Regardless of how Matt Klentak’s legacy ultimately plays out in Philadelphia, you’ll be hard-pressed to call the Philadelphia Phillies general manager conservative.
The Phillies, per Joel Sherman of The New York Post, are nearing a deal that will almost certainly go down as one of the biggest trades in franchise history. The Phillies would acquire catcher J.T. Realmuto, a 2018 All-Star, from the division-rival Miami Marlins. That wouldn’t, however, come without a price tag that gives you pause. Sixto Sanchez – the flamethrowing 20-year-old that has been the organization’s No. 1 overall prospect for a couple years – will headline the return heading back to Miami. 25-year-old catcher Jorge Alfaro, once viewed as a key piece in the return for Cole Hamels from the Texas Rangers, will also likely head to the division-rival Marlins. While it’s not clear what else the Phillies will send to Miami in the deal, Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer says that the deal is expected to be finalized Thursday.
Realmuto, who will turn 28 before the 2019 season begins, slashed .277/.340/.484 with 21 home runs, 74 RBIs and a 4.8 fWAR in 125 games in 2018. Since the start of the 2016 season, FanGraphs says that Realmuto has been the best offensive catcher in baseball, topping future Hall of Famer Buster Posey. All that came with him playing his home games at Marlins Park, which isn’t exactly a hitter’s paradise. Realmuto is scheduled to make $5.9 million in 2019, his second last season of arbitration eligibility. He won’t be eligible for free-agency until after the 2020 season.
So the Phillies are set to acquire perhaps the best catcher in baseball at his peak, one that many have suggested has a strong relationship with free-agent Bryce Harper. What’s not to like?
Sanchez, the headliner in the deal, has never thrown a pitch above Single-A. Elbow inflammation in his throwing arm limited him to just 46.2 innings across eight starts in 2018. Still, MLB Pipeline ranked the Dominican-born Sanchez as their No. 21 prospect in all of baseball at the end of the 2018 season. A scout that had watched future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez pitch in his late teenage years compared Sanchez to him in a piece written by Danny Knobler of Bleacher Report. The internet may throw around comps like that regularly, but scouts don’t.
Sure, it’s possible Sanchez doesn’t pan out. But if he does, the Phillies may have dealt a future ace to a division-rival. What’s more, in using Sanchez in this trade, he’ll never join the current Phillies starting rotation, one that saw four-fifths of its members post ERAs north of five after the 2018 All-Star Break. He can also never be used to acquire an established ace, such as Cleveland Indians stars Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.
That puts a lot of pressure on Realmuto to remain the sport’s best catcher for the foreseeable future. It puts a lot of pressure on the Phillies to retain Realmuto when he becomes a free-agent after 2020. The most pressure perhaps shifts to Nick Pivetta and Zach Eflin, who the Phillies hope become formidable pieces in a rotation anchored by All-Star righty Aaron Nola.
There’s also, of course, even more pressure on the Phillies now to secure either Harper or Manny Machado in free-agency. Then again, that pressure was already pretty high. And there’s never been an indication that it’s realistic that the Phillies won’t land one of the two 26-year-old stars.
Alfaro’s ceiling remains high, though it’s perhaps easier to part with him considering you traded his potential for the best player at his position. If Alfaro ever puts everything together, he has All-Star potential. Yes, he hit .406 on balls in play in 2018, but he also struck out in 36.6 percent of his at-bats, a sign that he may never put the ball in play enough to reach his All-Star potential. And while he has a world-class arm and there’s evidence that his pitch-framing improved, he’s far from a finished product behind the plate, as evidence by his 10 passed balls in 2018.
We’ll have more on this developing story as it becomes available…
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