Why Realmuto?

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J.T. Realmuto #11 of the Miami Marlins attempts to catch the throw from the outfield in the seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park on July 23, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Source: Getty Images)

Today may be the day.

Tomorrow may be the day.

The day has to come at some point, right?

All winter we have heard how much the Braves have sought after and pursued Marlins catcher JT Realmuto. We’ve read about it. We’ve wrote about it. We’ve listened to podcasts about it. We’ve recorded podcasts about it. We’ve all talked about it nonstop. There has to be a breaking point.

And the calendar has now rolled over to February and here we are, still sitting in complete confusion as to whether or not this thing is going to happen. Team after team keeps getting attached, but the Braves remain that one constant.

Over the past week we have seen everything from the Braves still being a front-runner and trying to hammer out the auxiliary pieces, to the Braves still being in talks but now as a darkhorse to the newer emerging teams in the race like San Diego and Cincinnati.

All we seem to know right now is that Alex Anthopoulos has had talks about JRT, but we really don’t know the who/what/when/where/why of those talks. Or if they’re even still ongoing. We’re all assuming this is the infamous 70% deal AA alluded to Chopfest weekend, but like everything else this offseason, who even knows anymore. Some reports even have the two sides not having any active or ongoing talks since the winter meetings.

But is Realmuto even someone we should be concerned about at this point?

We know that with whatever happens, he’s headed somewhere for two seasons on what is going to be a very team-friendly money as he finishes up his arbitration years. And given what we assume about the Braves financials, that may be the biggest perk of going after the all-star catcher.

The primary cost to the Braves, and likely any other team looking to acquire him, is going to be the prospect capital, however. When all this started, the Marlins were rumored to be chasing current Major League level all-star talent in exchange. Or maybe even more than that if the rumors surrounding Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies over the past twelve months are to be believed.

The problem for everyone chasing Realmuto seems to be the Marlins are playing catch-up and trying to right some of the wrongs they laid for themselves by getting fleeced in deals for Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna in the past couple off-seasons. They walked away from those deals for two future MVP winners with one player in the Baseball America Top 100 this winter (#60, Victor Victor Mesa), and he was an IFA signing just a couple months ago. To say they need to maximize their return on the one coveted piece they still retain control of is an understatement.

But what would that cost be for Atlanta in February 2019?

We have heard all winter the starting point is Austin Riley. Then last week Ian Anderson’s name entered the discussions, per Craig Mish. Whether or not both of those names are being mentioned in tandem, we don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Marlins were looking to angle two top 50 prospects plus more in return.

The other point that has been batted around is the Marlins are expecting a player, or players, off the Major League Roster to help bulk up what little they have left. Given the addition of Realmuto would give the Braves three catchers on the ML roster, one would assume Tyler Flowers would be included as part of the return.

Two other wildcard names out of the ML group Braves fans have tossed around the past couple months are Ender Inciarte and Julio Teheran. Given the Braves inability to land a prominent outfielder this offseason, Inciarte has to be off the table at this point. Teheran, however, is an $11m contract (with a $1m buyout attached) the Braves would love to be able to part with. And with the Marlins starting pitching being questionable at best at the Major League level and even more so in their farm system, someone who can eat upwards of 175 innings would slot in perfectly.

So what is our takeaway from what the Marlins are wanting?

  1. One to two high level prospects,
  2. perhaps a 2nd tier prospect depending on who they acquire in #1,
  3. a ML catcher,
  4. and potentially a contract dump SP.

For two years of Realmuto control that seems… steep depending on the pieces.

Now, if the Braves could work in an extension window with the Marlins like the Reds and Padres are rumored to be negotiating, and lockdown Realmuto for an additional two to three years, that changes everything. However there has been little to confirm such an offer is even on the table.

So, the way it stacks up right now, the conservative offer would likely be:

Austin Riley and/or Ian Anderson
2nd tier prospect (Luiz Gohara?)
Tyler Flowers
Julio Teheran

-FOR-

Two years of JT Realmuto.

So what would two years of Realmuto actually get you?

A lot.

Looking at two of the primary projection systems (Steamer and ZiPS), Realmuto is in line for right at a 4 win season in 2019, which falls more in line with his numbers in 2016 and 2017, and is a win short of his production in 2018.

For those of you who want to dig a little deeper than overall wins added, he checks all the boxes for an elite catcher:

  • He can hit — 109 wRC+ over the past three seasons, with a career high 126 in 2018
  • He can throw — Top three in poptime the past three seasons
  • He can frame — Top 20 in FRAA the past two seasons

Everything is there you could want from a catcher in today’s game, where simply being one-dimensional isn’t enough.

(Although just to be fair, his walk-rate leaves a lot to be desired when you look at his OBP, but that certainly doesn’t detract from all he does right. Just something to file away in the back of your head.)

But is it enough of an improvement over what the Braves currently have to warrant a king’s ransom of prospects and guys on the Major League roster?

Well, the present is Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann.

Running it back to our previous projection sources, Steamer puts the Flowers/McCann combo at 2.0 wins, while ZiPS puts them slightly lower at 1.7 wins.

Assuming Flowers is shown the door in some form if Realmuto is acquired, that would likely mean McCann’s expected playing time drops considerably as JTR has averaged over 1,000 innings behind the plate the past three seasons. Both Steamer and ZiPS assume almost a 50/50 split for Flowers and McCann, so cutting Mac’s time further would drop him down to around 0.4 wins on top of the approximate 4 for Realmuto.

So, how much is that extra two-plus wins worth? Is it worth what is presumed on the table right now?

It all comes down to who or what the headliner is, if the Braves can unload Teheran’s contract, and what you see happening with the team going forward.

If Austin Riley’s name is on the table still, I think it’s too much regardless of what else is being offered. The front office has shown this off-season that, for whatever the multitude of reasons you want to choose is, they are reluctant to spend on the open market. What that means going forward is that the rare positional depth on the farm (Riley, the OF combo of Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, and the team’s only true catching prospect William Contreras) may be much more untouchable than the plethora of top-shelf arms currently bubbling just below the surface.

We all seem perfectly content with Johan Camargo being the future everyday 3B today, but will we still be as confident in eight months? If Camargo shows himself to be much more valuable in a Martin Prado/Ben Zobrist/Javy Baez type super-utility role, the Braves could be right back where they were this offseason with a huge vacancy. The Donaldson signing is huge for the hot corner in 2019, but Riley has been highly touted by the front office in the past few months, garnering comps to Troy Glaus recently, and they may be ready to crown him as the next big thing if he doesn’t hit a wall at Gwinnett in the first half of this season.

Anderson is far more expendable. Which speaks greatly to just how loaded the cupboard still is with young pitchers. His name is atop more prospect lists currently, but nearly everyone has prefaced the Braves rankings by saying the top ten is almost interchangeable. With Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, and Kyle Wright all mentioned in the same breath, and perhaps more Major League ready, it’s possible Anderson could be the odd-man out when it comes to the Braves young RH starters.

Everything offered outside of those two should fall in line and be of little consequence overall. If it is some trio akin to Gohara, Flowers, and Teheran, all could (and should) be easily replaceable.

But Teheran is a must, almost like Anderson at this point. If the Braves are locked into a sub-$120m budget to open the season, that $11m can go a long way in helping to shore up the rest of the Opening Day roster over the next eight weeks.

So ultimately, it’s a Riley vs. Anderson debate and whether or not the Marlins take on all of Teheran’s contract.

If Austin Riley is involved in the deal, it is a hard no in my opinion.

If the Braves had shown any ability or concern for solving problems long-term externally, I say throw at the Marlins whatever it takes to get this thing done. But going all-in on Realmuto to the extent of shipping off Riley could mean in two years you are left without a standout 3B *and* an elite catcher with an inability to chase either position via free agency.


UPDATE 1:20pm: Twitter’s J.T. Realmuto expert Craig Mish has tweeted that the current outlook for a deal between the Braves and Marlins hinges on one of Ian Anderson and Austin Riley being involved. He noted that the Braves are taking a firm stance against both of their top prospects being included in the deal.

He also mentioned that he has gotten conflicting reports on which Braves prospect is being included in the current framework of negotiations.

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