The Biggest MLB Trade Deadline Prize Was Never Manny Machado

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 26, 2018

Miami Marlins' J.T. Realmuto rounds second base after he hit a home run during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Monday, July 2, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Manny Machado has already been moved from the Baltimore Orioles to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the trade market hasn't yet lost its best position player.

I'm looking at you, J.T. Realmuto.

Although they're far out of the National League East race in the first year of their rebuild, the Miami Marlins aren't obligated to trade their All-Star catcher. Realmuto is only 27 and pulling in just a $2.9 million salary, and free agency won't beckon him until after 2020. 

"Any deal, unless it's something that's in the best interest of the Miami Marlins and our long-term goals of bringing a championship to South Florida, we're not going to do anything rash, nothing emotional," Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said, per Matthew DeFranks of the Sun-Sentinel. "We know where we're at. We know where we want to go."

Even Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who needs to upgrade at catcher more than anyone, publicly declared his intimidation by Realmuto's price tag in June:

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Pump the brakes on a #Marlins #Nationals JT Realmuto trade. #OnePursuit President Mike Rizzo on "Power Alley": https://t.co/ZgOCs5KzSO

As high as Miami's demands may be, however, a trade could happen for one simple reason: He's worth it.

For starters, consider Realmuto's Baseball Reference wins above replacement in relation to Machado in 2018: 

  • Realmuto3.7 WAR in 74 G
  • Machado3.1 WAR in 101 G

Realmuto has played in 27 fewer games, in part due to paternity leave and a bone bruise in his back that required a disabled-list stint. Yet, he's still been more valuable than Machado.

The idea here isn't to start a Machado bash-fest. He's a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover who was pretty good even in a "down" year in 2017. And despite his less-than-great defensive ratings, his elite bat has made him one of Major League Baseball's best shortstops this year.

It's just that in this case, he's up against a guy who's become the best player at the most important position on the diamond.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 08:  J.T. Realmuto #11 of the Miami Marlins walks to the dug out before a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 8, 2018 in Washington, DC.  The Marlins won 10-2.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Ima
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Realmuto's offensive performance had already been on a steady upward climb through his first four major league seasons. In 2018, his bat has officially become a weapon to the tune of a .304/.355/.529 slash line and 37 extra-base hits, including 13 home runs.

Realmuto hit .290 with a .337 on-base percentage across 2016 and 2017, so what he's doing in those departments is nothing new. It's his slugging percentage that's changed the most, and not by accident.

The best recipe for power hitting is to start by swinging at good pitches and then aim to get under the ball and hit it hard. Realmuto is handling the first part by swinging more aggressively within the strike zone. He's also handling the second part, as his average launch angle and exit velocity are up:

Since Marlins Park doesn't do Realmuto any favors, his offensive excellence is captured best by his 146 OPS+. He's the only catcher with an OPS+ north of 140 this year, and the first to cross the threshold since Buster Posey and Devin Mesoraco in 2014.

It gets better, as elite hitting is just one of the services Realmuto provides.

Another is running the bases, and the emphasis is on "run." His average sprint is 28.6 feet per second, which is the highest of any catcher.

Yet another is controlling the running game. Realmuto has nabbed 41 percent of attempted stolen bases. At work, there is an average pop time (the time between when the catcher receives the ball and when his throw reaches an infielder) of 1.88 seconds. That, also, is the fastest of any catcher.

For all his athletic gifts, Realmuto's defense wasn't without flaws earlier in his career. Per Baseball Prospectus' in-depth catching metrics, he struggled with blocking and framing pitches in 2015 and 2016.

Those flaws have all but evaporated in 2017 and thus far in 2018. Indeed, his framing might be better than ever. He's getting called strikes at career-best rates both inside the strike zone (87.1 percent) and outside the strike zone (8.5 percent).

In all, Realmuto has become baseball's best catcher because he can do no wrong in any facet of the game. He's a far better hitter than anyone at the position, as well as the best baserunner and arguably the most well-rounded defender.

Since creatures like this are exceedingly rare, it's not surprising there's no truly relevant precedent for what kind of package might be good enough to acquire Realmuto.

The only thing to go off of is what's been reported. To this end, Jon Heyman of Fancred reported in January that a trade with the Nationals would have to start with Victor Robles, who presently rates as Baseball America's No. 6 overall prospect.

This was before Realmuto's value skyrocketed, so it's fair to assume the Marlins won't budge unless somebody offers them multiple elite prospects. Otherwise, they'll hold on to their biggest prize.

Still, never say never. All it takes is one enterprising GM with a treasure trove of prospects and a vision for his team with the best catcher in baseball behind the plate. 

And then, maybe just a phone call.