Last offseason the Miami Marlins stripped their roster to the bone and slashed payroll from $155 million in 2017 to $99.5 million in 2018. The 2017 NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, and this year's likely NL MVP Christian Yelich were traded away, as were Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon. The result was a 98-loss season in 2018.
Despite interest from other clubs, the one standout Marlins player who was not moved as part of last offseason's salary purge was catcher J.T. Realmuto. The 27-year-old backstop emerged as one of the best catchers in the game, and this year he was a deserving All-Star who hit .277/.340/.484 (131 OPS+) with 21 home runs for Miami. He led all catchers with 4.3 WAR.
Realmuto is still two years away from free agency but, according to his agent Jeff Berry, he is very much looking forward to leaving the Marlins. During an MLB Network ratio interview Tuesday, Berry said Realmuto has told the Marlins will not sign a long-term contract extension and added he expects his client to be with a new team come spring training.
"I think he will definitely be wearing a different uniform by the start of spring training," Berry said. "... He's informed the Marlins' ownership, he's informed their front office, he's not going to sign an extension in Miami. From that standpoint, you could keep him for two years, or not. It makes sense when you have one of the more valuable trade assets in baseball to move him, period."
It should be noted Berry and Realmuto have no official recourse. If they demand a trade, the Marlins are not obligated to trade him. They would be well within their rights to keep Realmuto the next two years now matter how unhappy he may be. And, frankly, if the Marlins put an extension nearing $100 million on the table, would he really say no? I guess it's possible.
Realmuto's trade value is incredibly high right now. He is one of the best catchers in baseball -- arguably the best -- and quality catching is incredibly hard to find. He's good defensively and he's an impact hitter, plus you get Realmuto for two seasons. He's not a rental or one-year pickup. Two seasons of an elite catcher? It'll cost a ton of ton to pry him loose from Miami.
The Astros, Braves, Brewers, and Dodgers immediately jump to mind as potential Realmuto suitors. The Rays could jump into the mix as well. In fact, pretty much every team in the league could get involved. Even rebuilding clubs like the Padres and White Sox could pursue Realmuto in hopes of signing him long-term and making him a core member of their next contending team.
The offseason is (very) young and the Marlins have time on their side. Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos are far and away the top free agent catchers on the market, and teams that miss out on them could shift their attention to Realmuto. The Marlins can set a high asking price and see how the market develops before adjusting down, if at all.