The J.T. Realmuto trade — one that has been in the works for months — is finally complete.
The Miami Marlins on Thursday traded their All-Star catcher to the division rival Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for catcher Jorge Alfaro, highly regarded pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart and international bonus pool money.
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The Marlins had been in discussions with numerous teams for Realmuto since the end of last season. But it was only within the past week that the Phillies resurfaced, swooping in to acquire the much-coveted catcher.
Realmuto, with only two years remaining before free agency, rejected a contract extension offer from the Marlins in October, at which point Miami entered into negotiations to trade him. With spring training opening next week for teams across the majors, trade talks intensified.
Thursday’s deal netted the Marlins a catcher — Alfaro — to replace Realmuto and a prized pitching prospect in Sanchez who has been compared on occasion to Pedro Martinez. Sanchez ranks No. 13 on Baseball America’s list of top prospects; No. 27 on MLB Pipeline. While he has not pitched above the High-A minors, the Dominican right-hander is just 20.
“It’s a possible steal [for the Marlins], I think,” said one National League scout who has seen Alfaro and Sanchez.
The scout called Sanchez “an elite prospect” with “devastating stuff” and said Alfaro is “an everyday starter in the big leagues with power and one of the best arms in baseball.”
“It’s the same as Realmuto’s arm,” the scout said.
The scout said his only concern with Sanchez is his health.
Sanchez managed to pitch just 46 2/3 innings last season due to right elbow inflammation. But the Marlins were obviously convinced the issue wasn’t significant after reviewing his medical reports.
“He throws 100 mph,” said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations. “So there’s going to be inherent risk with everyone who throws the ball. But when it was all said and done, we were comfortable with his medical and couldn’t be happier to add that talent to our pitching stable.”
Hill said Sanchez would start out at Double A Jacksonville while Stewart will begin at Single A Jupiter.
“In Sanchez, we saw a front-of-the-rotation starter. Electric stuff. Three pitch mix. A pitcher who we think can develop and lead a championship rotation,” Hill said. “Similarly, we feel that Will Stewart can do so from the left side. From our standpoint, we felt like we added two frontline starting pitcher to add to the layers of starting pitching that we’ve been able to build over the last 18 months.”
Sanchez has struck out 191 batters while walking only 43 in 221 minor-league innings.
Alfaro, in three seasons with the Phillies, has hit .270 with 15 home runs. Last season, he appeared in 104 games behind the plate for the Phillies, hitting .262 with 10 home runs. Perhaps just as attractive to the Marlins: the earliest Alfaro can hit free agency is 2024. His major drawback as a hitter is his high strikeout rate. Alfaro struck out in 40 percent of his at bats last season while walking just 18 times in 377 plate appearances.
“Ultimately, as the talks intensified with Philadelphia, we saw the opportunity to turn two years of control in J.T. into over 17 years of control when we think about the five years of Jorge Alfaro, the two front-line starters in Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart,” Hill said.
The Marlins also received $250,000 in bonus pool money that they can use to sign international players.
Hill said trading Realmuto to a team within the same division was never a concern.
“From our standpoint, that didn’t play into the equation at all,” Hill said. “In any trade that we’ve ever made, we always focus on our return and what’s best for the Miami Marlins. “
Realmuto, 27, just finished his fourth full Major League season and still has two more years of team control before being eligible for free agency. He set career highs last season in home runs (21), RBI (74) and slugging (.484) en route to his first MLB All-Star nomination and Silver Slugger Award. Defensively, Realmuto committed just seven errors in 879 chances behind the plate for a .992 fielding mark and threw out 25 of 53 players attempting to steal a base (32 percent).
Realmuto has a career .279 batting average, 59 home runs and 243 RBI. He is due to make $5.9 million this coming season, money the Marlins might now apply toward acquiring more players.
He is the fifth big-name player the Marlins have traded away since Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman bought the team and launched a rebuild. Outfielders Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna as well as second baseman Dee Gordon were all shipped off before the start of the 2018 season.
Realmuto initially requested a trade last offseason and his agent Jeff Berry indicated in October that Realmuto would not sign a contract extension with the Marlins if he was offered one.