J.T. Realmuto looks like he’ll be the next player traded in the Miami Marlins fire sale, and the Washington Nationals appear to be a team in hot pursuit of him. And while the Nats should be on the hunt for the gifted catcher, it’s important that they don’t deplete their farm system to acquire him.
This offseason, the Nats have kept things simple. Re-signing utility man Howie Kendrick and reliever Brandon Kintzler and inking first baseman Matt Adams, they’ve made some shrewd, simple signings — which there’s nothing wrong with. One could argue that one more void or weakness to fill on their roster is at catcher.
Last year, catcher Matt Wieters was underwhelming at the plate. Hitting .225 and gutting out just ten home runs, he was a weakness in the Nats order. In addition to his disappointing offensive output, Wieters didn’t gun many baserunners behind the plate — which is a big part of the team’s interest in Realmuto.
Realmuto has already established himself as one of the best catchers in MLB. He’s got a reliable arm, doesn’t allow many passed balls, and is efficient at the plate. A career .280 hitter, the 26-year-old Realmuto has showcased an ability to be a constant source of offense. He also hit a career-high 17 home runs in 2017 and has elite speed — not just for a catcher, but overall. Insert that skillset into first-year manager Dave Martinez‘s lineup and the case could be made they’re the National League’s best unit. Plus, Realmuto would be working with a stellar and veteran pitching staff — easing the adjustment to playing in the nation’s capital.
With three-time Cy Young Award winning righty Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark in place, the Nats project to again have one of baseball’s most potent rotations. It would be, by far, the best staff Realmuto has caught in his four-year career. At the same time, while the fit is there, executing a trade will be costly and/or complex for the Nats.
According to FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi, the Marlins have continued to ask for outfield prospects Victor Robles and Juan Soto — both highly regarded by management — from the Nats in Realmuto trade talks. While maybe fair at first glance, general manager Mike Rizzo cannot afford to empty the top of the farm system again for a simple upgrade.
At the 2016 Winter Meetings, Rizzo made a puzzling trade for Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton. Surrendering the Nats top two pitching prospects (Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) and former first-round pick Dane Dunning, he excessively overpaid for an outfield upgrade. The negative notions surrounding the trade only worsened when Eaton tore his ACL in April.
The Nats have already traded some of their best prospects, but Robles is arguably their most prized youngster. Whether it be his speed, his ability to get behind any fly ball, or his contact hitting, the outfielder is a big part of the team’s optimism going forward. In addition to Robles, they’d also be unwise to surrender righties Erick Fedde and A.J. Cole. While Fedde wasn’t impressive in the three outings he made in 2017 and Cole has been hot and cold over his career, the Nats have uncertainty in the backend of their rotation in 2018 with no surefire fifth arm; letting go of one, if not both, of their top pitching prospects would only further the issue.
While not acquiring either Robles, Soto, Fedde, or Cole for Realmuto would be difficult for Miami to fathom, finding common ground with the Nats isn’t impossible. Other names the Nats could throw around in a trade are catchers Pedro Severino and Raudy Read, either of whom could be Realmuto’s potential replacement; shortstop Carter Kieboom, who may never get the chance to play with Trea Turner ahead of him; and lefty Seth Romero.
There’s no denying Realmuto’s skill set; he’s one of the best catchers in MLB and would be a great get going forward for Washington. Having a core of Anthony Rendon (27), Turner (24), Wilmer Difo (25), Robles (20), and Realmuto (26) — who’s under contract through 2020 — would set them up for success even if Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy depart in free agency after the 2018 season.
Over the last three seasons, the Nats have gone into the regular season with the same expectation — World Series or bust. And they still haven’t even made it out of the NLDS, but it can’t prevent them from improving in an attempt to do so. The Nats have been smart this offseason, but acquiring Realmuto would cap off a productive offseason and in a big way. At the same time, they can’t empty their farm system; it has to be a deal that allows them to compete now, while simultaneously preserving the future.