For what it’s worth, this also figures to be a popular destination from Realmuto’s perspective. He was born and raised in central Oklahoma, approximately 200 miles north of Globe Life Park in Arlington.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
Postseason-caliber teams wouldn’t typically consider Chris Iannetta to be a major loss, but the D-backs are ill-equipped to replace him internally. As currently constructed, their committee of catchers includes Jeff Mathis (career 50 wRC+), Chris Herrmann (64 wRC+) and John Ryan Murphy (67 wRC+).
Even assuming that J.D. Martinez signs elsewhere this offseason, Arizona has an exciting 2018 to look forward to. Problem is, their window doesn’t seem to extend far beyond that.
Perennial NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt heads to the open market after 2019. At that point, Zack Greinke’s contract will continue to account for a sizable chunk of their payroll, but likely without the performance to make it feasible. They need to take advantage of the present.
The anatomy of a Realmuto-to-Arizona trade potentially works two ways. The D-backs could design a young package around top pitching prospect Jon Duplantier and another, more developed starter. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity for the Marlins to dump expensive veterans on a desperate suitor (Wei-Yin Chen or Martin Prado, but more realistically Starlin Castro or Brad Ziegler).
Regardless of which team wins the bidding war for Realmuto, the Marlins must get a strong return for one of their most desirable assets.