If the first week of the MLB offseason was any indication, the Philadelphia Phillies figure to cast a wide net in what may be the most important offseason in franchise history. Sure, general manager Matt Klentak’s front-office is likely to pull out all the stops to sign Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado. But the Phillies were listed by Bovada as co-favorites to sign oft-injured, but very talented free-agent outfielder A.J. Pollock. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote Monday that the Phillies are likely to be a ‘major player’ for Pollock’s former teammate Patrick Corbin, the top starting pitcher on the market. And with a need for another sure-thing in their starting rotation, the Phillies have been speculatively connected to five-time All-Star Zack Greinke and former Phillie Charlie Morton, who is a free-agent.
While the Phillies are at it, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com says that the team is likely to at least engage in some dialogue with the Miami Marlins involving catcher J.T. Realmuto:
But everybody knows Realmuto can hit. He has proven it. The Phillies would be hoping Alfaro continues to improve. It is a gamble, which means the Phils are expected to at least talk to the Marlins about Realmuto.
Realmuto, who will turn 28 just before Opening Day 2019, slashed .277/.340/.484 with 21 home runs, 74 RBIs and a 4.8 fWAR in 2018, the highest fWAR mark that any catcher in baseball posted in 2018. Defensive metrics, as they tend to do with catchers, show a little bit more of a mixed picture, but FanGraphs says that since the start of the 2016 season, Realmuto has been the best overall catcher in baseball. And Realmuto can’t become a free-agent until after the 2020 season, making him that much more appealing as a possible trade candidate.
Derek Jeter’s Marlins likely will be motivated to move Realmuto this offseason. Last week, Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s agent, predicted that come next Spring Training, Realmuto won’t be a Marlin. He added that Marlins brass is aware that Realmuto has no plans to sign an extension to play in Miami past the 2020 season. Regardless of who is running the ship for the Marlins – nice fish pun, huh? – it’s difficult to predict exactly how the organization will operate. There are some who think the Marlins could be a dark-horse suitor for Machado, a Miami native. But it would seem to be best for all parties involved for Realmuto to be traded this offseason.
In Jorge Alfaro, the Phillies have a frustratingly difficult talent to evaluate. Alfaro has a world-class arm, one Phillies manager Gabe Kapler compared to his former teammate, Hall of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. In terms of pitch framing, Baseball Prospectus says Alfaro has grown tremendously behind the plate. But he also had 11 errors and 10 passed balls behind the plate, so he’s far from a Gold Glove Award candidate.
Alfaro is probably even more of a mystery at the plate. Once one of the key pieces acquired in the July 2015 Cole Hamels trade with the Texas Rangers, Alfaro struck out in 36.6 percent of his plate appearances in 2018. He showed glimpses of having potentially elite power for a catcher, though he often seemed to abide by the famous Babe Ruth quote of “I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big.” Suffice to say, Alfaro’s 10 home runs in 2018 won’t have candy bar companies rushing to name their next treat after him.
The strange thing about Alfaro is that given that he’s a catcher with power that struck out over 35 percent of the time he stepped to the plate, you would think he would hit for a very low batting average. But he actually has a .270 batting average in 467 career at-bats. The frustrating part about that is that he has a career batting average on balls in play of .405. That means that when Alfaro puts the ball in play, he often scorches it and good things happen. He simply isn’t putting the ball in play enough to fulfill his potential.
Still just 25, it’s not hard to envision a scenario where Alfaro puts things together in the coming years and becomes an All-Star catcher. It’s also not hard to imagine him having a career where he teases the incredible natural tools that he has, but never becomes a consistently productive player. Realmuto, an All-Star in 2018, has put things together, is still just 27 and is under team control for two more seasons. There’s a case to be made that acquiring him would help the Phillies, who haven’t had a winning season since 2011, “land the plane,” and return to the postseason as soon as 2019.
For the Phillies to acquire Realmuto, they presumably would have to part with Alfaro. Alfaro would likely be part of a multi-player package that the Phillies would send to Miami in the event they completed a trade for Realmuto. And the following line from Zolecki would seem to indicate the Phillies would at least consider making such a move: “But sources have indicated that the Phillies are more open this offseason to trading controllable talent for somebody closer to free agency, like Realmuto.”
Both Wilson Ramos and Yasmani Grandal are interesting free-agent targets available this offseason. Ramos slashed .337/.396/.483 in 33 games for the Phillies after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. Grandal, despite a disastrous postseason behind the plate, remains one of the best power-hitting catchers in the sport, having hit at least 22 home runs in each of the last three seasons. However, Grandal is likely to receive at least a three-year contract, while Ramos may prefer to go somewhere that allows him to play as frequently as his body lets him.
At this juncture, it feels like the Phillies could use some sure things to go around some of their talented young players. Realmuto would seem to fit that bill, making him an interesting trade target for the Phillies. Of course, there will be a long line of teams interested in his services, which could create a bidding war the Phillies may not be eager to jump into.
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