Real Deal: What Would It Take To Get J.T. Realmuto?
Image courtesy of Amber Searles, USA TodayThis season, the Twins have gotten a lowly .581 OPS from the catcher position, ranking as one of the worst in the majors. But worse even are the Washington Nationals, who have openly tried to upgrade behind the plate. They made a big push for Realmuto during the offseason as Miami held its firesale, but ultimately came up short.
Washington's continuing interest in the 27-year-old, who has improved every year in the majors and currently sports a .317/.368/.551 slash line for the Marlins, is well known. But during a late-June radio interview, Nats GM Mike Rizzo was candid in his stance.
“They’ve got a great player in Realmuto,” said Rizzo. “They’re not going to sell him cheap. We know what the return has to be on Realmuto, and we’re not willing to meet that price."
According to offseason reports and rumors, the Marlins refused to make a deal that didn't include at least one of Victor Robles or Juan Soto. To put that in some context, Robles and Soto ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on Baseball America's list of top Nationals prospects, compiled last November, and the two outfielders placed No. 7 and No. 56 on BA's 2018 preseason list. Soto is now already up in the majors and raking at age 19.
So, clearly the Marlins aren't going to settle for anything less than at least one premier, top-end prospect at the front of a Realmuto package. This means that for Minnesota, the conversation would need to start with Royce Lewis, currently 10th in BA's live rankings, or Alex Kirilloff, whose monster season in A-ball has rocketed him up to No. 35.
From my view, Lewis is off the table. You just don't trade a player like him away. But pretty much anyone else in the organization should be fair game, including Kirilloff. Could the Twins build a package around the young slugger that gets it done? Should they?
Hypothesizing a Prospect Package for Realmuto
One can envision Kirilloff striking Miami's fancy as the headliner in an offer for Realmuto – a worthy fallback after they failed to land Robles or Soto. The Marlins system is short on impact bats and Kirilloff has quickly established himself as one of the best in the minors. His sweet left-handed swing draws comparisons to Christian Yelich, who himself enjoyed five stellar seasons with the Fish before being shipped out during the aforementioned offseason firesale.
Mired in last place, the Marlins don't really have any hopes of returning to contention within the next couple of seasons, and Realmuto is due for free agency after 2020. Around that same time, Kirilloff figures to be breaking into the big leagues, so the logic behind such a swap from their perspective is easy enough to see.
From Minnesota's end, losing Kirilloff would obviously hurt. He's a key piece in their system, especially as offensive production has taken a lackluster turn for the big-league club. But Realmuto's impact in that regard would be enormous, with his polished catching skills and middle-of-the-order bat turning a crucial position from major liability to resounding strength.
And, for whatever it's worth, the Twins might have just found themselves another Kirilloff. First-round draft pick Trevor Larnach, who signed last week after starring for Oregon State in the College World Series, has a very similar profile: lefty-swinging, power-hitting corner outfielder, and he'll slot in at just about the same stage of development. It is of course unlikely he'll reach the same level of esteem as Kirilloff, but the Twins at least wouldn't be opening a huge void.
So, what else needs to be added alongside Kirilloff to make this happen? I suspect Miami would command another prospect in Minnesota's top tier – perhaps a Nick Gordon or Stephen Gonsalves. Personally I would be reluctantly willing to part with either. But even that might not get it done.
Emerging flamethrower Brusdar Graterol, or the more advanced and MLB-ready Fernando Romero, are names that really could get their attention, and while giving either up in addition to Kirilloff would be excruciatingly painful, I think I do it if it gets me two years of Realmuto with a chance to nail down a longer deal. And I might add another prospect from the Twins' Top 10 or 15, too.
"The only way to be sustainable over time is to build up the minor league system. That is our focus," said Marlins CEO Derek Jeter during a town hall meeting with fans in December. "I don't expect you to be happy."
Dealing Realmuto for a package of prospects headlined by Kirilloff and, say, Graterol might not make Miami fans happy, but it would certainly align within the teardown strategy Jeter was defending. The franchise would add at least two heralded talents with enormous upside while shaving around $6 million off the 2019 payroll.
I'll admit, the timing would be a little weird.
It's not often you see an avowed seller go and flip multiple top prospects for a 27-year-old All-Star at the trade deadline. In fact, I'm not sure it has ever happened. But now is a time for creative, outside-the-box thinking.
The Twins – maintaining a focus on short-term contention – aren't your typical deadline seller.
Realmuto – tied for second in the National League in WAR and under affordable team control for multiple years – isn't your typical deadline target.
As mentioned earlier, one aspect of the rationale here is beating others to the punch. Realmuto is a highly coveted asset and the Marlins are sure to have numerous callers this month. One can argue that it's more logical for Minnesota to wait until the offseason before engaging in these discussions, escaping the leverage dynamics inherent to the deadline, but that isn't necessarily a luxury they can afford.
There are also some concrete benefits to pulling the trigger now. Realmuto would have the final two months to acclimate and gain familiarity with the Twins pitching staff, which figures to largely carry over in 2019. There's real value in that for a catcher.
And also, Realmuto is just a hell of a player. You could hardly make a more impactful addition at the trade deadline. To whatever extent the Twins remain attached to their nearly invisible postseason hopes, he'd be a huge boost.
At the very least, it sends a good message to players and fans: Things haven't gone to plan, but we're still serious about winning, and now.
This kind of move would allow them to pursue that goal vigorously while lessening their reliance on Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to lead the charge. It'd be a major shakeup and strategic pivot for the front office, but I believe such measures are warranted given this current state of affairs.
What do you think? What would it take to pry Realmuto from the Marlins, and would you be willing to do it?
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