Few teams in baseball entered this offseason with as much excitement as the Phillies, a team with payroll flexibility, a talent-rich farm system and a fan base and team eager to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011. Their front office has often aimed big during this aggressive and ambitious offseason, and on Thursday, they landed one of the prizes of the trade market.
The Phillies acquired All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins for catcher Jorge Alfaro, right-hander Sixto Sanchez, left-hander Will Stewart and $250,000 in international bonus slot money.
Realmuto, who turns 28 next month, is under team control through 2020 and had been the subject of trade rumors and speculation for months, with a long list of teams showing interest. The Phillies finally met Miami's asking price with a package of three players, including their top prospect in Sanchez, to acquire a player general manager Matt Klentak repeatedly called "the best catcher in baseball."
• Expect bigger numbers from Realmuto in Philly
"I think the upgrade is pretty significant," Klentak said on a conference call with reporters. "It's hard to acquire top players at any position, especially at the catcher position."
It's hard to charge Klentak with speaking in hyperbole.
Realmuto made his first All-Star Game in 2018, a year in which he posted an .825 OPS with 21 home runs. He should slot right in the middle of the Phillies' lineup to complement Rhys Hoskins, who played with him during MLB's Japan All-Star Series in November. Realmuto is considered a good defensive catcher and framer, worth 4.8 Wins Above Replacement per FanGraphs last season, and is one of the game's most athletic catchers.
Realmuto also comes equipped with a team-friendly deal. He will earn $5.9 million in 2019, become arbitration-eligible for the third time next offseason and can become a free agent after the '20 season. Realmuto did not want to engage the rebuilding Marlins with talks of an extension beyond '20, but The Athletic has reported that those talks are expected to happen with the Phillies. Talks did not begin before this trade was finalized, however, as the Phils did not ask the Marlins for a window to negotiate an extension. Klentak said he could be open to negotiations at some point, just not right now.
"I think it's a good idea to date the person before you ask them to marry you," Klentak said.
• Realmuto is even more valuable than you think
To a team that finished 80-82 last season, the Phillies' front office has now added Andrew McCutchen to the outfield, Jean Segura at shortstop and David Robertson to a revamped bullpen. And the Phils still have eyes on adding either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.
The Phillies remain optimistic they will land one of the two stars, and although Klentak did not address Harper or Machado directly, he said he believes the trade will make Philadelphia a more enticing place to play.
"I think this is another acquisition for our club this offseason that demonstrates our commitment to winning," Klentak said. "I would hope that the demonstration would be appealing to potential free agents."
Talks between the Marlins and Phillies began to heat up this past weekend after a text message late Saturday night from Klentak to Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill. Eventually, the Phils agreed to surrender Sanchez, MLB Pipeline's No. 27 overall prospect. Sanchez, 20, missed significant time last season with right elbow inflammation, but he still throws a fastball routinely in the mid-90s and is a promising pitching prospect.
The Marlins pushed for another top prospect in the deal, perhaps third baseman Alec Bohm -- Philadelphia's first-round Draft pick in 2018 -- but the Phillies held firm and said no, a source told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.
Instead, the Phillies were able to include other pieces to acquire Realmuto. Alfaro was one of the Phils' primary catchers last season and posted a .731 OPS in 108 games, but he would have struggled to find playing time with the addition of Realmuto. And the 21-year-old Stewart posted a 2.06 ERA in 20 starts at Class A Lakewood.
"I'm very comfortable with the state of our pitching depth even after trading Sixto and Stewart," Klentak said. "But it's something we are going to continue to focus on in future years, making sure we draft and sign and develop starting-pitching depth, so we can continue to either promote those players to the big leagues or trade them in instances like this."
It's a big haul for one player, but the Phillies are trying to compete in a crowded National League East in 2019. Their lineup just got a lot better.
"We came into the offseason looking to get better," Klentak said. "We were an 80-win team last year and looking for ways to continue to add wins to the ledger and put us in the playoff mix.
"And beginning with Segura and McCutchen and Robertson and now Realmuto, each of those moves has been designed to get us back to the playoffs, which we haven't done since 2011. If there are other opportunities out there for us to make moves in that direction, we will continue to explore them."
Spring Training begins next week, but the anticipation in Philadelphia continues.