At long last—after last winter’s inaugural edition, last summer’s deadline version, and the last few months’ reprise—J.T. Realmuto’s trade rumor mill has finally stopped. The 27-year-old Miami Marlins catcher is headed to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for a package loaded with young talent. Miami will walk away with pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and international bonus money.
For Miami, it’s another move to strip down the roster and restock the farm system, an ongoing process for the last year and a half. For Philadelphia, it’s a big move by a team that promised to be aggressive. The Phillies began the offseason by signaling their interest in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, with talk of spending “stupid money” and fully investing in 2019. While neither of those transformative deals have come through (yet), Philadelphia’s winter has still had plenty of activity—signing outfielder Andrew McCutchen, trading for shortstop Jean Segura, offloading first baseman Carlos Santana, adding reliever David Robertson. Snagging Realmuto, though, might be their biggest move so far.
With two seasons remaining before he hits free agency, Realmuto has established himself as one of baseball’s premier catchers. He boasts an 118 OPS+ across the last three years and is coming off his best season yet: 139 OPS+, with 21 home runs. Unsurprisingly, he reportedly drew interest as he was made available for trade. The months of rumors have finally ended and Philadelphia is the victor. Realmuto will replace Alfaro—a fearsome arm and capable pitch-framer, and a scratch hitter in 2018, his first full season in the major leagues. Still, Realmuto is a significant upgrade for the line-up, a strong hitter who’s finally moving out of the pitcher’s park that he’s always called home.
This upgrade didn’t cheaply. Sanchez is the Phillies’ consensus top prospect, 20 years old with 100-mph heat and good control. He’s also missed time in each of the last two seasons due to injury, indicating that he might carry even more health risk than every young pitcher does automatically. Sanchez has the potential to be terrifyingly good, and he has the potential to flame out entirely. He’s a 20-year-old pitching prospect, in other words.
Philadelphia might not be done yet; the team is reportedly still in serious contention for Harper. (Adding Realmuto could work in its favor there, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal noted.) Even if that doesn’t come to fruition, though, its roster is already looking remarkably better. Segura will replace weak-hitting Scott Kingery. Santana’s absence will allow Rhys Hoskins to return to first base, while McCutchen will take over in right field. Robertson will anchor the bullpen. This is a team that already had several bright spots—one that held down a playoff spot for much of the year, before sputtering out in the second half to finish just below .500—and now it’s been upgraded in almost every capacity. (The rotation will look roughly the same, but with a one-two-punch of Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta, that’s okay.)
The NL East has seen improvements across the board, though. The Braves, reigning division champs, made a bet on Josh Donaldson. The Mets went in Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, and Wilson Ramos. The Nationals took the winter’s first big free agent off the board by signing Patrick Corbin. The Marlins excepted, each team in the division should be better in 2019. Adding Realmuto should help equip Philadelphia to hang around—which is no small feat, in a division as tough as this.