During 2019’s molasses-slow offseason, the J.T. Realmuto trade saga has been one of the dominant stories since the season drew to a close. With roughly half-a-dozen suitors in the mix and rumors of exorbitant asking prices, trade talks dominated chatter for months until the Marlins and Phillies finally consummated a deal last week. The Astros had been linked to Realmuto both before and after the signing of Robinson Chirinos, but never appeared close to striking a deal for a player that most consider to be baseball’s best active backstop. Once the details of Miami’s pact with Philadelphia became public, it became more apparent why the Astros were never a serious threat to finish a trade.
The Marlins’ front office is full of fresh faces following Jeffery Loria’s merciful sale of the team, and as with any new front offices, it has been difficult (if not impossible) to pin down their tendencies on the acquisition market while they have few moves under their belt. While the trades of Giancarlo Stanton and (moreso) Christian Yelich provided some clues, the Stanton trade was little more than a salary dump and the Brewers had limited assets to offer in the Yelich trade, meaning that the return was likely to look similar for any big name that the Brewers might have added at that time.
With the deal for Realmuto finally official, it has become apparent that while the Marlins did not have a ton of choice in who they took from Milwaukee in the Yelich trade, they likely chose their partner carefully. In that deal, Miami received a four-player package headlined by Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison, two players who likely could’ve gone very far playing sports other than baseball thanks to their immense natural gifts, as well as post-hype sleeper Isan Diaz who continues to struggle with contact issues and pitcher Jordan Yamomoto who at times looks like a mid-rotation starter but struggles mightily with inconsistency. The reaction to that deal was that the Marlins had done a hell of a lot better than they had in shipping out Giancarlo Stanton, but had taken on a huge amount of risk in accepting Harrison and Brinson as part of the trade, as while both carry first-division regular upside, they also carry out-of-baseball-before-free-agency downside due to their contact issues.
The trade between Miami and Philadelphia solidifies in my mind that the Marlins plan to build a strategy around players like Brinson and Harrison, who carry both the highest risk and highest upside in their value range. Their deal with the Phillies saw them bring in top prospects Sixto Sanchez and Jorge Alfaro, two household names for prospectors, as both have been on the radar for several years at this point. Alfaro’s legend precedes him at this point, as evaluators have been slapping 7s and 8s on his loud tools since I was in high school. The dynamic catcher brings elite pop times, arm strength and raw power to the table but has simply not hit, or had good at-bats, at any point in his pro career. If Miami can rectify that issue, Alfaro could make good on some of the dreamy scouting reports that have followed him since he was a teenager and develop into a true star. He could just as easily completely fail to hit at the major league level and end up little more than Jeff Mathis, or perhaps as a Kenley Jansen-style pitching project in a few years, but it’s clear that Miami is looking to stockpile lottery tickets in the hopes of hitting on a few in short succession.
Sixto Sanchez, the headliner of this deal, is not quite as extreme as Alfaro but nonetheless brings a wide range of outcomes. The young fireballer has a true 80 fastball and throws it without a lot of effort, which made him a scout’s dream from a very early age. Add in a strong breaking ball and natural athleticism, and you have a potential frontline starter and top-25 prospect, but there are still concerns about whether Sanchez’s frame can hold up to a starter’s workload in the long run, more than are typical of a prospect of his stature. While Sanchez could be baseball’s next Luis Severino, he could also end up a late-inning reliever if his health does not cooperate. The Marlins are okay with that, so long as their success rate is merely low and not zero.
It is for that very reason that the Astros never really stood a chance in the Realmuto derby- the Marlins were chasing 7s and 8s, even if they came with substantial downside risk. They don’t seem interested in moving assets for prospects without getting a healthy complement of potential plus tools. While the Astros have those to offer, they do not tend to gravitate towards “scout’s dream” type prospects that bring the sky-high upside of an Alfaro or Brinson to the table. To provide Miami with the loud, potential-7 tools that they coveted, they would’ve had to part with Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker, whose combination of ceiling and floor make them superior overall prospects to Sanchez, meaning it would have been difficult to meet Miami’s demands without completely going overboard in terms of value.
Past the top two, the loudest tools in the Astros’ organization belong to players like J.B. Bukauskas with his plus-plus slider and Freudis Nova, who are along the same lines as Sanchez and Alfaro but either don’t offer quite as much upside, or aren’t as far along in their development. While the Astros could’ve easily matched the value that the Phillies gave up, they wouldn’t have been able to do so while also both satisfying Miami’s penchant for upside and avoiding an overpay. Their only real hope was that the Marlins saw Yordan Alvarez as an attractive centerpiece- and that was a longshot from the word go. The Astros remain stocked with attractive assets and will without a doubt continue kicking tires on the trade market, but in the case of J.T. Realmuto, they simply weren’t the match that the Marlins were looking for.