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Marlins were right to reject reported J.T. Realmuto trade offer

Nationals thought pairing star prospect Víctor Robles with a placeholder catcher would be enough to complete the long-rumored deal, according to Jim Bowden.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If the Marlins are going to move J.T. Realmuto prior to Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline, they must secure a better return than this:

That’s what has been reported by Jim Bowden (though no other insiders have confirmed yet): Realmuto for outfielder Víctor Robles and catcher Spencer Kieboom. The offer was proposed by the Nationals last weekend and rejected by the Fish.

Giving his take on CBS Sports HQ, Bowden is critical of Miami’s stance. He calls it “stultifying” that the Marlins wouldn’t pull the trigger on a package centered around Robles, a superior prospect to any they acquired this past winter. His long-term controllability suits the club’s competitive window better than Realmuto does (eligible for free agency after the 2020 season).

I agree with Bowden on the point that Robles is a terrific piece to build around.

However, understand who has the leverage in this negotiation: the Marlins. They don’t need to trade Realmuto at all. He would still be widely coveted in the offseason coming off this All-Star campaign—catchers with a 141 wRC+ and plus defense come along only a few times every generation. Relinquishing Realmuto to a division rival—as opposed to someplace where he would do less head-to-head damage—empowers the Fish to charge a premium, too. Also keep in mind the possibility of staying put on a contract extension.

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins
Realmuto delivered a walk-off single against the Nats on Saturday, dropping them down to the .500 mark.
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Meanwhile, who else would the Nats turn to for reinforcements? Since acting early on Kelvin Herrera last month, they have shown themselves to be too chickenshit to counter moves by the Phillies and Braves with additional rental players. They won’t concede the 2018 pennant race, but their odds at a October berth just plummeted to a new low. The Nats hope their veteran core can get healthier and more consistent down the stretch, while recognizing that none of the internal catcher options are good enough.

Realmuto could jumpstart Washington’s abysmal backstop production for an improbable comeback and represent their future at the position. No other player on the trade market fits that description. Not even close.

After seeking input from projection systems, old-school scouting and baseball executives, Kiley McDaniel ranked Realmuto as a significantly more valuable asset than Robles in this summer’s FanGraphs Trade Value series.

McDaniel’s blurb on Robles was very complimentary. Here’s part of it:

“Eric Longenhangen and I think Robles is a plus-plus runner, thrower, and defender who could be a plus or even plus-plus hitter and have a shot at 15 homers. He isn’t the kind of prospect whose raw stats make you go all heart-eyes emoji face, but when scouts watch Robles, that’s how they react.”

If that sounds familiar, perhaps you read about him on MLB Pipeline’s top prospects lists, which were updated the following week? Robles placed No. 1 in the Nationals organization:

“Robles possesses off-the-charts athleticism as well as five standout tools that he showcases on a daily basis. He has the makings of plus hitter from the right side of the plate, with a compact but explosive swing and a present feel for using the whole field...A plus-plus runner, Robles impacts games with his wheels on the bases as well as in center field, where he has exceptional range and instincts as well as arm strength that’s among the best in the Minors at the position.”

The best-case scenario is tantalizing, but the volatility is frightening.

The 21-year-old Robles has only 20 career games played above Double-A. In 2018, a season interrupted by a serious elbow injury, he’s slugging in the .300s across three minor league levels. We have not seen enough to fully trust him.

By comparison, Realmuto could regress to his 2016-17 form and still rank among the best major leaguers at his position. Although his contract status isn’t ideal given the mediocrity of the Marlins’ current supporting cast, the team has zero payroll obligations in place for 2021 and beyond. Even the most skilled front office must occasionally sign the big check to lock up a championship-caliber player. That would not preclude them from finding cost-efficient solutions for other needs.

All things considered, Robles is worthy of being a featured piece in a Realmuto blockbuster...but the Fish still should insist on “insurance” in the form of another impactful prospect. Spencer Kieboom ain’t cutting it.

Kieboom’s plate discipline might keep him on the active roster, especially with the dearth of alternatives in the Marlins system. There’s just no ceiling to get excited about when he is merely a replacement-level performer at age 27.

The Marlins can shake down the Nats for another one of their top 10 prospects. Kieboom’s younger brother, Carter (No. 2 per MLB Pipeline), would be unrealistic, but what about right-hander Wil Crowe (No. 6)?

On the bright side, three quality pitches and an extremely consistent 2018 season. Crowe’s primary concerns would be his distance from the big leagues—assigned to High-A Potomac—and prior Tommy John surgery.

These teams have been off-and-on flirting over a Realmuto trade for months. It’s time to compromise or pivot to other opportunities.


July 31, 3:59pm ET. Final offer on the table: C J.T. Realmuto for OF Víctor Robles and RHP Wil Crowe. Should the Marlins take it?

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