Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

Diaz, Morton and More: Five Post Realmuto Trade Phillies Nuggets

Rhys Hoskins will be part of a much deeper Phillies lineup in 2019. (Ian D’Andrea)

The Philadelphia Phillies acquired All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins in a major trade Thursday, sending No. 1 prospect Sixto Sanchez, Jorge Alfaro, 21-year-old pitching prospect Will Stewart and international bonus money to the Marlins. Here’s five thoughts on the Phillies after the Realmtuo trade:

1. However Things Shake Out, The Phillies Will Have Their Deepest Lineup In Years In 2019

Lots of baseball writers – even some with no connections to Philadelphia – have played this game today, so I’ll indulge. How would you feel about this as the Phillies Opening Day starting lineup?

  1. Jean Segura – SS
  2. Bryce Harper – RF
  3. J.T. Realmuto – C
  4. Rhys Hoskins – 1B
  5. Mike Moustakas – 3B
  6. Andrew McCutchen – LF
  7. Odubel Herrera – CF
  8. Aaron Nola – P
  9. Cesar Hernandez – 2B

Perhaps that lineup is a bit optimistic, but this one doesn’t look half bad either:

  1. Jean Segura – SS
  2. Manny Machado – 3B
  3. J.T. Realmuto – C
  4. Rhys Hoskins – 1B
  5. Andrew McCutchen – LF
  6. Odubel Herrera – RF
  7. Roman Quinn – CF
  8. Aaron Nola – P
  9. Cesar Hernandez – 2B

To be clear, I put both of these lineups in this piece because I think either is a realistic possibility. As I wrote in the latest Phillies Nation Mailbag, I don’t believe the Phillies currently employ their 2019 starting third baseman. It could be Manny Machado. If the Phillies sign Bryce Harper over Machado, Mike Moustakas, who has played in the World Series twice, is still a free-agent and would be an upgrade over Maikel Franco.

While it’s easy to get excited about the top half of either of these lineup projections, the bottom-half of the lineup is perhaps what should excite Phillies fans even more. Cesar Hernandez has been the Phillies primary leadoff hitter the past two seasons, and averaged 74 walks over the past three seasons. He would seem to be the ideal candidate to hit ninth, allowing either Harper or Machado to come up in most cases in the No. 2 slot with at least one runner on base. There would be significantly less pressure on Herrera hitting sixth or seventh, as opposed to the first four years of his career, where he’s often been seen as the most talented hitter in the lineup.

Scott Kingery will be a super-utility player that starts a few times a week. At least one of Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr will be on the bench. If the Phillies sign Harper, Roman Quinn, who says he’s entering Spring Training feeling healthy, would also be a weapon for Gabe Kapler to utilize off the bench.

The Phillies offense struggled to scrape together runs during the final two months of the 2018 season, when their playoff hopes faded. 2019 should be a far cry from that.

2. J.T. Realmuto May Actually Get Better

According to FanGraphs, J.T. Realmuto has been the best offensive catcher in baseball since the start of the 2016 season, topping future Hall of Famer Buster Posey. And he may actually get even better.

Consider this: the Phillies thought highly enough of Realmuto to part with Sanchez, their No. 1 overall prospect. Realmuto hit .269 at Marlins Park in his All-Star season of 2018, and has a career slash line of .245/.294/.384 with a .678 OPS in 929 career at-bats in Miami. However, outside of Marlins Park, Realmuto has a career slash line of .309/.356/.492 with an .848 OPS in 1,059 at-bats on the road. He has four home runs and 13 RBIs in 103 career at-bats at Citizens Bank Park.

Realmuto may not benefit from moving out of Marlins Park in the same way that Christian Yelich did in 2018, when he won the National League MVP, but he stands to become an even more impressive offensive piece playing his home games at Citizens Bank Park.

And this was someone that as is, graded out as the best offensive catcher over the course of the last three seasons and garnered the Phillies top overall prospect in a trade return.

3. Why Weren’t The Phillies More Aggressive On The Starting Pitching Market?

The Nationals will be a better team in 2019 for signing Patrick Corbin to a lucrative six-year contract. However, the Phillies will probably be better off in the long-run for not having matched the $140 million contract that Corbin signed. With that said, the Phillies moves this offseason have all been win-now moves. Realmuto is the latest. Both Harper and Machado are 26, so they should remain All-Stars for the foreseeable future, but both already have a combined 10 All-Star Game appearances, so they would immediately make the Phillies a legitimate contender in the National League.

So why weren’t the Phillies more aggressive on the starting pitching market beyond Corbin?

Charlie Morton has a long injury history, including making just parts of four starts for the Phillies in 2016, before tearing his hamstring running out a ground ball. He’s also 35. There were reasons to be hesitant about him in free-agency. But Morton is also coming off of the best two-year stretch of his career. He’s been worth a combined 6.3 fWAR across the past two seasons, which he spent with the Houston Astros. After closing out the 2017 World Series, Morton was an All-Star for the first time in 2018, going 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA and 3.59 FIP across 167.0 innings. His 96.6 average fastball velocity in 2018 was the highest of any point in his career.

Morton will never be a workhorse, but the small-market Tampa Bay Rays signed him to an affordable two-year/$30 million deal in December. It wouldn’t have taken a historic investment for the Phillies to bring Morton back to Philadelphia, where four-fifths of the current starting rotation posted an ERA north of five after the All-Star Break.

If not Morton, another former Phillie, J.A. Happ, was a free-agent, also coming off of his first career All-Star appearance. The 36-year-old went 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA, 3.95 FIP and 3.2 fWAR in 2018, a season he split with the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees. Though it did appear for an evening that the Phillies were nearing an agreement with Happ, he ultimately returned to the Yankees. The offer that the Phillies didn’t top? A two-year/$34 million deal with a $17 million option for 2021 that can vest if Happ makes 27 starts or tops 165.0 innings in 2020.

It is fair to wonder if the Phillies aren’t more sure in February than they were in December that they have a legitimate chance to contend in 2019. But prior to Morton or Happ signing, the Phillies had already traded for Jean Segura and signed Andrew McCutchen. The Phillies weren’t planning to tank in 2019 if they didn’t sign Harper or Machado, or make a major trade for someone like Realmuto.

Former American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel remains on the free-agent market. But the reason for that is he opened the offseason looking for a five-year contract, despite his production having been very similar to Happ and Morton over the course of the past two seasons. Even if the Phillies are able to talk Keuchel down to a deal similar to Jake Arrieta’s – a three-year/$75 million, with an opt-out after year two and $20 million club options for two additional contract years – that would feel like an overpayment when compared to Morton and Happ.

The Phillies could still make a smaller addition to their rotation, such as adding lefty Gio Gonzalez, who went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers last September. But such an addition wouldn’t move the needle when compared to Morton, Happ or Keuchel.

New Phillies pitching coach Chris Young sounded supremely confident about the trio of Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez when he spoke to Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer in January. He better be, because the Phillies seemingly have a lineup and bullpen ready to compete. But after Aaron Nola, there’s much less certainty in the starting rotation.

4. Why Not Edwin Diaz?

A year ago, the idea of parting with Sixto Sanchez in any deal that didn’t include Mike Trout would have been seen as sacrilegious. However, while Sanchez still came in at No. 21 on MLB Pipeline‘s season-ending top 100 prospects countdown, the 20-year-old righty began to be seen as mortal again. Yes, he’s still only 20 years old. Yes, a scout that saw a teenage Pedro Martinez did compare him to the Hall of Famer. But elbow inflammation in his throwing arm limited him to just 46.2 innings in 2018. He’s never made a start above Single-A. And per Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Phillies weren’t high on Sanchez’s conditioning.

So that the Phillies traded their No. 1 overall prospect in February of 2019 isn’t a shock. The question then becomes what changed between December of 2018 and February of 2019.

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Phillies didn’t initially take Sanchez off the table in trade discussions with the Seattle Mariners in December. Those discussions centered around closer Edwin Diaz and shortstop Jean Segura. Ultimately, the Phillies acquired Segura, along with relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos, from the Mariners for J.P. Crawford and Carlos Santana. Diaz, meanwhile, was traded to the National League East, with the division-rival New York Mets acquiring him and Robinson Cano in a megadeal that became official on the same day as the Segura deal, December 3.

The Phillies, per Rosenthal, ultimately decided that they “didn’t want to empty their farm system” for Diaz. Diaz recorded 57 saves for the Mariners in 2018, is just 25 and can’t become a free-agent until after the 2022 season. Perhaps a decade ago, it wouldn’t have made sense to trade your top prospect for a closer, but given how important it has become to have multiple elite bullpen arms in today’s game, it does feel a bit curious that the Phillies didn’t jump at the chance to pair Diaz with Seranthony Dominguez for the foreseeable future.

If the Phillies had held onto Sanchez for a trade for a top 10 starting pitcher, or held onto him in hopes he would join their starting rotation in the next year or so, that would have been one thing. Ultimately, they moved him in a trade for the game’s best catcher, who has two years of team control left. Given that the Phillies figure to see quite a bit of Diaz over the next four seasons, that figures to be second-guessed, especially if the Phillies aren’t able to use cheaper options like David Robertson and Hector Neris to finish out games in 2019 and beyond.

5. The National League East’s Catcher Carousel Has Been Unreal

Much has been made of how every team in the National League East, save for the Marlins, has a chance to be better than they were in 2018.

The Phillies have added Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson and are still expected to land one of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The Washington Nationals aren’t entirely out on Harper, but even if they lose the six-time All-Star, they’ll get a full year of Juan Soto and they signed All-Star lefty Patrick Corbin. The New York Mets signed Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie, while acquiring the aformentioned Diaz and Cano in a megadeal with the Mariners. The defending National League East Champion Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, will get a full year of reigning National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr., plus they’ve added veterans Brian McCann and Josh Donaldson in free-agency.

The craziest part of what’s been a hectic offseason for the National League East is that with today’s trade, each team in the division has added a notable catcher this offseason. The Phillies acquired Realmuto, with the Marlins taking back Alfaro in the trade. The Mets signed Ramos, who was an All-Star in 2018, a season he split with the Tampa Bay Rays and Phillies. The Nationals have added both Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes this offseason. And McCann, a seven-time All-Star, returned to Atlanta, the place he spent the first nine seasons of his career.

As Devan Fink of Beyond The Box Score noted, many of these catchers have previous connections to other National League East clubs. The connections of Realmuto, McCann and Alfaro are obvious. Ramos, now a Met, spent the second-half of the 2018 season with the Phillies, and parts of seven seasons with the Nationals earlier in his career. Suzuki is now back for his second stint in D.C., but he spent the last two seasons with the Braves.

If there wasn’t enough familiarity among National League East foes already, each club now employs a catcher that’s played for at least one other team in the division.


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