October hasn’t been kind for Marlins fans in quite some time. Thursday marks 15 years since their most recent World Series title—or playoff appearance of any kind—and there are no quick fixes in sight. The Marlins are coming off a season where they lost 98 games, a ninth consecutive losing season that led to significant coaching turnover (minus Don Mattingly). It should be a time of frustration and turmoil.
With a plan starting to take shape, the fan support grows daily. This week was by far the most Marlins support I’ve seen in 15 years, and that includes Giancarlo hitting 59 homers last season. “Phase 2” is what my colleague Aram Leighton called it earlier this week.
After trading away major pieces in the offseason to give themselves financial flexibility, 2018 provided a chance for young players and prospects to shine in new roles. Seeing a farm system go from dead last to middle of the pack in less then a year is incredible. The June draft showed even more commitment to the future acquiring four first-round talents in the first three rounds. This week, another major rebuilding block was added when Miami worked its magic to sign brothers Víctor Víctor Mesa, the top-rated international free agent and Víctor Mesa Jr., a 17-year-old outfielder who “put on a show” in his showcase at Marlins Park, according to Mike Hill. Commitment to the future of baseball in Miami seems obvious for the first time in history.
What’s the next step? With most of the foundation finally set, the biggest remaining piece in the Marlins rebuild is J.T. Realmuto.
Going into the 2018 season, there were question marks about how much Realmuto wanted to be in Miami. Standing pat proved to be a wise decision as the 27-year-old emerged as the best catcher in baseball. He showcased every aspect of his game this past year: much-improved defense (MLB-best pop time of 1.90 sec. and second-strongest arm at the position, according to Statcast); and well-rounded offense that featured a new Marlins record of 21 home runs from a catcher and ridiculous 28.6 sec. Sprint Speed. The world finally took notice.
I believe the Marlins will take every chance they have to build an even better relationship with Realmuto this offseason and offer him a lucrative extension. Comparing major deals for top-tier catchers the past few years is difficult—he doesn’t present the equal value of Buster Posey at the time of his eight-year/$159 million deal in 2013, but I believe he should top Yadier Molina when he signed his three-year/$60 million extension.
The two Realmuto figures in my head are three years, $55 million or six years, $105 million. He can take a short deal and get another massive contract at age 31, or commit long term to the Marlins as a crucial piece for throughout the rebuild and after. The choice will come down to J.T.
If he declines an extension, things become interesting.
Since the beginning of the rebuild last year, there has been dialogue between the Marlins and other clubs about possible J.T. Realmuto trades. Miami has reportedly declined two deals from the Washington Nationals, first a package built around teenage phenom Juan Soto last offseason and then a Víctor Robles/Spencer Kieboom package prior to the July trade deadline. With two more years under arbitration eligibility before becoming a free agent as the best player at his position, his value could be hard to decipher.
I’m here to try to find the best trade possibilities for J.T. if he decides to not sign an extension here. I expect the Marlins to lose some leverage if that’s the case, but nonetheless, you would expect a haul in return.
Rockies acquire C J.T. Realmuto
Why it makes sense for Miami
This is the deal that would single-handedly get Miami the best prospect in return in Brendan Rodgers, a consensus Top 20 prospect on all platforms. Known as a five-tool talent, hit 17 homers while swiping 12 bases in AA before earning his first ever promotion to AAA this season. Instantly would be the best player in the Marlins farm system since José Fernández. A player to potentially speed up the rebuild by quite some time. Justin Lawrence would be much more then an add on. A sinker-ball thrower who sits in high 90s, who held batters to a .188 in 54 innings in AA in 2018. A potential future bullpen piece who adds to young stable of arms in the organization, with a chance to be a MLB closer someday.
Why it makes sense for Colorado
Rockies are coming off a 2018 season where they lost in the NLDS to Milwaukee 3-0 feeling the pressure to make a move now. NL West is getting better daily with the Dodgers in the World Series as we speak and the Padres building a potential juggernaut in San Diego. With this deal, it gives Colorado a significant upgrade at the catcher position after 2018, where they platooned catcher players who put together a -1.0 WAR season, while Realmuto was at 4.3. Realmuto would be under contract for Arenado’s last arbitration year and all of Story’s arb years. Making a strong lineup elite. While losing Rodgers would be a loss to their farm, he would be best suited at 3B or SS where he’s blocked by Arenado and Story respectfully, and have another prospect in Garrett Hampson waiting in the wings.
Dodgers acquire C J.T. Realmuto
Why it makes sense for Miami
It’s clear the Marlins won’t be competing for a pennant in 2019 as it stands right now and the Dodgers might be motivated to make a deal after this season. This package would be for the long game. Gavin Lux and Dustin May both projected to be ready for the majors by 2020. The first we’ve heard that a Marlins team could be competitive. May is lanky right handed starter who offers three plus pitches, was fantastic this season. Posting a 3.39 ERA over 23 starts with 122 strikeouts. Projected as a No. 2 starter long term, giving Miami hopefully a good problem going forward. Gavin Lux could be gem in this deal. A talented shortstop who hit .324 across two levels in ‘18 with 50 XBH. A left handed swing that’s gaining strength with age. Potentially a 20-20 guy someday. Lastly Edwin Rios fits an immediate need within the organization. A sixth-round pick out of Florida International in 2015 is a left-handed first baseman who is one strong spring away from a chance at competing for a starting 1B job. Think Justin Bour with less walks, but higher average and better defense.
Why it makes sense for Los Angeles
Over the past few years the Dodgers have built a roster to make consecutive World Series appearance. Adding a player like Realmuto could be the player to take a team to a next level. Dodger Catchers are hitting a combined .105 with 23 strikeouts in the 2018 playoffs. Not ideal. Yasmani Grandal offers more power then most at the position, but is a free agent after this season. Austin Barnes is a good player but already close to his ceiling the same age as Realmuto. They have a top C prospect in the minors in Kiebert Ruiz (MLB #39), but won’t be ready for a couple years. The Los Angeles front office hasn’t been shy making deals for immediate success, and I think this deal does just that.
Astros acquire C J.T. Realmuto
Why is makes sense for Miami
Overall, this might be the best deal the Marlins have seen for anyone not named Yelich. Adding a big corner OF/1B who just had a .389 OBP with 2O bombs across AA and AAA in 2018. First base being probably the weakest position in Miami’s system, Alvarez gives them another player ready to compete for a starting role in 2019. Corbin Martin is another player who offers a high upside with slight risk. Did it all this past year with a 2.51 ERA and a save in 25 appearances. Currently a ceiling of a middle rotation starter, but seeing his true upside as a high leverage reliever. Talking about upside, then J.B. Bukauskas might more then both players listed before. A 2017 first-round pick with a true 75-grade fastball doesn’t look like a normal flamethrower. Only around six feet tall, but dominates hitters with the fastball and power slider. Some questions have came about longevity as a starter, but 2018 is any indication of how he’s going to develop. He could be a frontline starter, an asset that Miami isn’t overflowing with.
Why it makes sense for Houston
2019 is an extremely important year for Houston. Major payroll decisions coming soon. Brian McCann has a 15 million dollar club option, Martin Maldonado and Evan Gattis both will be free agents, thus leaving Max Stassi as the only catcher. Adding a player like Realmuto to provide stability to a position of need without losing Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley would be an absolute win. The 2017 world champions’ window is closing quickly with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole both becoming free agents in 2020 and teams like Boston and New York just getting stronger. Now would be the best possible time to make a splash to get them back to the promised land before their time has passed.
Just thinking about J.T. Realmuto not in Marlins uniform is going to be tough for Marlins fans. Talking trades is always asking for backlash, but these deals offer Miami a chance at future success. Losing a player like J.T. for nothing in the middle of a rebuild would be worse than any trade we have possibly made in the past five years. This organization is putting every effort into making this a team with a sustainable future and I don’t seeing them take steps backwards here.