Later this month, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training for the 2019 season. However, the biggest question mark is which camp will the best catcher in baseball report to in 2019?
Last off-season, the Miami Marlins dealt their entire outfield, which consisted of then-reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, 2x All-Star Marcell Ozuna and the 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich. The most highly touted prospect they got in return was Lewis Brinson, who hit an abysmal .199/.240/.338 in 110 games for the Marlins this past season. With how little they got in return, they’ve been looking to cash-in catcher J.T. Realmuto for a Chris Sale-sized return.
Realmuto hit to a stellar .825 OPS in 2018, top for the catcher position, with above average defense. The All-Star backstop is set to make less than $6MM this season, peanuts compared to his surplus value, and is still under team control. He’s one of the better athletes in the game and a very mobile backstop, so it makes sense that he’d be a very appealing option for any team looking to upgrade. According to MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro, there are 5 teams currently in on Realmuto: The Atlanta Braves, The Tampa Bay Rays, The Cincinnati Reds, The San Diego Padres and The Los Angeles Dodgers. Below I will propose an ideal trade for each of the aforementioned teams.
The Atlanta Braves
Trade Proposal: Tyler Flowers, Ian Anderson, Deian Cruz, Jonathan Morales, Travis Demeritte, and Philip Pfeifer for J.T. Realmuto and Drew Steckenrider.
The Braves are one of the youngest teams in baseball with one of the best farmsystems in baseball. However, they’re looking to massively upgrade the backstop duo of last year (Flowers and Nationals’ Kurt Suzuki). They’ve already signed franchise icon Brian McCann to a short term deal, but he’s unlikely to be an everyday player.
Snagging a J.T. Realmuto would not only upgrade them for the foreseeable future, but give them an everyday catcher who can also play first base when Freddie Freeman needs a day off. The team that won the East last year hasn’t made many moves this offseason outside of McCann and third baseman Josh Donaldson, and this would be the best possible move to signify to your fanbase that you’re going all in for a championship.
Earlier in the offseason, the Braves bowed out of the sweepstakes when they asked for All-Star second base stud Ozzie Albies in any potential deal, but the asking price has dropped drastically, with reports stating that the Marlins have shifted their focus to top pitching prospect Ian Anderson.
The Marlins have reportedly been bargaining for quite a few pieces this offseason, specifically young pitching and a veteran catcher. Moving Flowers, their veteran catcher signed to a 1-year, 4 million dollar contract, would be ideal for the Braves because it’d only be adding 2 million in payroll to get Realmuto. This would keep them in the market for a reliever (which Steckenrider is the throw in player in this trade to even out some of their bullpen woes). Flowers offers a high on-base clip, occasional pop and has done excellent work with the Braves young pitching core, with Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb being notable standouts. Anderson is MLBs #32 overall prospect and Pfeifer is a staple in Atlanta’s AAA rotation. The Marlins would get their pitching while the Braves would get their catcher and a reliever with high upside (2.34 ERA in 2017).
The Tampa Bay Rays
Trade Proposal: Mike Zunino, Jose DeLeon, Brandon Lowe, Moises Gomez and Colin Poche for J.T. Realmuto, Tayron Guerrero and Martin Prado.
Following a surprising 90-win season, the Rays are looking to add to their talent pool that already consists of reigning Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, Willy Adames and Tommy Pham. They hold some of the games more under-the-radar talents, and have had one of their biggest offseason’s in a long time; signing Charlie Morton to the largest free agent contract in franchise history and acquiring veteran catcher Mike Zunino from the Mariners for speedster Mallex Smith. Zunino’s defensive prowess is well documented, but his bat leaves a lot left to be desired and that’s what makes him a fit for the rebuilding Marlins.
Jose DeLeon (acquired for Logan Forsythe) has been one of the game’s very best pitching prospects for quite a few years and has seen time at the big league level for both the Rays and The Dodgers. Both DeLeon and pitcher Colin Poche are currently at the Rays AAA team, but DeLeon is also coming off of Tommy John surgery, which is the only reason the Marlins may not be interested. Poche an ERA just north of 1 in Durham last year (50 IP). Brandon Lowe would check off a box for the Marlins because he can move around the field and hit at an elite level. He got off to a poor start in the Majors last year but finished the season as one of its hottest hitters, proving the hype behind him.
The issue is that the Rays have a lot of similar players and he’d need to play every day to reach his full potential, which ultimately makes him expendable. Gomez is 20 with major upside. Another reason this works for the Rays is because they wouldn’t have to give up as much because they’d be taking on Guerrero and Prado as well. Guerrero had an ERA over 5 last year and wasn’t impressive; even though he has wipe-out stuff and great velocity.
The stuff makes him a Rays project if there was one, and he fits the ideal mold of their “Opener” strategy introduced last season. Between Guerrero, Ryne Stanek and Tyler Glasnow, the Rays would be able to keep you honest to begin any ballgame. The main throw-in here is Martin Prado. If the Rays were to take Prado off of their hands, it’d clear up to 19 million in salary for the Marlins on the overall deal.
Prado fits the Rays style, because he’s a veteran who can play all over the diamond and offer valuable bench versatility for a team looking to upgrade their late inning options. They can also afford to take on the salary because they have less than 50 million in guaranteed contracts next year. Prado’s contract would be off of the books for the 2020 season. The Rays ideally receive the best catcher in baseball without subtracting from their 2018 Major League squad, or trading away top prospects Wander Franco, Brendan McKay, Brent Honeywell or Jesus Sanchez.
The Cincinnati Reds
Trade Proposal: Tucker Barnhart, Tony Santillan, Jonathan India and Wendolyn Bautista for J.T. Realmuto and Dan Straily.
The Reds have had a rather busy offseason thus far, acquiring Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in a blockbuster deal with the Dodgers. They’ll compliment a very solid Reds lineup that already consisted of All-Star third baseman Eugenio Suarez, slugging second baseman Scooter Gennett and former NL MVP Joey Votto. In the deal, they also acquired starting pitcher Alex Wood (3.29 lifetime ERA). This move vastly improved not only the middle of the lineup, but an awful rotation. Even with the move, they’re the 4th best team in a loaded National League Central division.
Tucker Barnhart is one of the better catchers the NL has to offer as well, but pales in comparison to JT. Barnhart was the 2017 Gold Glove winner, so he offers the defensive needs that the Reds need. He is heading into the third year of his contract extension signed in 2017, with a 5th year option at the end. Tony Santillan is the highest graded pitcher in a loaded Reds farmsystem and Wendolyn Bautista has already seen time at Louisville. Jonathan India is their #5 overall prospect and supposedly a very good hitter.
For the Reds, not only would they get the best catcher in baseball, but a familiar face in Dan Straily. The former Reds starter has had a career renaissance the last two seasons with Miami, and while he isn’t the most “sexy” option, he’s a quality #3 starter on any staff, especially for a poor Reds staff that is in the process of being revamped. Between the acquisitions of Wood, Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark, the Reds will have a much better rotation this season and Straily would compliment that even more. The Reds could be a major NL sleeper if this deal were to go down.
The San Diego Padres
Trade Proposal: Hunter Renfroe, Chris Paddack, Luis Patino, and Ryan Weathers for J.T. Realmuto and Jose Urena.
Considering San Diego acquired MLBs top catching prospect Fransciso Mejia at the waiver deadline for Brad Hand, it seems they’re the team Realmuto is least likely to go to. The Padres won’t be willing to part with its top prospects Fernando Tatis Jr. or Luis Urias, so they’d have to throw in Renfroe. Renfroe has hit 56 homeruns with an above average .793 OPS in the last 3 seasons. The Padres are also unlikely to deal their top pitching prospect McKenzie Gore, but they can more than make up for it considering they have 5 other pitching prospects on MLBs Top 100 list.
Patino and Weathers offer highly projected left handed options which makes them eye-popping options to the Marlins front office. Chris Paddack, MLBs #34 overall prospect, is the highest touted of the bunch, however. San Diego’s weakest link last year was their rotation, which makes them a prime candidate to get Marlins “ace” Jose Urena as a throw-in.
Urena had a nightmare season this past season, posting an ERA almost directly on 4 and being embroiled in controversy after pegging Braves left field sensation Ronald Acuna late in the year. Urena, however, has nasty break on his secondary pitches and a high caliber fastball, and could be an ideal Padres project. All in all, the trade would help out both teams. Of course, the Padres could always deal J.T. right after for a corresponding move, like it was rumored they wanted to do with 2x Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber earlier this offseason.
The Los Angeles Dodgers
Trade Proposal: Alex Verdugo, Keibert Ruiz, Gavin Lux, Stetson Allie and Kyle Garlick for J.T. Realmuto and Starlin Castro.
The Dodgers are at an odd spot right now, because they’ve lost back-to-back World Series and dealt away two All-Star outfielders only to sign AJ Pollock. As of right now, they have Chris Taylor at second base, but he can also play outfield. The third outfield spot is covered by Alex Verdugo, who is their top prospect and no doubt the Marlins are enticed by him. Assuming Verdugo ends up a Marlin, Taylor would move around the diamond due to his versatility, opening up a spot for veteran second baseman Starlin Castro. Keibert Ruiz is one of MLBs most promising catching prospects and would give the Marlins yet another young stud to build around as the Dodgers go all-in for the World Series championship that enthrall them so much, yet they seemingly aren’t able to obtain.
Gavin Lux is a top shortstop prospect that could end up being better than the Marlins’ J.T. Riddle, who currently mans the shortstop position for them. There won’t be, however, a spot for Lux in L.A. because of Corey Seager. Garlick is an outfielder at the highest level of the minors and has promise, while Stetson Allie is also in AAA and gives the Marlins a major-league ready pitching option. Overall, this would truly benefit both clubs in a major way. With 4 better outfielders already on the roster (Bellinger, Pederson, Pollock and Taylor), Verdugo ultimately becomes expendable.
Where would you like to see Realmuto end up? What do you think of the proposed trades? Leave a comment, or tweet us @ProSportsExtra. You can tweet me personally @TheJameus.