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This is what it looks like when a team thinks big and thinks now, and J.T. Realmuto probably will remember that big and now sometimes doesn’t mean forever, but it’s better than plenty of the alternatives.
Left behind a year ago when his Miami Marlins shipped out a good portion of a talented if thin roster, when small and later became the new standard, Realmuto endured what most saw coming – a last-place finish and cratering attendance, but a new paint job. The Marlins may one day rise up in Derek Jeter’s image. In the meantime, they remain the Marlins, usually on their way to one thing or another and hardly ever getting there, and no longer Realmuto’s problem.
On Thursday, according to sources, Realmuto was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, who know something about transitioning into or out of whatever ails them, but who for the moment are relevant again after seven dark Octobers out of the National League East. The Phillies already had acquired shortstop Jean Segura, reliever David Robertson and outfielder Andrew McCutchen and were engaged with free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
An entity that had fallen into the wispy realm of tear-down, build-up, the Phillies have a fresh and lively saunter, one that now counts with it Realmuto, one of the better offensive catchers in the game.
The cost for Realmuto, 27 and with two years of contractual control, was not painless.
Angling toward the future, the Marlins received from the Phillies three players, along with an international bonus slot: catcher Jorge Alfaro, right-handed pitcher Sixto Sanchez and left-hander Will Stewart. Alfaro, the Phillies’ regular catcher last season, batted .262 with 10 home runs in 108 games in 2018. Alfaro, 25, will be arbitration eligible after the 2020 season. Sanchez was regarded as the Phillies’ top prospect. The 20-year-old Dominican was limited to 46 ⅔ innings last season, primarily because of a sore elbow. His medical report was considered a pivotal part of the deal. Stewart is a 21-year-old left-hander with a 2.06 ERA in A-ball last season.
Then, so too was the cost significant for Segura (along with James Pazos and Juan Nicasio), who was acquired for J.P. Crawford and Carlos Santana. Though to stop there in the NL East would have been a half measure. So, yes, they raid the Marlins, the only team in the NL East that is raid-able, but more important they add a solid and hungry presence in Realmuto, and in him a capable defensive catcher and a bat that can hit near the top of the order or in the middle of it.
Phillies catchers — primarily Alfaro — were better than league average in many offensive categories. Realmuto hit .277 with 21 home runs and a .340 on-base percentage. He was an All Star. He was better than the best of the free-agent catchers – Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal, Brian McCann, Kurt Suzuki. He was better than the other big-name catcher traded (to the Nationals) – Yan Gomes.
These are the new again Phillies. Rather than continue the slog that is an organizational overhaul, that depends entirely on clever drafts and attentive development, that wore a second-half lull last season, they reached for something like competence. They pay, some will say overpay, for a top-of-the-line catcher.
Just a year ago, when the Marlins were jettisoning Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon, Realmuto was left to man the rebuild. His agent requested a trade. The Marlins declined. The Marlins offered Realmuto a contract extension. Realmuto declined.
By the time Realmuto reaches free agency, after the 2020 season, the Marlins are likely to be closer to where they are today than to Jeter’s hopes for them. The reasonable choice, then, was to move Realmuto and to keep pointing toward big and now, wherever and whenever that may be. It’s not something Marlins fans will love. But, it is something they’re probably getting used to.
Realmuto likely had it figured out from the get-go, that if you want to play big-league ball Miami is as good a place as any, and if you want to win big-league ballgames there’s a whole different world out there. Maybe that’s in Philadelphia. It seems better than the alternative.
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