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February 08, 2019

What they're saying: Was the J.T. Realmuto trade worth it or did the Phillies get fleeced?

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020819_Realmuto_usat John Geliebter/USA TODAY Sports

Catcher J.T. Realmuto during an at-bat at Citizens Bank Park.

By now, you likely know that the Phillies acquired arguably the best catcher in baseball on Thursday when they traded away top prospect Sixto Sanchez, catcher Jorge Alfaro and more to the Marlins in exchange for J.T. Realmuto. 

It wasn't the move that Phillies fans have been on the edge of their seats waiting for — it's true, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado still remain unsigned — but it's a huge deal nonetheless, one that could have a longterm impact on the organization. 

The soon-to-be 28-year-old All-Star certainly makes the Phillies lineup better, but at what cost? In giving away Sanchez and Alfaro, did Matt Klentak and Co. pay too big of a price for that upgrade? And what does it mean for the Phillies going forward?

Here's a look at what the local and national media are saying about the Phillies a day after the trade went down.

Worth the risk

Corey Seidman | NBC Sports Philadelphia

As Corey points out, there's been a fair amount of debate following the Realmuto trade, most of it revolving around top prospect Sixto Sanchez. But he also correctly writes that Sanchez is a far greater unknown than most Phillies fans would like to admit, whereas Realmuto is not. 

And Realmuto could get demonstrably better simply by a change of scenery (more on that in a bit). 

Corey's whole piece is definitely worth checking out, as he breaks down the trade from nearly every angle... 

J.T. Realmuto is worth trading Sixto Sanchez. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball and probably the only active catcher you could argue possesses all five tools. He can hit for average and power, field and throw well, and run the bases better than any everyday backstop.

You can't just look at Realmuto's production the last three seasons to form an opinion of what he's capable of producing offensively. Marlins Park is gigantic and suppresses extra-base hits. Last season alone, Realmuto had between 15 and 20 deep flyouts and lineouts that would have been extra-base hits at Citizens Bank Park. ...

This is where the bulk of the debate lies. Sixto Sanchez was regarded as the Phillies' top prospect and his was the name Phillies fans heard more than any other in recent years. Many did not see Realmuto as a meaningful enough upgrade to part with Sanchez.

If there was a high level of certainty that Sanchez's best-case scenario would play out in the years to come, trading Sanchez might have been unwise. But how confident can the Phillies be, right now, that Sanchez will grow into the top-of-the-rotation arm he has been billed as?  [nbcsports.com]

Phillies got fleeced

Michael Baumann | The Ringer

As we said, not everyone was on board with the Phillies shipping off their top prospect. The Ringer's Michael Baumann is one of those people. Not only does he think the Marlins won the trade, but he thinks the Phillies got fleeced in the deal.

Why? Well, you'll have to read for yourselves, but in short, the Phillies have other areas in greater need of upgrades, and they could have made those fixes without trading away their top prospect — or anyone else for that matter.

Seeing a trade like this, in which a fringe contender pays through the nose for a marginal upgrade, in which one side so entirely fleeces the other, sends a tingle of nostalgia down my spine. It’s like hearing a Lifehouse song on the radio or spotting a bottle of Jolt cola in the supermarket cooler, as if a bygone era that was more interesting for its ungoverned silliness has reached out a tendril of friendship through space and time.

For their part, the Marlins got everything they wanted for Realmuto and more. Sanchez is one of the best pitching prospects out there, a 6-foot right-hander capable of chucking a triple-digit fastball, choosing from a huge menu of secondary pitches, and commanding all of them. Like every pitcher, Sanchez carries substantial injury risk. His size is a concern—smaller pitchers sometimes have trouble holding up for the 200 inning-a-year workload expected of a modern ace. He also missed substantial time last year with elbow soreness and has yet to throw 100 innings in a season. The risk of injury or a move to the bullpen is real. Nevertheless, Sanchez is the best pitching prospect the Phillies have had since Cole Hamels, at the very least, and now probably the best pitching prospect the Marlins have had since José Fernández. ...

Realmuto might be the best catcher in baseball, but the Phillies paid an incredible price to get him. That’s not the end of the world in and of itself; the Phillies are set up for a four-way dogfight for the NL East, and every additional win helps. But they could have made bigger upgrades elsewhere on the diamond without giving up Alfaro or Sanchez. ...

It’d be defensible to trade Sanchez to upgrade from Alfaro to Realmuto, if other avenues of improvement had been exhausted. But here are some examples of bigger upgrades the Phillies could have made without giving up any prospects: Manny Machado at third base over Maikel Franco, Bryce Harper in right field over Nick Williams, Craig Kimbrel over anyone else in the Phillies’ bullpen, and Dallas Keuchel over at least one member of their starting rotation. For that matter, it’s not out of the question that Sanchez could have contributed to the Phillies’ rotation this coming season if he hadn’t been traded.  [theringer.com]

That lineup though... 

David Schoenfield | ESPN.com

If the Phillies do make good on signing one of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, their lineup could be absolutely loaded with the addition of Realmuto. Here's one projection from ESPN's David Schoenfield, assuming the Phillies land Harper:

The catcher position is also extremely weak across the majors at this time, at least offensively. Catchers combined for an OPS+ of 87 in 2018, their lowest collective figure since 2001. In other words, this move is arguably the biggest move a team has made this offseason. Before the trade, I had the Phillies a clear fourth in the NL East behind the Nationals, Braves and Mets, and this trade puts them right up there with the Braves and Mets.

That also means there is room for improvement, and that could still mean signing Harper or Machado. That lineup above is nice, but now let's imagine it with Bryce Harper in it. They are also obviously down on Maikel Franco, and Mike Moustakas would be about a two-win upgrade over Franco while providing better balance to the offense since he hits from the left side. So the Phillies are not far away from Gabe Kapler being able to fill out a lineup card that looks like this when they open against the Braves on March 28:

SS Jean Segura
C J.T. Realmuto
RF Bryce Harper
1B Rhys Hoskins
CF Odubel Herrera
LF Andrew McCutchen
3B Mike Moustakas
2B Cesar Hernandez

That would send a pretty clear message that Philadelphia is serious about taking the top spot of the NL East away from Atlanta.  [espn.com]

NL East is scary

Dave Sheinin | The Washington Post

The Phillies aren't the only NL East team looking to improve this offseason. Several division contenders have already added help — Josh Donaldson (Braves), Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz (Mets), Patrick Corbin (Nationals) — and that could make for one hell of a race for the East this season.

In this age of teardowns and tanking, with a dozen or more teams essentially sitting out this winter’s high-end talent market, to have four teams with designs on a title within the same division, and to see each of them moving aggressively to achieve it, is extraordinary.

Of the four, the Phillies arguably had the farthest to go. Their 80-82 record last year — good for a third-place finish, 10 games behind the division-winning Braves — included an ugly 16-33 finish over the season’s final two months.

The Phillies’ winter began with Middleton, their owner, telling USA Today he may be “a little bit stupid” with his free agent spending this winter, and it ended — well, there’s a good chance it hasn’t ended at all.

Even as the Harper and Machado sweepstakes lurch into their fourth months — with many of the usual, big-money suspects (Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs) apparently taking a pass, and the void filled with some dark horses and mystery teams (Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants) — much of the industry takes it as an inevitability that the Phillies will walk away with one of them.  [washingtonpost.com]

A tale of two Realmutos

Mike Petriello | MLB.com

As promised, let's get back into Realmuto's home/road splits throughout his career, because Marlins park has absolutely been killing him...

What if by simply leaving Miami for Philadelphia, there's a possibility that Realmuto's bat could get an additional boost?

No, we're not talking about escaping a lack of lineup protection from a weak Marlins lineup, which is more myth than reality. We're talking about getting out of Marlins Park, which played like an extreme offense-suppressing stadium in 2018. We're talking about getting past some of the most serious home/road splits we've seen in years.

This isn't hyperbole. Look at the difference between "Miami Realmuto" and "road Realmuto" over his career:

Realmuto at home, career
.244/.292/.384, .291 wOBA, .279 BABIP

A .291 wOBA is basically what light-hitting up-the-middle players like Amed Rosario and Manuel Margot put up in 2018.

Realmuto on the road, career
.310/.358/.494, .364 wOBA, .356 BABIP

A .356 wOBA is basically what powerful sluggers like Javier Baez and Khris Davis put up in 2018.  [mlb.com]

Digging deeper into the numbers

Paul Hembekides | ESPN.com

Over at ESPN, they took an even deeper look into Realmuto's numbers to prove how he's a legit five-tool player, something that's extremely rare among catchers. And, of course, he notes that his numbers are only going to improve playing in a more hitter-friendly ballpark — and being surrounded by a much more potent lineup.

Five-tool players are exceedingly rare in baseball today, especially ones who play a premium position. In J.T. Realmuto, the Philadelphia Phillies are acquiring a five-tool catcher who may be on the verge of superstardom, now that Citizens Bank Park is home.

Realmuto has been suppressed by Marlins Park, which has rated among the five least-friendly ballparks for hitters in each of the past three seasons. The gap between his OPS there and all other ballparks (.205 points) is equivalent to the difference between Mookie Betts' and John Jay's OPS during that time. Excluding all plate appearances taken at Marlins Park in the past three seasons, Realmuto's batting average on balls in play (.363) ranks seventh among 366 qualified hitters. ...

Realmuto has produced 12.9 wins above replacement over the past four seasons, a mark topped only by Posey (17.9) among catchers. FanGraphs estimates Realmuto has been worth $114 million over that span (33rd among position players). With two more years of team-friendly control (he will earn $5.9 million in 2019) before being eligible for free agency (after the 2020 season), he promises to provide extraordinary value and a variance of skills rarely seen at the catcher position.  [espn.com]


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