Within minutes after the details of the Brewers' trade for Christian Yelich began ricocheting around the baseball industry last January, text messages of astonishment quickly followed, with executives expressing surprise at what they felt was the one-sided nature of the deal. At the time, Yelich was viewed as an excellent young player, and through a team-friendly contract signed early in his major league career, he would be under club control for another five years.
Next week, Yelich is likely to be awarded the National League MVP award for his work in his first season with Milwaukee. Meanwhile, Lewis Brinson — a primary piece for the Marlins in the trade — is coming off a year in which he compiled 11 homers, 17 walks and 120 strikeouts, while batting .199. Brinson turns 25 next year. "He looks like he's just a guy," said one rival GM, using an industry phrase for mediocrity.
If the Marlins view the deal as much of a disaster as other teams do — and even if the Miami front office doesn't — evaluators with other teams and some agents wonder if that trade will serve as a drag on the catching market during this offseason.
The Marlins' J.T. Realmuto is theoretically the best available catcher, for his all-around skills. He's good defensively, he's good offensively (with a .340 OBP and a 131 OPS+) and is in the prime of his career. Realmuto would be a great fit for the Astros, now that Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are headed into free agency. The Nationals have tried to pry Realmuto away from the Marlins over the past year, to fill a gaping hole in their major league roster; Washington catchers ranked 24th of 30 teams in WAR.
When the Braves inquired about Realmuto last winter, the Marlins' asking price was firm: Any Atlanta trade for the catcher would cost them Ronald Acuna Jr. That was a no-go for the Braves, and Acuna showed why as the summer of 2018 played out. Realmuto would be good for the Dodgers, although L.A.'s qualifying offer of $17.9 million to Yasmani Grandal may resolve Dave Roberts' catching situation for the next year.
Realmuto has just two years remaining before he reaches free agency, and his camp has indicated to the Marlins that he wants to join the parade of folks who exited in the organization in the past year — Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, front-office types, etc. The Marlins won't be good next year or the year after that, or for the foreseeable future. Realmuto's agent, Jeff Berry, recently conducted an interview in which he said his client won't sign a long-term deal with the Marlins, and prefers to be traded. "I think he will definitely be wearing a different uniform by the start of spring training," Berry told MLB Network Radio.
The Marlins have signaled to other clubs they really, really prefer to keep Realmuto, for his leadership. They will listen to offers, however, and other clubs feel the Yelich trade fallout will naturally compel the Marlins to ask for more and hold the line, because they don't have to trade him; they could keep him into next season, unless they get exactly what they want. Realmuto is regarded as a serious professional, and it's not as though he's going to sabotage the Marlins' rebuilding effort if he sticks around.
So long as Realmuto remains with the Marlins, interested teams like the Braves may just wait to address their catching needs — because the rest of the market for that position appears to be comprised of plentiful options. The free agents:
Martin Maldonado, 32 years old. He's typically very good defensively, and struggles offensively.
Wilson Ramos, 31
Kurt Suzuki, 35
Jeff Mathis, 36
Brian McCann, 35
A.J. Ellis, 38
Robinson Chirinos, 35
Nick Hundley, 35
Devin Mesoraco, 31
Jonathan Lucroy, 33
Rene Rivera, 35
Chris Gimenez, 36
Chris Stewart, 37
Matt Wieters, 33
Jose Lobaton, 34
Drew Butera, 35
Bobby Wilson, 36
When Grandal is playing well, he contributes on both sides, providing on-base percentage, power and pitch-framing. Ramos hit .337 for the Phillies, with a .396 OBP, and is among the younger alternatives, but he sometimes struggles on defense.
So you get the picture: There are a lot of 30-something catchers looking for work this winter, and not necessarily pressure on teams that need help to make a move early in the offseason. The baseball world has time to wait on the resolution of the standoff between the Marlins and Realmuto, and the Marlins might want to work slowly, to ensure they don't make more mistakes.