Rumblings about J.T. Realmuto and the Washington Nationals first popped in the 2016 offseason. He was even more enticing then, on a cheap contract with extensive control and All-Star production.
The Nationals had a distinct need for Realmuto, too. Wilson Ramos tore his ACL and contorted Washington’s postseason hopes late that season. Ramos’ injury also developed a hole at catcher. The minors did not offer relief. Backup Jose Lobaton did not offer a full-time replacement. Something needed to be done.
So Washington’s hunt for a Realmuto deal began. Derek Jeter and Co. eventually took ownership of the team the next year, stripped its talented outfield, but kept a tight grip on Realmuto, who made a measly $562,500 in 2017. His price tag was palatable to even a non-competitive team in the middle of a selloff. Which prompted the Marlins to ask for the moon. And the sun.
They locked in on Juan Soto. And Victor Robles. Together. It was an astonishing ask, and one that would never move the deal forward. Soto and Robles weren’t going to be moved individually, let alone as a pair, which provides insight into why the deal never worked with the Nationals.
The Marlins didn’t only make a massive ask of the Nationals. According to a report from New York, the Marlins also targeted Gary Sanchez and AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar in exchange for Realmuto.
Finally, on Thursday, Miami found a deal it could work with. Philadelphia sent catcher Jorge Alfaro, right-hander Sixto Sanchez, left-hander Will Stewart and $250,000 in international bonus slot money to the Marlins for Realmuto.
Sanchez was considered the Phillies’ top prospect and rated the 27th-best prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. Alfaro has several raw tools and a dash of major-league experience. Stewart was effective (2.06 ERA) at Single-A Lakewood last season.
None of those players rival Robles or Soto in stature. The Marlins’ over-the-top insistence -- even last summer -- for both young outfielders drove the Nationals to an offseason solution of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki.
Individually, neither of the new catchers rival Realmuto, who is 28, expected to post better offensive numbers by playing in Philadelphia and will be there for two years before he can become a free agent. He’s arguably the best catcher in baseball. Though as a combination, they produce a more-than-viable option to fill a positional abyss from last season and a reasonable answer for the team that did not land Realmuto.
Realmuto has improved each year. His 4.3 WAR last season well outpaced his previous high of 3.6 the year before.
Suzuki delivered 2.1 WAR as Atlanta’s full-time catcher; Gomes 2.6 as Cleveland’s full-time catcher. Expect Gomes to play every day in Washington, as much as that applies to starting catchers now. Probably 120 games or so. He left Cleveland’s Progressive Field for a slightly more hitter friendly stadium in Nationals Park. Gomes’ offense should stay about the same. A ding in average would make sense, his power remaining about 12-14 homers would also make sense.
Suzuki, by sheer playing time, will take a step back in WAR. So, let’s estimate the Nationals have a 2.5 WAR player via their catcher platoon. Last season, Matt Wieters provided 0.6 WAR. Pedro Severino -1.1. Spencer Kieboom 0.4. The position was a mess.
But not enough of one for Rizzo to move Robles or Soto, and certainly not both, for Realmuto. The Nationals don’t enter 2019 with a comparable player. However, they don’t start the season with a hole there, either. And expect Juan Soto and Victor Robles to be the Opening Day starters in the outfield. Is that a better haul than Realmuto by himself following a gargantuan ask? The Nationals thought so.
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