Marlins view Realmuto as key piece of rebuild

December 13th, 2017

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The reshaping of the Marlins' roster remains a work in progress, but one of the projected building blocks of the franchise is catcher J.T. Realmuto.

One of the most athletic players in the Majors at his position, Realmuto had a standout 2017, batting .278 with 17 home runs and 65 RBIs. The Marlins consider the 26-year-old their version of perennial All-Star in St. Louis.

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"I love J.T.," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Wednesday morning at the Winter Meetings. "He's a guy that I think all of our players have so much respect for, the way he plays the game, the toughness he brings, who he is as a person and who he is as a player. It's probably not fair, but I laid a little bit of a Yadier Molina tag on him because I think he's that kind of guy."

As part of its restructuring, Miami has already parted with reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner and second baseman Dee Gordon, who paced the Majors in stolen bases.

Stanton was dealt to the Yankees on Monday, while Gordon was traded to the Mariners on Thursday. Additional moves are likely, raising the importance of the Marlins having the remaining players buy into the changes.

Realmuto has long had the reputation of being a natural leader.

"When you're facing the Cardinals and Yadier Molina is behind the plate, you're not happy about it," Mattingly said. "You don't like it. You know he's involved in that game and he's going to direct it.

"We feel J.T. can be that guy. He's not there yet, but we think this guy will step up leadership-wise, has a chance to take steps forward in leading your pitching staff and a guy that you can win a championship with."

Arbitration-eligible for first time, Realmuto appeared in a career-high 141 games in 2017, and his OPS was a personal best .783.

If Miami made Realmuto available, he would command a hefty return on the trade market. But the organization is committed to building around the Oklahoma native, who was its third-round pick in 2010.

Mattingly is entering his third season with the Marlins, and he reminded everyone that keeping the status quo wasn't working. In 2017, the club finished 77-85, marking its eighth straight losing season.

The struggles prompted Miami to part with popular and productive veteran players.

"For me, I'm excited about what's going on, with an understanding of kind of the fans and what the perception is from the outside," Mattingly said. "We're going to build this organization from the bottom to the top, and it's going to be consistent and we're going to stay with it -- it's an exciting time for me from that standpoint.

"Again, you recognize the disappointment in the fans. It seems like there's been a lot of negative. I look back at what Houston was able to do a few years back and where they're at right now. We needed a reset. It wasn't working. What we were trying to accomplish and the way we were doing it, trying to win, it just wasn't working. And we had to get a model going that was sustainable, a chance for us to build something that we could have success on a yearly basis, be able to compete."