By Joshua Iversen
This offseason the number one trade target is, without a doubt, Miami Marlins star catcher J.T. Realmuto. A big performer on both sides of the ball, the 27-year-old has a strong case for being the best catcher in the game today. His name was mentioned frequently at last week’s Winter Meetings, and he is very likely to be moved at some point in the coming weeks.
In 2018, Realmuto slashed .277/.340/.484 with a 126 wRC+. He was worth 4.8 fWAR, making him the 26th-most valuable hitter in baseball and easily the most valuable catcher, despite playing only 121 games. With two years of arbitration remaining before Realmuto hits free agency, he is an incredibly valuable trade chip and the Marlins should get a strong return for him.
The most recent update by Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald has six teams heavily involved in trade discussions with the Marlins: the Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Diego Padres. The Mets have since reportedly signed free agent Wilson Ramos, likely taking them out of the running for Realmuto. Each of the remaining five teams have strong farm systems that could entice the Marlins. Here is a potential package each team could offer in exchange for the stud catcher.
The Reds are perhaps the most surprising entry on this list, largely because of their last place finish in the NL Central in 2018 and the presence of Tucker Barnhart on the roster, a very capable and affordable catcher in his own right. However, the team has been looking to make a splash and with Realmuto under control through 2020, he could make sense.
According to Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, Barnhart has not been included in talks to this point, and according to Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports, neither has top prospect Nick Senzel. However, the Reds’ second-best prospect, outfielder Taylor Trammell, could be a strong starting point.
Only 21, Trammell is already ranked the 17th-best prospect in the game by MLB.com. In 2018, the toolsy outfielder slashed .277/.375/.406 with eight home runs and 25 stolen bases in 110 games in High-A. Trammell has advanced plate discipline at a young age and runs very well. The only thing keeping Trammell from being a true five-tool talent is a sub-par throwing arm, which may limit him to left field long term. Regardless, Trammell is incredibly talented, and the left-handed hitter could profile well as a fast lead-off hitter with surprising power potential.
Shortstop Jose Israel Garcia makes for a strong, high-upside second piece. The 20-year-old signed for almost $5 million out of Cuba in 2017 and got his feet wet in Single-A in 2018, posting a .245/.290/.344 line. Garcia is a strong defensive shortstop and runs well. There is reason to believe Garcia’s bat will develop as he moves up the minors, and if so, the right-handed hitter could be a hidden gem.
Outfielder Jose Siri is a bit of a project. The 23-year-old is a plus defender in center field and has loud tools, but is way too aggressive at the plate and needs to cut down on his strikeouts. If Siri can solve his swing-and-miss issues, as well as combat some durability and body issues that have come up as of late, he could be a very valuable player.
The package: OF Taylor Trammell, SS Jose Israel Garcia, and OF Jose Siri
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are another surprise member of this list, having traded for catcher Mike Zunino earlier this offseason. However, they have a very deep farm system and could look to consolidate some of those pieces into a true star player like Realmuto.
Jesus Sanchez could headline such a deal. The left-handed hitting outfielder is a consensus top 50 prospect in the game for his five-tool potential. He has a real chance to stick in centerfield, and if he can, his bat makes him very valuable. Sanchez doesn’t have the best plate discipline but makes up for it with an above average hit tool and power. He made it to Double-A in 2018 as a 21-year-old and should be making an impact in the majors by 2020.
Ronaldo Hernandez could be the game’s next breakout catching prospect. The 21-year-old slashed .284/.339/.494 with 21 home runs and 10 stolen bases in Single-A in 2018. While still raw behind the plate at times, Hernandez is a good athlete with a plus arm and should become at least an average defensive catcher. The Marlins don’t have an obvious catcher of the future beyond Realmuto, but Hernandez could be their guy.
Joe McCarthy, primarily a first baseman or left fielder, is somewhat blocked in the Rays system. He appears to be MLB-ready, but the Rays don’t have a spot open for him, and he might need to get his opportunity with another team. The left-handed hitter has great plate discipline, as well as some untapped power potential. At worst, McCarthy could be a pesky bench bat, but if his power continues to develop he could become an offensive threat.
The package: OF Jesus Sanchez, C Ronaldo Hernandez and OF/1B Joe McCarthy
The Braves are the wild card in the Realmuto sweepstakes. While Craig Mish of Sirius XM labeled Atlanta the favorites to acquire the catcher, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported that the two teams have not talked in days and the Braves appear to have moved on. The Braves also seem like a difficult fit, having signed Brian McCann earlier in the offseason to partner with incumbent backstop Tyler Flowers. However, like the Rays, the Braves have a ton of minor league depth to deal from and shouldn’t be counted out.
Mish suggested that third baseman Austin Riley could be on the table. The 21-year-old has big power and looks ready for a real opportunity at the Major League level. However, he is blocked in Atlanta by Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman at the corners and may be more valuable to another organization. Riley could hit for both average and power but might need to cut down on his strikeouts to do so.
The Braves have an absurd amount of talented minor league pitchers, so the specific names in this deal would likely depend on which arms the Marlins scouts prefer. However, I believe one pitcher they should pursue is 2018 breakout righty Bryse Wilson. Not even 21 yet, Wilson began the 2018 season in High-A and ended it in the Major Leagues. He posted great strikeout, walk and ground ball rates at each stop along the way and looks like the real deal. There are some concerns about Wilson’s body and durability, but if he can stay on the field it looks like his mid-nineties fastball, plus slider, and plus command could make him a solid mid-rotation arm.
Kolby Allard is another young Braves arm that made it to the big leagues in 2018. The 21-year-old lefty has three at least average pitches and spots them well, never posting a minor league walk rate higher than 8.1%. Allard’s stuff isn’t overwhelming but his command and feel make him a decent bet to be a reliable back-end arm.
The package: 3B Austin Riley, RHP Bryse Wilson and LHP Kolby Allard
Los Angeles Dodgers
With Yasmani Grandal hitting free agency, the Dodgers are in search of a new primary catcher in front of back-up Austin Barnes. They have managed to maintain a deep farm and have two of the best catching prospects in baseball, either of which could be very attractive to Miami.
Keibert Ruiz is listed by MLB.com as the third-best catching prospect in the game, and for good reason. The 20-year-old more than held his own during his first stint at Double-A in 2018, slashing .268/.328/.401 with 12 home runs. The switch-hitter rarely strikes out and has decent power, giving his bat a high floor. Ruiz is athletic and looks like an above average defensive catcher, and could be ready to replace Realmuto for Miami by 2020.
Dustin May saw his stock rise significantly in 2018. The righty started the season in High-A where he pitched very well, touching 97 MPH with his fastball and making significant improvements in his command. He took a slight step back in his six starts after a promotion to Double-A, but overall had a very strong season. The 21-year-old has great stuff and if his control continues to develop, he could be a very exciting arm.
With their first pick in the 2017 draft, the Dodgers took toolsy outfielder Jeren Kendall. He has come more or less as advertised, flashing above-average speed and power but struggling to make consistent contact. Kendall will need to cut down on his strikeouts to be anything more than a Keon Broxton-type bench player, but if he can find a way, the sky’s the limit.
The package: C Keibert Ruiz, RHP Dustin May and OF Jeren Kendall
San Diego Padres
The rebuilding Padres want to make a splash, and trading for Realmuto might be their best chance to do so. They boast one of the strongest and deepest farm systems in the game and could look to package some of their minor league talent and turn it into big league pieces.
Acquired from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber at the deadline, Francisco Mejia is a top catching prospect with a very bright future. The switch-hitter is ranked one spot ahead of Ruiz on MLB.com’s rankings. Mejia has great bat control and decent power but can be too aggressive at the plate at times. He has a cannon of an arm but is otherwise raw defensively behind the plate and may not stick long term. Mejia is a high risk, high reward prospect that could either blossom into one of the game’s top catchers or could struggle and be forced off of the position.
Right-handed pitcher Chris Paddack compares favorably to Cleveland Indians righty Shane Bieber as a pitcher with unimpressive stuff but plus-plus command. Paddack posted elite strikeout and walk rates between High-A and Double-A in 2018 and finished the season with a 2.10 ERA in 17 starts between the two levels. He could be MLB-ready at some point in 2019 and, as long as he continues to avoid giving up home runs, he could become a reliable rotation anchor.
The package: C Francisco Mejia and RHP Chris Paddack