The Marlins deal JT Realmuto to the Phillies

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The trade of the winter is finally complete, at a price finally suitable for the Marlins’ rebuild.

Well, it finally happened. The Marlins have had a rough go of it as far as rebuilds go, sending Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees for an underwhelming salary dump, Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals for Sandy Alcantara and Magneuris Sierra (and others), and Christian Yelich to the Brewers for Lewis Brinson (and others).

That was never going to be enough to jump-start the newly acquired franchise, even if paying down debt was first among their goals, but this trade might.

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According to Jeff Passan, the Marlins have completed a deal that would send JT Realmuto to the Phillies for Sixto Sanchez, Jorge Alfaro, Will Stewart, and an international bonus slot.

Let’s start with the prospects, because that will have an important part to play two or so years from now. Sanchez, ranked 23rd on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101, is certainly high-risk, as the threat of Tommy John is always looming. But so is reward, and with a triple-digits fastball and essentially four or five other plus pitches, you have the recipe for a pitcher that could anchor a rotation for a decade.

Stewart was rated as the Phillies’ 18th-best prospect by FanGraphs, good for a 40 FV. He relies on the now-basically-extinct low-90s sinker and a slider with an incredibly high groundball rate to show for it, but it’s a nice addition if he does end up a backend starter one day, even if of limited quality.

Alfaro already has some major league seasoning, and it’s still a bit polarizing. By WARP, he accrued 2.5 last season, and 2.1 by fWAR. His framing is decent even though the sample size isn’t huge, as he was worth 12.3 framing runs last season. But the bat is incredibly iffy, even if it was a 96 wRC+ and a 117 wRC+ in the second half last year. He still strikes out nearly 40% of the time with a low batting average with limited power, as well as a BABIP over .400, so in a way the Marlins will ultimately have to live and die by his defense.

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And this colors how you feel this return is for the Phillies. If Alfaro stinks, then this is something like a four win upgrade. If you think he’s about what BP or FanGraphs says he is moving forward, then this is a two-win upgrade, and even less if he improves on his bat. Regardless, Realmuto is still a hell-of-a-catcher, one of the best in the game. In a league starved of catcher-based offense, Realmuto hit to a 126 wRC+ last season, and is projected for 109 via Steamer in 2019.

This was never supposed to be about just this one upgrade, though, nor should it be if you’re Matt Klentak or John Middleton. With just $125 million committed to salary, and a recent history of stinginess but the ability to go another $50-60 million in AAV higher, they could sign both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado and still have cash around for midseason acquisitions.

All three would give them an improvement of something like, let’s say… ten wins or so? That would be enough to make them favorites in the NL East, easily, and it would be the type of win-now move that would generate the kind of attention, revenue, and fan interest that could buoy higher payrolls over the next few years and sustain a good half-decade of success, as they just did in the decade prior.

I’m not going to say this isn’t a lot to cough up, because it is. You’re much better off if you’re the one acquiring Yelich, for sure, but when flags fly forever, and you’re in a contentious division with elite talent at your disposal, you take that opportunity when given. Prospects are just prospects, after all, which should be further evidenced if they go out and get the rest of that major league talent that’s available.

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