Michael Hill needed no Thursday morning wake-up call from the hotel front desk Thursday.
After going to bed at 2:45 a.m., Hill’s phone rang at 4:15 a.m. Without saying so directly, Hill — the Miami Marlins’ president of baseball operations — hinted that it was another team calling to talk about trading for catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Hill and the rest of the Marlins’ front office contingent left Las Vegas as the Winter Meetings concluded with Realmuto still on their roster. But it wasn’t for lack of trying, as Realmuto trade talks with interested teams consumed a significant share of the franchise’s time during the annual gathering of baseball leaders.
“[There’s] still a long way to go in the offseason,” Hill said before catching a flight back home to South Florida. “We didn’t come to these meetings thinking we had to do something with J.T. Realmuto.”
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But it’s almost certain they will as Realmuto, with two years remaining before he hits free agency, is more valuable to the Marlins as a trade piece now than what he can provide for them on the field as they continue to rebuild.
There are now six teams (down from more than a dozen) considered to be legitimate trade partners with the Marlins for the All-Star catcher: the Reds, Mets, Braves, Rays, Dodgers, and Padres. The Marlins have placed a high tag on Realmuto, one that includes at least one Major League-ready player and one or more prospects.
The Mets have been so aggressive in their efforts to acquire Realmuto that, according to reports, they might be willing to deal pitcher Noah Syndergaard to a third team (the Yankees and Padres have been mentioned) to work out a three-way trade.
While the Winter Meetings ended Thursday, trade rumors involving Realmuto will almost certainly continue.
In the meantime, the Marlins are continuing their search for players — via trades or free agent signings — to bolster a lineup that ranked last in the majors in runs scored last season.
“We’ll continue to focus on offense and we’ll see what the rest of the offseason holds in taking care of that,” Hill said.
One potential offensive weapon came off the board Thursday when the Mariners dealt Carlos Santana to the Indians for Edwin Encarnacion. The Marlins had been interested in Santana and were willing to trade either second baseman Starlin Castro or infielder Martin Prado to help offset the $20 million that Santana is due to receive in 2019.
But the Marlins are expected to scour the free-agent list in an effort to land a left-handed hitter. Hill said he spoke to agents about available players during the meetings.
“You can’t help but have agent meetings here,” Hill said. “You take a step and you step on an agent.”
The Marlins didn’t walk away from the Winter Meetings empty-handed, though. With the fourth overall pick in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, they selected right-handed reliever Riley Ferrell from the Astros.
Hill said the Marlins envision Ferrell as a back-end reliever, a high-velocity thrower who struck out 67 batters in 51 innings last season in Double A and Triple A.
“We’re excited to get our hands on him and get him to Jupiter,” Hill said of Ferrell. “With Ferrell, we feel like he is a high leverage reliever that is going to help us finish games in 2019.”
Ferrell was a third-round pick out of Texas Christian University in the 2015 June amateur draft.
Hill said Ferrell profiles much differently than the Marlins’ two Rule 5 picks a year ago, pitchers Elieser Hernandez and Brett Graves.
“We took two guys from High A [minors] last year and those were picks for the future, guys we wanted to get into our system that we felt had starter traits and could be future starters for us down the road,” Hill said of Hernandez and Graves, who will open the coming season in the minors for the Marlins.
The Marlins lost a player in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Outfielder Braxton Lee, who was on Miami’s Opening Day roster last season, was picked by the Mets.