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Updating the J.T. Realmuto trade market

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What are the odds he’s still around on Opening Day?

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Last we heard from J.T. Realmuto, he was “ready to play the season, whether it is in Miami or somewhere else. I’m just here to do my job and play baseball.”

Realmuto had to be careful with his words in front of the assembled media at this month’s FanFest. And technically, he said all the right things throughout an eventful Marlins offseason. (Any colorful quotes about his status are attributed to his agent, Jeff Berry.)

The team itself is prepared for every scenario. Defeating Realmuto in arbitration set his 2018 salary at a modest $2.9 million, meaning there’s no urgency to shed him from their payroll. With that being said, this makes him all the more appealing to contenders who spent heavily on other positions, but still seek an upgrade behind the plate.

Catching is a notoriously dangerous profession. Even if the Marlins believe Realmuto is capable of monster production, one awkward foul ball to the face mask could derail his season and sap his trade value. He’s also coming off a franchise record-setting workload.

The soon-to-be 27-year-old is easily Miami’s best remaining major league asset. No doubt, calls have been streaming in to the front office from teams who covet the best available backstop in baseball.

We’ll take this opportunity to identify several notable suitors for Realmuto and what they have to offer in return.

Houston Astros

2017 World Series parade
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

In some respects, the Marlins are using the template that led the Astros to a World Series title last fall—recognizing their MLB product isn’t good enough after years of below-average results, stripping the active roster of productive veterans, and using those trades to resuscitate their farm system.

Entering 2018, Houston is now committed to sustaining excellence, saying goodbye to promising prospects when needed to address pressing needs at the highest level. Seven total youngsters were sacrificed to bolster the starting rotation in recent months with the acquisitions of Justin Verlander (August) and Gerrit Cole (January).

Despite those departures, talent evaluators still like what the future holds for the Astros organization. Updated farm system rankings from Baseball America and ESPN placed them 10th and 13th, respectively.

Their catcher combination of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis actually worked fairly well in 2017, although both could become free agents next offseason ($15 million club option to retain McCann). Meanwhile, Realmuto has three years of control remaining.

The Astros and Marlins were engaged in trade talks as of Feb. 10, according to Craig Mish of SiriusXM. Reportedly, the Fish want outfielder Kyle Tucker as the centerpiece of a Realmuto package. The former first-round draft pick—coming off his best professional campaign—is held in a higher regard than any of their current prospects (No. 11 in the 2018 composite rankings).

Tucker with the High-A Buies Creek Astros
Photo by Raul F. Rubiera/The Fayetteville Observer

It’s unclear whether or not tall right-hander Forrest Whitley has been mentioned in the negotiations (No. 8 in composite rankings). He appears to be slightly further away from making an MLB impact than Tucker, with only four career appearances at Double-A.

In their winter trades, the Marlins generally sought quantity over quality—they acquired at least three new players in each of their four big-name deals. But if they decide to stray from that approach to focus on a singular prospect, Houston would be a reasonable landing spot for Realmuto.

Washington Nationals

This once appeared to be the obvious fit. The Nats are under enormous pressure to win in 2018 and the catcher position tops their list of weaknesses.

Matt Wieters underachieved last season, batting .225/.288/.344 (62 wRC+) with 10 home runs in 123 games. Even his defense has faded from the Gold Glove standard of his early career.

Realmuto and Wieters produced comparable value during their age-25 and age-26 campaigns—7.2 fWAR and 8.3 fWAR, respectively. Problem is, Wieters did that in 2011 and 2012, and hasn’t come close to being the same kind of overall stud since then.

Wieters’ struggles bled into the postseason, where he posted in .476 OPS vs. the Cubs in the NLDS.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

As an added layer of intrigue, president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo is a pending free agent. Although confident that he’ll get a long-term deal to remain with the Nats (h/t Jorge Castillo, The Washington Post), Rizzo would seemingly be more secure—and his future salary more lucrative—if he assembles a roster talented enough for a World Series run.

Washington was “the team most heavily engaged” in acquiring Realmuto in late January, Craig Mish tweeted, as was the case for most of this winter. Pete Kerzel of MASN Sports had been hearing that the Marlins would consider offers, even if they didn’t include Victor Robles (No. 2 in composite prospect rankings) or Juan Soto (No. 36).

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic describes the status of the negotiations as a “stalemate” (subscription required).

Atlanta Braves

It’s been a disappointing offseason for the Braves, starting of course with general manager John Coppolella receiving a permanent lifetime ban from Major League Baseball. More than a dozen of their prospects were released into free agency as another consequence of their indiscretions dealing with Latin American amateurs.

The franchise still seemed poised to take a step toward postseason contention. The Braves have the consensus No. 1 farm system despite those penalties, plus a new revenue stream in SunTrust Park. Where’s the Eric Hosmer power move, like the Padres reportedly made on Saturday night? Atlanta was a strong player for Christian Yelich before the Marlins eventually struck a deal with Milwaukee.

Realmuto doesn’t suit the roster as currently constructed. Their catchers quietly combined for more value in 2017 (5.1 fWAR) than any other teams’, and they just brought veteran Chris Stewart to camp as additional depth.

Photo by AP Photo/John Raoux

However, the Braves don’t have anybody at the position under contract beyond this coming season. They could theoretically dip into their minor league assets to trade for Realmuto, then put either Tyler Flowers or Kurt Suzuki on the market to recoup some young talent.

With actual spring training games only a few days away, Realmuto’s market remains robust. It’s slightly more likely that he opens 2018 with the Marlins, but the Rangers and Athletics—plus any of the leading suitors mentioned above—could be motivated to change that.