You could say that Yasmani Grandal agreeing to sign with the Brewers on Wednesday night is the biggest transaction of the Marlins offseason. The 30-year-old had been the only catcher on the market with somewhat comparable ability to J.T. Realmuto, and he winds up on a team that wasn’t really active in Realmuto talks, anyway.
This shifts even more leverage to the Fish as they negotiate with wannabe contenders still looking to improve behind the plate.
Barely one month until major league spring training opens, realistic landing spots for Realmuto include the Astros, Braves, Dodgers, Rays and Reds. The message to them from the Marlins front office is simple: pay dearly for our All-Star or scramble for a vastly inferior catcher.
The free-agent alternatives are Drew Butera, A.J. Ellis, Nick Hundley, Caleb Joseph, Martín Maldonado, Devin Mesoraco, Rene Rivera, Stephen Vogt and Matt Wieters. A solid group...if this was 2015. But most of them have since deteriorated into glorified back-ups or stop-gaps for rebuilding teams who prioritize intangibles and cost efficiency. A conservative projection would peg Realmuto to contribute two to three more wins this coming season than any of these veterans, which is enormous value in a deep divisional or Wild Card race.
One factor that has complicated the Marlins’ negotiations so far, according to multiple reports, is their persistence in asking for a young, controllable major leaguer with huge upside as the centerpiece of a Realmuto package. Names like Cody Bellinger (Dodgers), Miguel Andújar (Yankees) and Amed Rosario (Mets) leaked out earlier in the winter.
It’s easy to understand from the seller’s perspective, but that kind of deal structure is unreasonable for the other team—Realmuto doesn’t have a massive net impact on your 2019 roster if you’re also sacrificing an everyday player at another position. Hence the possibility of a three-team blockbuster in which that long-term Marlins building block comes from a non-competitive franchise.
However, the easier path toward resolving this would be for the Marlins to shift their focus to conventional prospects. Each of the front-runners for Realmuto have above-average farm systems, especially the Braves, who SiriusXM/Five Reasons Sports Network host Craig Mish continues to rank as the most likely trade partner.
Only greed can botch this golden opportunity. Even desperate teams would choose to stand pat if the Marlins try to pressure them into a blatantly lopsided deal.
Leverage is finite. The Marlins can gamble on there being severe catcher injuries in spring training, or J.T. Realmuto elevating his game to an even higher level at age 28. But to be responsible with their last significant trade asset, they ought to hammer out a trade within the next two months, allowing Realmuto to get acclimated to his new home prior to Opening Day, and making the acquiring team feel comfortable compensating them with a monster haul.