So You Want to Trade for J.T. Realmuto

Here’s what J.T. Realmuto looks like.
(Photo: Ian D’Andrea)

I decided while working on the Top 50 Free Agents post that it would make sense to also write up the top trade target on the market. Since new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said the team plans to compete in 2019, it seems like Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are unlikely to be dealt — or, at least not during the offseason. That points to J.T. Realmuto as the clear top trade target in the league (and No. 24 in July’s Trade Value Rankings) — and that’s before nearly half the questions in my chat on Wednesday were asking me how much it would cost for various teams to trade for Realmuto.

I could approach this from an insider-y perspective and tell you what teams are telling me the price probably is, but that approach is limited in a few ways. First off, I’m not sure anyone really knows what the price is: the Marlins have turned down strong offers for a year now and still seem inclined to try to extend Realmuto, even thoughhis agent said he’s not having it. Since Miami has this one major asset left to move in its rebuild, they may act irrationally, but the market pieces may be falling into place for someone to pay a price that justified this delay.

If forced to succinctly describe the current state of catching in the major leagues, I would say it sucks. I’ll let Mike Petriello to provide some details and point you to the positional leaderboard, but if you just tried to predict which catchers would be worth two-plus wins and remain at catcher primarily for the next five seasons, how many would you have? Realmuto is one, and if you think Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez may play a lot more first base or get hurt or be inconsistent in this span, it’s possible that there isn’t another one. Being charitable, there’s just a handful, and they all cost a lot or aren’t available.

Putting all of this together, Realmuto offers the age-28 and age-29 seasons of the best long- and short-term catcher in the game, and he’ll cost between $15 million and $20 million for those seasons, depending on how his arbitration salaries work out. You have him long enough to make two runs at a title and get a comp pick at the end, an exclusive negotiating window for an extension, a non-risky length of a deal, and cheap enough salaries that any team can afford it.

What happens when we approach the a possible trade from a cold, economical standpoint? The first step is to establish a market value for Realmuto, as if he were a free agent and would only accept a two-year deal. Steamer projects Realmuto for 3.7 WAR in 2019, which I think can reasonably be pushed to 4.0 with framing. Call it 3.5 to 4.0 in 2020, as well, since he’s still in the prime years. A $9- to $10-million dollar per WAR figure is a generic value across all 30 teams, but with the supply/demand at catcher, motivated contenders with money to spend, and the short-term nature of the contract (along with the comp picks and negotiating window), you could argue that the retail price of this projection (two years, $70-80 million) is a starting point. I would think the bidding would settle somewhere under $90 million in this hypothetical situation.

This coming Monday, we’ll be running a series by Craig Edwards that formally answers the question that writers often have to confront at this point in an article like this: how do you value prospects in terms of dollars? Without revealing too much of Craig’s research or the precise figures at which he arrives, I will give you an idea of what sort of tier of prospects should be in play for a Realmuto deal.

If we use round numbers and say Realmuto is worth $85 million and is getting paid $15 million, that’s a $70 million asset value, probably lower, as both numbers are on the aggressive side. If I asked you which prospects in baseball are definitely worth more than $70 million and you said only Vladimir Guerrero Jr., then you would be correct. That’s the only one.

Every other prospect in baseball “should” be on the table, but you can realistically eliminate a few more simply because the clubs don’t seem inclined to push all their chips in right now (the Twins with Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis, the Reds with Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammell), or they have multiple prospects just below this level, so they can still give a market value offer while holding back their top prospect (the Padres with Fernando Tatis Jr., the White Sox with Eloy Jimenez, the Rays with Wander Franco, the Braves with Cristian Pache, and the Astros with Kyle Tucker).

Of the teams that seem likely to bid aggressively on Realmuto, here’s some packages that make sense from the perspective of FanGraphs’ soon-to-be-released prospect asset values:

Atlanta Braves
It’s been reported that, in July, the Marlins turned down an offer of RHP Mike Soroka (No. 25 on the Top 100) and 3B Austin Riley (No. 28) for Realmuto, though I’m told that package was never offered. If we’re gonna say Realmuto is worth $70 million or so, a two-player package needs to be some multiple above that number, since the Marlins would prefer all of that value in one player. What’s the right number, though? Maybe 20% higher? We’ll research past trades and try to nail that down, but this offer is right about there. The Braves have nine more prospects in our Top 115 beyond these two and Pache, so the ammunition is clearly there. I would imagine the price may be just a bit higher, for the market-based reasons to which I alluded earlier, so a solid third piece like LHP Kyle Muller should get it done. That said, it’s possible the Braves have deemed that, or even Soroka-plus-Riley, to be too much.

Houston Astros
The Astros could deem RF Kyle Tucker (No. 8) off limits and still put together a strong two-player offer of RHP Forrest Whitley (No. 12) and LF Yordan Alvarez (No. 47), which essentially comes out to the same value as the Soroka/Riley offer. It’s unclear if Houston would trade Tucker or Whitley in a deal like this, but they could come up with the strongest offer, trading just one of them plus Alvarez and one more top-10 piece from their system, like RHP J.B. Bukauskas, possibly a lesser piece. Houston may also deem Whitley off limits as he and Tucker could both be important 2019 contributors making the league minimum.

Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have arguably the deepest system in the game, so it’s more a matter of picking the right pieces to move. I would imagine SS Wander Franco (No. 6) is off the table here, but that still leaves LHP/1B Brendan McKay (No. 14) and RHP Brent Honeywell (No. 23) as potential headliners. McKay and RF Jesus Sanchez (No. 46) would represent one example of a Rays two-player package that’s on par with Soroka/Riley and Whitley/Alvarez. That said, it looks like they just traded for Mike Zunino, so this is looking much less likely than when I started writing this post.

Washington Nationals
The Nats have long been tied to Realmuto and it’s unclear what their offseason strategy is, but it appears they’re still aiming to win the division in 2019. The name long tied to this deal is CF Victor Robles (No. 4), and he’s probably the best asset who will be discussed with Miami by any club. The asset values suggest a player in the 75- to 100-overall ranking would be the second piece to match up a two-player package with the aforementioned deals, but the Nationals have a shallow system that doesn’t include this sort of prospect.

SS Carter Kieboom (No. 10) in addition to Robles is a drastic overpay, and their third-best prospect in RHP Mason Denaburg (45+ FV, roughly No. 150 if we ranked that tier of prospect) was just drafted out of high school and is probably a little light. Obviously, young big leaguers who aren’t prospects can be added to make up this gap, so the Nats can make the best offer if they want, it’s just a little more difficult than it would be for other clubs.

Philadelphia Phillies
Top prospect RHP Sixto Sanchez (No. 16) has missed much of 2018 with various injuries, so his value isn’t as certain as it is for the players mentioned above. The Marlins could be wary of his health or just not want the risk of a pitcher who was pulled out of the Arizona Fall League. That said, if healthy, Sanchez is right there with Whitley as one of the top arms in the minors. With Sixto on the table, adding in recent third overall pick 3B Alec Bohm (No. 68) gets you within spitting distance of the two-player packages above, while Sanchez plus their second-best prospect RHP Adonis Medina (No. 40) is heavier than those offers, but could land Realmuto using just two players.

Here are some less likely suitors that would still make some sense for a Realmuto trade, and their projected core offers:

Oakland A’s
LHP Jesus Luzardo (No. 31), LHP A.J. Puk (No. 38), but no clear third option with C Sean Murphy (No. 51) too heavy and other prospects a bit too light.

Milwaukee Brewers
2B Keston Hiura (No. 22), RF Tristen Lutz (No. 68), CF Corey Ray (No. 89).

Los Angeles Dodgers
Either C Will Smith (No. 29) or C Keibert Ruiz (No. 36), RF Alex Verdugo (No. 48), either RHP Dustin May (No. 106) or RHP Dennis Santana (No. 104).

I omitted the Red Sox since they don’t have a significant prospect with whom to start a deal (but could deal from their big league club) and the Rockies, who come up just short using only their system, but have a good starting piece in SS Brendan Rodgers (No. 11). The three clubs most often mentioned with Realmuto (Atlanta, Houston, and Washington) still seem most likely to end up with him, with the separator likely being which team is prepared to act most boldly.

We hoped you liked reading So You Want to Trade for J.T. Realmuto by Kiley McDaniel!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

Leave a Reply

86 Comments on "So You Want to Trade for J.T. Realmuto"

newest oldest most voted
jdfree49
Member
jdfree49

Nobody needs him as much as the Rockies, but of course, the notion that they would actually be in the running is ludicrous.

BobbyJohn69
Member
Member
BobbyJohn69

Bridich apparently learned nothing from watching O’Dowd’s prospect-hoarding ways.

Shauncore
Member
Shauncore

Could make an argument for the Red Sox, no? They had the worst catching group in the majors last year.

One thing I hope Craig does in his piece is explore the non-linear cost of a win. The Red Sox, being at the right spectrum of the win curve, has to pay more for a win than say, the Orioles at the left end of the curve (I guess it’s more of a line than a curve).

The difference between 62 wins and 65 wins shouldn’t cost much. The difference between 82 and 85 should cost a bit more than 62-65. The difference between 94 and 97 should cost a lot more than 62-65.

The cost to the Red Sox isn’t going to be the same as the cost to the Phillies at this moment. The Red Sox should be offering up more, because going from 94 to 97 wins (an example) is more beneficial.

CatWolf
Member
CatWolf

I was thinking about the Red Sox as a fit too but I wonder if they just don’t have the prospects to get a deal done. Off the top of my head, top 2 prospects might be Groome and Chavis. Groome stock down a bit after TJ and Chavis stock down a bit after suspension. They don’t seem commensurately ranked with the packages Kiley has proposed, but I do think Realmuto would be a great fit given where Sox are on Win Curve as you said.

JohnBarron
Member
JohnBarron

The Red Sox farm is empty. That should be a major story in the game but draws little attention.

Doug Lampert
Member
Member
Doug Lampert

They hired Dombrowski as GM, and told him to win now. An empty farm system was a predictable consequence. As they actually won, and flags fly forever, I assume ownership is happy with what they got (I am). But an empty farm system pretty well goes without saying.

redsoxu571
Member
redsoxu571

No, Dombrowski was not told to “win now”. In the aftermath of Ben Cherington holding onto a large collection of prospects, DD was charged with being willing to make deals to prioritize the short term more than it had been, while keeping some eye on the medium term. The team had too many young talents to be purely “win now”, but was also too young to just wait to develop altogether without some veteran additions. The goal was BALANCE, as it usually should be.

The farm system is weak because the team made trades and graduations all at once. Every team goes through cycles in which their system is more or less loaded. What matters isn’t “never” having a more barren cupboard, but making sure to not let the cupboard stay empty. If the system is seen as solid in a year or two, it won’t matter that it was barren when it was least needed.

jonvanderlugt
Member
Member
jonvanderlugt

The farm is empty because their guys graduated and won the chip. Flags fly forever.

redsoxu571
Member
redsoxu571

The Red Sox farm system is weak and in the starting stages of restocking, not “empty”. It was worse-looking even last offseason. Also, you say it should be a “major story”, but trolls like you bring it up over and over again (with negative exaggerations) all the time.

Before, it was mock Boston for trading away pieces and being mediocre, so because the team won a championship you’re moving on to making the weak Boston system sound even worse than it is? Pretty lame.

Shauncore
Member
Shauncore

Right, they might not be able to do it.

I was replying to: “Nobody needs him as much as the Rockies”

Which I think it’s actually the Red Sox who need him more given their current catching duo and their spot on the win curve.

Other than Rodgers, the Rockies farm isn’t all that better than the Red Sox. Both are filled with 40/45s outside of Pint, but a 50 on him might be a little rich in my opinion.

BobbyJohn69
Member
Member
BobbyJohn69

I agree with the sentiment about the Rockies primarily because they have in-house options for improving on their other obvious lineup holes but lack one at catcher.

Thrasius
Member
Member
Thrasius

Is the cost of a win non-linear? Or is the value of a win non-linear? I’m a little confused by your question/statement. I definitely agree with the latter but doubt the former, in most cases. Or have I missed some article or research?

Shauncore
Member
Shauncore

If the value of a win is non-linear, wouldn’t the cost of a win be non-linear too?

If moving from 94-95 wins is more valuable than from 62-63, wouldn’t it be more expensive? I’m just talking out loud here as I’m not sure

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Not necessarily. The value of a win being non-linear to the receiving team should make them more willing to bid higher, driving up the value. Hence, more teams that have a need for a particular plays (say, Realmuto) on the higher part of the win curve should increase demand. But as with anything in small markets (only 29 other teams) like this, the buyer doesn’t *have* to play by those rules, and if they’re the only bidder they might drive a hard bargain. The “rules of the game” are jointly decided, negotiated, reified, and re-constructed over and over again. All of this is to say…you are probably right under certain circumstances, but demonstrating the conditions under which it might be a master’s thesis in economics.

Johnnie T
Member
Johnnie T

If we wanted to carry it further, one might also consider how good the player Realmuto (or anyone else) would replace is. I mean, Realmuto’s value I would think would be higher to a team with rancid options behind the plate rather than okay options.

rosen380
Member

Sort of.

Team A: presently has a 0 projected win catcher
Team B: presently has a 2 projected win catcher

He might appear to be significantly more valuable to the first team, except that now the second team still has a 2-win catcher that might be worth something in trade to fill another hole.

If they trade their old catcher for a 2-win RP displacing a replacement level bullpen arm, then you could say that overall it was about the same for both teams.

Or if they have a hole at first, maybe the old catcher becomes primarily a first baseman (while still being a good backup option behind the plate)

fawe4
Member
fawe4