For a team looking to woo Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, adding the best catcher in baseball certainly doesn’t hurt.
That might have been part of the rationale behind the Phillies’ big move on Thursday when they acquired J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins in a four-player trade, dealing catcher Jorge Alfaro, pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart and $250,000 in international slot money.
Some thought that the Phillies’ trade for Realmuto seemed impulsive and, in many ways, unnecessary. Michael Baumann of The Ringer, for one, argued that they “got fleeced.” Others, however, thought that the Phillies did well. Dayn Perry of the CBS Sports argued that the Phillies “knock[ed] it out of the park.”
Obviously, both of those things can’t really co-exist. The Phillies either got fleeced or knocked it out of the park. It obviously comes down to how one values Alfaro in comparison to Realmuto and whether they believe that Sanchez can turn into a bonafide ace.
Nonetheless, the Phillies did just get the best catcher in baseball, and though Baumann calls it “not exactly a crowded field,” I would beg to differ. Baumann is right in saying that the catcher position, on the whole, is weak, but Realmuto was so good in 2018 that it wasn’t close. By fWAR, Realmuto’s 4.8 mark was 1.2 wins above Yasmani Grandal’s 3.6. So, to me, it seems that this isn’t really a question of how good Realmuto is compared to the other catchers, but to other position players. And that WAR total put Realmuto as the 25th most valuable position player in Major League Baseball, all the while playing a premium position.
In short, it does not matter that Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball in a weak field. What matters more is that he’s in the top 20 percent of all players at every position. That alone makes him a worthwhile add.
I do admit that Grandal seems, in retrospect, like it would have been a better move for Philadelphia. Going by Baseball Prospectus’ WARP, Grandal (4.7) and Realmuto (4.8) were nearly identical in value last year. Despite his older age, Grandal at a just $18.25 million cost with no prospects involved certainly seems better from the club side.
But does that mean Realmuto is not beneficial for the Phillies? No, not at all. Hindsight is always 20-20, and while Grandal would have been a better value add, Realmuto is certainly not-too-shabby of an acquisition by any means.
Going by Steamer projections, Realmuto projects to be worth 4.0 fWAR in 2019, a 2.9-win improvement over Alfaro’s 1.1 fWAR projection. That moves their FanGraphs projection from 79 to 82 wins, putting them well within the range of error to catch the Nationals (91 wins) and win the NL East. At a minimum, the NL Wild Card should be well within play. PECOTA, Baseball Propsectus’ projection system, sees Realmuto as a 3.6 WARP asset in 2019, compared to Alfaro’s 1.2. That would represent a 2.4-win improvement. PECOTA projects the Phillies to win 86 games in 2019.
In making this move, the Phillies thrusted open their window of contention. Whether that’s the right decision or not, I don’t know. But if that’s truly the plan, adding Realmuto is certainly a worthwhile addition for contention in 2019 and 2020.
Dealing away Sanchez might not be the worst thing in the world for Philadelphia, either. At one time this offseason, the Marlins were reportedly asking for a young Major Leaguer, like Cody Bellinger or Ozzie Albies, in addition to “some good prospects.” Alfaro can be classified as the “young major leaguer,” but his loss causes no significant harm to the Phillies as they just added Realmuto. (He is certainly not of the caliber of Bellinger or Albies.) And Sanchez is a good prospect, but by no means did the Phillies have to empty the farm.
A lot of my thinking remains contingent on the fact that I still expect the Phillies to sign Harper or Machado. But, even if they don’t, you have to at least give the Phillies some credit for trying to build a contender this offseason.
For that goal, Realmuto is certainly an advantageous investment.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.