J.T. Realmuto Finally Gets Dealt
The Marlins have spent the entire offseason trying to unload their best player but up until now no team was willing to meet their sky-high demands. The game's top-hitting catcher will move to a cozy new ballpark in Philadelphia and hit in the heart of a more productive lineup. For two years' control of Realmuto the Phillies are sending young catcher Jorge Alfaro, top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, low-level pitching prospect Will Stewart and a $250,000 international bonus pool slot to the Marlins. Realmuto was unhappy in Miami, mostly because they were in the midst of a complete teardown and rebuild cycle. Realmuto has been demanding a trade for the past two years and finally gets his wish.
Realmuto was the top-rated catcher in fantasy baseball last year as ranked by both the ESPN Player Rater and the Yahoo rating system. The move from Marlins Park to Citizens Bank Park can only do wonders for his offensive production. Fangraphs' home run park factors indicate that home runs are 21 percent more likely in Philly compared to Miami. Last year Realmuto batted .277/.340/.484 with 21 home runs and 74 RBI. Those home run and RBI totals were new career highs despite a career-low 125 games played -- and he has a great chance of besting those marks again in the upcoming season. For the record, Realmuto has a career .676 OPS at home and an .852 OPS on the road. Now he has a new home and his fantasy owners are dreaming in anticipation. One more reason that Realmuto is the best fantasy catcher is that he is one of the few catchers who can run -- he leads the majors among catchers with 31 stolen bases over the last four years (Yadier Molina is next with just 19 bags over that period). Realmuto should be the first catcher off the board on draft day in all formats.
Heading to the Marlins will be catcher Jorge Alfaro. Even though he is going to a less batter-friendly environment the trade could actually be a positive for his fantasy value, largely because he is likely to get a lot more at-bats with his new club. He received just 344 at-bats with the Phillies last year while batting .262/.324/.407 with 10 homers and 37 RBI. He has plenty of power and can knock the ball out of any ballpark. His problem is two-fold: a career 35.2 percent strikeout rate and a 4.3 percent walk rate. Pitchers are not going to challenge him with hittable pitches over the plate until he proves he can lay off the junk outside of the strike zone. Alfaro has a career .270 batting average, which is quite good -- but his .405 career BABIP will take a big tumble as the sample size grows. He is likely to settle in for the long term as a power hitter with a low batting average.
The centerpiece of the deal for the Marlins is 20-year-old right-hander Sixto Sanchez. He is widely considered one of the ten best pitching prospects in the game and was ranked as the number 27 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline last month. He spent last season at High Single-A Clearwater and registered a 2.51 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings across eight starts. He was shut down in June because of elbow inflammation and missed the rest of the season. At an even six-feet-tall he is a bit undersized for a traditional workhorse starting pitcher. He is a desirable asset in dynasty leagues but can be disregarded in redraft leagues this season. His major league debut is not likely to come until 2020 at the earliest. Sanchez immediately becomes the prize of the Marlins' farm system. The Marlins have one of the weakest farm systems in baseball despite their recent trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.
Left-handed starter Will Stewart will join Sanchez and Alfaro on the plane to Miami. The 21-year-old spent 2018 at Low Single-A Lakewood and registered an impressive 2.06 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 113 2/3 innings while making 20 starts. Considering he was a 20th-round pick in the 2015 draft he has vastly outperformed expectations. His fastball velocity is average at best. He is more of a sinkerballer who induces a lot of groundball outs while keeping the ball in the yard. He surrendered just five longballs last year and recorded an elite 62.1 percent groundball rate. The true test will come when he reaches the upper minors.
Bryce Harper Has to Pick a New Team Eventually... Right?
Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that the Giants recently met with Bryce Harper. Heyman further adds that "multiple new teams" have emerged for Harper in the last week or so, perhaps an indicator that his price has dropped with the start of spring training fast approaching. Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area hears that Giants CEO Larry Baer, manager Bruce Bochy, and new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi were all present at the meeting with Harper. The Giants are in re-tooling mode and have previously stated they would not be making any big splashes in the free agent market this winter. Obviously a Harper signing would be the biggest possible splash. Adding Harper would jump-start their rebuild in one fell swoop. San Francisco would not be the ideal landing spot for Harper's fantasy value. Oracle Park is a pitcher-friendly stadium and perhaps the hardest park in the league in which to hit home runs. Harper has also met recently with the Padres. The Phillies are considered by some to be the favorite in the race for Harper, with the White Sox and Nationals also trying hard to sign him. Spring training is coming up fast. Which team is going to write out the huge check it will take to land Harper?
News From Around the League
** The Royals signed RHP Brad Boxberger to a one-year, $2.2 million contract. The 30-year-old saved 32 games for the Diamondbacks last season and struck out 71 over 53 1/3 innings, but he also blew eight saves and finished with a pedestrian 4.39 ERA. Boxberger is probably the favorite to close for the Royals, which would push Wily Peralta to a setup role. Boxberger routinely posts huge strikeout rates but issues too many walks and is prone to the gopherball as well -- he served up nine home runs in just 53 1/3 innings last year. The change in ballparks should help with that but he is likely to be one of the most volatile closers in baseball this year.
** The Rangers signed OF Hunter Pence to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Pence batted just .226/.258/.332 with four home runs and 24 RBI over 248 plate appearances last year with the Giants. He used to be a perennial early-round draft pick in fantasy leagues but we can barely see those days in the rearview mirror.
** Gerrit Cole's arbitration hearing with the Astros is scheduled for Monday. Cole requested a $13.5 million salary for 2019 and was offered $11.425 million from the Astros when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. The 28-year-old right-hander went 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 276/64 K/BB ratio in 200 1/3 innings (32 starts) last season while earning $6.75 million. This is his final year of arbitration eligibility. Free agency looms next winter.
** Alex Bregman, who underwent surgery last month to remove loose bodies from his elbow, resumed hitting Wednesday. The surgery has an estimated six-week recovery time, so the young star is expected to be fully healthy for the start of the regular season. He broke out to the tune of a .286/.394/.532 slash line with 31 home runs, 103 RBI, 105 runs scored and 10 stolen bases last year for the Astros. The injury adds a small amount of uncertainty for those in leagues with early drafts. It would be wise to make sure he is playing in spring training games before investing too heavily in Bregman.
** According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Blue Jays are among the teams showing interest in free agent reliever Sergio Romo. The veteran right-hander pitched to a 4.14 ERA and 75/20 K/BB ratio in 67 1/3 innings as a versatile bullpen arm for the Rays in 2018, earning 25 saves while also starting a handful of games. He would likely work in a setup role behind closer Ken Giles with the Jays if that is where he lands.
** Brewers signed RHP Josh Tomlin to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Tomlin spent most of last season in a mop-up role for the Indians after a rough start, ultimately posting a 6.14 ERA across 32 appearances.
** Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that the Nationals have re-signed Jeremy Hellickson to a one-year, $1.3 million contract. There are performance-based incentives in the deal that can push its total value to $4 million. Hellickson pitched well for the Nationals last year when healthy, but the peripheral numbers suggest he had some luck, and he doesn't strike out enough batters to hold significant mixed-league fantasy relevance. He had a 3.45 ERA in 19 starts last year, but fantasy owners won't forget about his 5.43 ERA in 30 starts the year before.
Quick Hits: Indians signed C Dioner Navarro to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Navarro spent the 2018 season in the independent Atlantic League, batting .268/.299/.437 with three home runs and 13 RBI in 78 plate appearances with the Long Island Ducks. ... Indians signed INF Ryan Flaherty to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Flaherty appeared in 81 games for the Braves last season and slashed just .217/.298/.292. ... Mets re-signed C Devin Mesoraco to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. He batted .221/.303/.398 with 11 home runs and 33 RBI in 84 games last season between the Reds and Mets. ... Orioles signed RHP Nate Karns to a one-year, $800,000 contract. The 31-year-old right-hander sat out the entire 2018 season due to shoulder and elbow issues. ... Dodgers signed INF/OF Cody Asche to a minor league contract. Asche spent all of 2018 in the minors, batting .220/.304/.399 in 105 games between the Triple-A affiliates of the Mets and Yankees. ... Cubs signed RHP Carlos Ramirez to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. He's pitched 25 major league innings over the past two years and owns a 2.88 ERA. ... Twins signed LHP Tim Collins to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. He had a 4.37 ERA in 22 2/3 innings for the Nationals last year. ... Pirates signed RHP Tom Koehler to a minor league contract with a $1.25 million club option for 2020. He is recovering from shoulder surgery and will miss at least the first half of the upcoming season.