Let’s start with this: I’m not a huge fan of the trade. I don’t think that the gulf between Jorge Alfaro and J.T. Realmuto is worth Sixto Sanchez, but that is in the past and there isn’t much we can do about it. So let’s focus on the why.
Why did Matt Klentak feel that the package of Alfaro, Sanchez, Will Stewart and international money was enough to trade for J.T. Realmuto?
The obvious answer is how good of a player Realmuto is. He’s the best catcher in baseball when you combine all aspects of the game. He was tied with Wilson Ramos last year as the best offensive catcher by DRC+ with a 122 mark, he was the best baserunner as a catcher (4.1 BRR) and 13th in FRAA among catchers. Put it all in a pot, mix it up and boom - best catcher in the game. Even if you believe in the potential that Alfaro has (and I do), it is pretty difficult to make a case that Realmuto doesn’t make this team better. Then you factor in his home/road splits and what he can potentially do in Citizens Bank Park 70+ times a year and that 2 WAR upgrade on paper that you see (the difference between him and Alfaro in 2018) suddenly seems like it could get a lot bigger.
But again, is that difference worth a prospect judged by one publication to be the 13th best in the entire game right now? Here is why I think the trade was made in the form that it finally took.
The price of doing business within the division
As stupid as it sounds, if teams want to trade with other teams in their own division, they will have to pay a bit steeper price. The team trading away the star has to contend with the fact that that player will now be doing the damage against them 15-18 times a year for the next two seasons. Even if the Marlins are not as close to contending as the Phillies in those two years, the thought of that happening drives up the price for the Phillies. They were not going to get Realmuto without trading Sixto Sanchez.
The only other deal we saw publicly put out there for Realmuto was leaked from the Reds:
The best part of the #Reds trade proposal of India, Barhart and 3rd player to the #Marlins being leaked is how many GM’s will be picking up the phone and calling the #Marlins this am and saying “I can beat that offer”…...— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) February 3, 2019
That’s the Reds’ fourth best prospect, starting catcher with an 86 DRC+ and an unknown 3rd player. If that was, in fact, the best offer, the Phillies blew it out of the water. Of course, we don’t know what or even if the Braves offered anything, but we can be reasonably certain that the Marlins laid down the same groundrules they did with the Phillies. Want us to trade in the division? Fine, let’s start at the top of your prospect list.
Something is wrong with Sixto
This is the one that will get the most ink. We’ve seen some whispers today about how the team wasn’t exactly thrilled with Sanchez’s conditioning this past season.
The #Phillies expect to have the trade for J.T. Realmuto finalized today, per source. Got the feeling earlier this offseason that Sixto Sanchez had fallen out of favor with front office not for injury history but for his conditioning. Yet he’s still just 20 years old.— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) February 7, 2019
Is the conditioning of a 20 year old athlete bad enough that the team has no problem including him in this trade? That’s the question we won’t know. We also have to be questioning whether or not Sanchez is actually hurt now or has been more hurt in the past than we have been led to believe. We saw this season that that he missed time with a sore elbow, collarbone and other maladies in his career, enough maladies that he has yet to throw more than 95 innings in a season. Yet even with these issues, it’s easy to forget that he was reported to have hit 102 at one point this past season. Whenever he did pitch, the reports were glowing. People were, and still are, convinced that Sanchez will be really good if it all falls into place for him
And still, I keep coming back to the same thought: this team just took its best trade chip, its best pitching prospect, its best prospect period and traded him like nothing. Those phrases “when he pitched” and “if it all falls into place” are ones that we all need to remember when we hug our prospects, particularly those that pitch. There has to be a reason he is now a Marlin. It’ll be a reason that we won’t know probably ever, but it just seems so odd they didn’t mind including him instead of the pitcher they were trying to trade the most last trading deadline in Adonis Medina. Which leads to my last point:
This is a positive reflection on other arms in the system
Andy MacPhail has been on record as saying that the purpose of the farm system is to “grow the arms, and buy the bats”. Here the team grew an arm to buy a bat. They bought that bat with their best arm.
Now to me, that says a lot about the next two arms in the team’s ranks, Adonis Medina and Spencer Howard. I’m probably way off base here, but if the team is willing to trade their best prospect, they must feel very comfortable with those two guys that they are going to take a leap forward in 2019. Do the reports back this up?
In his report, Winkelman talks about how good Medina can be if he can just be consistent:
Medina is a bit on the smaller side, but he is athletic with a clean delivery and has shown the ability to shoulder a full season workload. Much of what Medina needs to improve is his polish and consistency, allowing his stuff to actually play at its ability. With 3 plus pitches and strong ground ball rates, Medina profiles as a mid rotation starter at minimum. If he can improve his command enough, he has the chance to be a solid #2 starter.
While that isn’t Cy Young-level reports like what Sanchez gets, it’s still top quality stuff, especially if Aaron Nola is still around. And Matt isn’t the only one high on Medina. From Fangraphs, they say this:
Medina is right there with Sanchez in the Phillies system when it comes to upside. He shows three plus pitches at times and may be a better athlete than Sanchez, so the elements of frontline starter potential are here.
Folks, that’s some high praise from Medina.
The reports on Howard are just as hopeful and positive. Also from Matt:
In the context of this breakout it is important to acknowledge how few innings Howard had thrown as an amateur, only moving to the rotation during his junior year. The inexperience is partially why Howard spent the whole season in the South Atlantic League. All of this is why there is skepticism over Howard’s end of year — he doesn’t have the track record of stuff, and he doesn’t have results against good hitters. Howard’s raw stuff matches up very well with Adonis Medina’s, and he projects to have 3 pitches that should be at least plus. If he repeats his end of season, Howard should end the year in the upper minors and at the top of prospect lists.
I’ve spoken to Matt and he is very excited about the potential Howard has. Our own Cormican from The Good Phight feels just as strongly about Howard.
After the 2017 draft, I wrote that Howard’s ceiling was a #3 based off his cutter or changeup improving. As it turns out I think his ceiling is a #2 starter thanks to his fastball also improving a grade. The track record isn’t long, which adds some risk, but since’s he’s only been a starting pitcher for less than 2 years, there’s reason to believe that there was untapped ceiling and the improvement is for real.
Again, it isn’t the potential that Sanchez has, but there has to be a reason the team was fine with trading Sanchez.
Listen, I know and readily accept that a lot of this stuff is tinfoil hat thinking. I’m ok with that. But in order to try and to not knock the plugged in toaster into the bathtub tomorrow, I have to try and look at the deal through a different lens. Before we all lament the loss of El Oso and Antonio Alfonseca’s favorite prospect, let’s try and rationalize it. It’ll help.