Heading into the Winter Meetings around this time last season, the Miami Marlins were front and center as speculation was rampant that the team would be selling off it’s big three outfield of Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.
Flash forward to the present, and the trio have indeed moved on to other organizations, but Derek Jeter and the Fish (not a musical act at your local pub) still had one trade chip left in their pocket, arguably every bit as valuable as the previous three had been: catcher J.T. Realmuto.
The Marlins made some noise about wanting to keep Realmuto, both then and now, but the truth is that he was always going to be more valuable to them as a trade chip, considering the sizable rebuilding window they had committed themselves to as an organization. Given the offers they ended up approaching Realmuto and his agent with, it’s probably fair to say that Marlins knew that too.
So now we find the Fish on the other end of the hook, dangling their best trade bait, hoping for the mother of all catches. And, it just so happens, there are plenty of hungry teams lining up for a shot.
Sources: Still “in" on J.T.Realmuto: NYM, PHI, SD, ATL, TB….not as aggressive but “in” are LA, COL, Milw, Hous, CWS— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) December 7, 2018
Perhaps the most interesting “interested parties” are the teams who share division space with the Marlins. Trading within your division is not as rare as it used to be, but it’s still not commonplace, either. Nevertheless, all four teams have engaged the Marlins in trade discussions, with the Nationals level of interest waxing this past summer (and likely to have waned after the twin acquistions of Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes).
The Marlins are known to be seeking at least one controllable major league talent as a part of any trade package. From NL East teams in particular, this might perhaps somewhat ameliorate the blow (in their minds, anyway) of having to watch Realmuto do his thing for one of their closest rivals.
The Phillies have reached out but we don’t know anything about what they’ve offered up. The lips are a bit looser on the Mets and Braves’ ships, respectively, as we’ve learned that the Braves have thrown around a package that would revolve around starting pitcher Mike Soroka and third base prospect Austin Riley, while the Mets offer centers around shortstop Amed Rosario or one of New York’s two versatile young outfielders, Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo.
It’s been illuminating following along the conversation on social media when one of these various fan bases contemplates adding Realmuto to their favorite team’s ranks. There seems to be (unsurprisingly) an almost tunnel vison-like focus on his basic, traditional counting stats from last season: .277 average, 21 homeruns, 74 runs batted in; nothing to sneer at, but not terribly impressive when compared to the rest of baseball.
What these folks are failing to take into consideration is Realmuto’s position. You compare Realmuto to all of baseball and you may find yourself disappointed, depending upon your criteria. You compare him to all of the other catchers, however, and the evidence is indisputable: J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball, right now.
Realmuto led all catchers in 2018 with 4.8 fWAR, and he has been worth 14.2 fWAR since taking over as the starting catcher for the Fish back in 2015; only Buster Posey’s been worth more (at 15.5 fWAR). Noted Realmuto enthusiast Mike Petriello laid out his value succinctly about a month ago; suffice it to say, he was either at or near the top of catching leaderboards in virtually every important category.
Perhaps my favorite tidbit Petriello pointed out is that between 2015-2018, only one hitter improved his hard-hit rate more than J.T. Realmuto (34 percent to 41 percent), a gentleman by the name of Manny Machado.
As far as catchers are concerned, he’s just about the complete package, boasting speed, power, average, and a phenomenal throwing arm. Heck, he even gets high marks from his peers for leadership and working with the pitching staff (and it doesn’t hurt to know that Realmuto was able to pick the brains of both Jeff Mathis and AJ Ellis while they shared dugout space together).
Five-tool catchers don’t grow on trees, but in Realmuto’s case, it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s so athletic given that he was originally a shortstop before being converted to catcher upon his arrival in Miami’s farm system.
Give the Marlins credit, it obviously worked out. Now, Jeter and company are very likely on the brink of seeing that long ago investment pay off one more time, when they finally decide to cash in their last lucrative trade chip for a bountiful return.
Thomas Bennett is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and a former Managing Editor at Fish Stripes. He loves his terrible sports teams, even when they don’t love him back. He can be followed on twitter @Thomasmanynames.