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How the Phillies got J.T. Realmuto (and why Marlins didn’t take other teams’ offers)

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The Marlins were eventually willing to compromise on their initial asking price, but may have scared away a few suitors during the process.

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Marlins were reasonably compensated on Thursday when trading star catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies. They came away with a new No. 1 prospect (Sixto Sánchez), a controllable and toolsy replacement behind the plate (Jorge Alfaro), a projectable left-hander (Will Stewart) and an extra $250,000 to allocate toward international amateur free agency.

However, no transaction happens in a vacuum. All of the other mighty veteran assets that new Marlins ownership inherited—most notably Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich—had already been flipped. When the dust settled after the 2018 season, it was evident that the organization still lacked in young star power to lead them back to relevance.

To make up for those concerns, the Marlins sought an overpay. Their stubbornness caused the process to drag on for an eternity and made us all a little irritable.

But finally, we can turn the page!

[Looks down at notes]

Oh...as it turns out, there’s still one lingering question: why did they trade him to the Phillies? At the start of last week, the Phils were out of the conversation entirely. What distinguished them from 16 other suitors who spent months negotiating with the Marlins?

Let’s try to patch all the rumors together and make sense of it.


Braves

Every NL East rival engaged the Marlins about Realmuto at some point. Coming off the 2018 division title and endowed with the best farm system of the bunch, Atlanta seemingly had the resources and motivation to out-bid anybody.

Multiple reports indicate that the Marlins asked for second baseman Ozzie Albies early in the winter. That never had a prayer. From the Braves’ perspective, it would be upgrading at one position while creating a hole at another. Plus, Albies happens to be especially well-liked by their fanbase and a close personal friend of their brightest star, Ronald Acuña Jr.

SiriusXM/Five Reasons Sports Network host Craig Mish learned that by the end of the process, the Braves put third base prospect Austin Riley on the table. Problem was, there wasn’t much of a sweetener attached to him:

Mish consistently had Atlanta as a serious Realmuto suitor. Ultimately, they held onto their surplus of young talent, perhaps eyeing a different All-Star acquisition later this year.

Dodgers

Much like the Braves, the Dodgers had a good team in 2018 and viewed Realmuto as an upgrade at one of their few vulnerable positions. Earlier in the offseason, they reunited with Russell Martin, a former L.A. All-Star...who celebrates his 36th birthday this week.

Once again, the Marlins started off with an ambitious ask: young slugger Cody Bellinger.

From there, the conversation turned to Dustin May, Gavin Lux, Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith, according to Jon Heyman of Fancred. Baseball America rates those as four of their top five overall prospects (also, Ruiz and Smith are catchers). It would’ve taken two from that group to reach an agreement, and the Dodgers backed off.

Another complication, per Craig Mish, was the working relationship between these clubs. “Great fit for J.T. there for sure BUT more than meets the eye there [in my opinion],” he tweeted on January 11.

Something to keep in mind when the Marlins put other veterans on the trading block this year.

Reds

Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Confirming a report from MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says Cincinnati had Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart and their top 2018 MLB Draft selection, Jonathan India, on the table toward the end of the process.

It wasn’t enough for Miami (subscription required and recommended). “The Marlins, though, wanted one of Cincinnati’s top three prospects—infielder Nick Senzel, outfielder Taylor Trammell or right-hander Hunter Greene.”

Astros

Two names that the Fish coveted, developing ace Forrest Whitley and outfielder Kyle Tucker, were off limits. Rosenthal describes the Astros as “unwilling to trade from the top of their farm system.”

They’ll proceed with Robinson Chirinos as their primary catcher.

Yankees

Several key figures in the new Marlins administration have Yankee ties, and they have not been shy to engage with one another.

  • Nov. 20, 2017: Marlins trade RHP Mike King and international bonus slot money to Yankees for 1B/OF Garrett Cooper and LHP Caleb Smith
  • Dec. 11, 2017: Marlins trade OF Giancarlo Stanton and cash considerations to Yankees for 2B Starlin Castro, SS José Devers and RHP Jorge Guzman

However, this was an awkward fit. New York still thinks highly of Gary Sánchez. Trading him now would be selling very low on somebody who had been challenging Realmuto for the Best Catcher in Baseball title the previous year. Additionally, the Fish sought 2018 AL Rookie of the Year contender Miguel Andújar, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

With all of their slam-dunk stud prospects recently graduating, the Yankees couldn’t match up with the asking price without compromising their major league roster.

Phillies

Ken Rosenthal describes the end result as “a baseball trade...that the Marlins like very much.” He elaborates (again, subscription required):

Alfaro, 25, is under control for the next five seasons and still possesses the massive tools—the arm, the power, the overall athleticism—that made him one of the centerpieces of the Phillies’ haul for lefty Cole Hamels at the non-waiver deadline in 2015.

Sánchez, 20, is described by one Marlins official “as high a ceiling pitcher as we’ve scouted and evaluated in a long time;” the official envisions the Phillies’ former No. 1 prospect joining the prize of the Stanton trade, righty Jorge Guzman, at Double A, and forming potentially one of the hardest-throwing starting duos the game has ever seen.

Stewart, 21, is a pitcher with a crazy groundball rate and low strikeout rate, perhaps more highly regarded by the Marlins than by other clubs; Miami viewed him as the Phillies’ second-best pitching prospect.


We will be seeing Alfaro on Opening Day; the rest of the package is years away.

The Marlins continue to ask for patience from fans who have been deprived of postseason baseball for the past 15 years. Saturday’s turnout would suggest that a significant portion of them “Re2pect The Process.”