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Realmuto trade nears: Are Rays in contention?

January 31, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- It appears that the Marlins are closer to trading J.T. Realmuto, but there's a chance the Rays are no longer one of the teams involved for the All-Star catcher.MLB.com's Marlins beat reporter Joe Frisaro reported on Thursday that talks for Realmuto are in "advanced stages" and mentioned

ST. PETERSBURG -- It appears that the Marlins are closer to trading J.T. Realmuto, but there's a chance the Rays are no longer one of the teams involved for the All-Star catcher.
MLB.com's Marlins beat reporter Joe Frisaro reported on Thursday that talks for Realmuto are in "advanced stages" and mentioned four clubs that were still in the mix: the Padres, Reds, Dodgers and Braves.
"The Astros and Rays recently were still active," Frisaro wrote, "but they appear to no longer be in the equation."

Another report from MLB Network insider Jon Heyman suggests that the Rays could still be in the race for the catcher. Heyman reported that the Reds, Padres, Braves and Rays are still in the mix, with the Dodgers on the outside looking in.
All winter, the Rays have been looking to upgrade their lineup, preferably with right-handed-hitting options. Tampa Bay inquired on Paul Goldschmidt before the All-Star first baseman was traded to the Cardinals, and a source confirmed that the Rays made a "competitive" offer to Nelson Cruz, who ultimately decided to join the Twins.
While missing on some targets, the Rays are confident that the additions of Avisaíl García, Yandy Díaz and Mike Zunino are enough to give Tampa Bay a more balanced lineup. Having Tommy Pham for an entire season should help as well.
Does trading for Realmuto make sense for the Rays?
For the Rays -- and for most teams around the league -- any time you can get one of the best players at any position, it's worth inquiring about. Tampa Bay has done its due diligence on Realmuto and adding him would give the team the big "splash" most fans were expecting this offseason.
From a pure baseball standpoint, adding Realmuto makes sense for the Rays. Even with the addition of Zunino, Tampa Bay could always look to improve its lineup and Realmuto is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old hit a career-high 21 home runs last season, which resulted in a career-high .825 OPS.
Realmuto avoided arbitration by signing a $5.9 million deal for this season and is under team control for 2020 before entering the free-agent market. While the Rays generally like adding someone with more years of team control, adding a player like Realmuto on an affordable contract, even if it's just for two seasons, is something that intrigues the organization.

The big question for the Rays, however, is does adding Realmuto give them enough to put them in playoff contention? If the answer is yes, then trading away a couple of prospects from a deep farm system could be something the Rays are interested in. If the answer is no, then the Rays could elect to stay out of the Realmuto race and go into the season with Zunino, Michael Perez and Nick Ciuffo at the position.
How much are the Rays willing to give up in a potential trade?
It has been reported that the Marlins want to receive a young catching prospect in any trade involving Realmuto. The Padres, who according to MLB.com, are believed to be the leaders in the Realmuto sweepstakes, have Austin Hedges and prospect Francisco Mejía that can be part of a deal with the Marlins. The only catching prospect the Rays have that would move the needle for the Marlins would be Ronaldo Hernandez, the team's No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who hit 21 home runs in the Minors last season.
Hernandez projects to be the starter of the future in Tampa Bay, but he's still a couple of years away from making his big league debut. Ciuffo and Zunino could be in talks for Realmuto, but Zunino is an older player, while Ciuffo's ceiling is probably not as high as Hernandez's. In that situation, it's tough to imagine the Rays giving up Hernandez, along with multiple other pieces, just for two years of Realmuto.

A deal that could make sense for the Rays would include adding one of the middle infielders in the organization, such as Daniel Robertson, Christian Arroyo or Matt Duffy, and pairing him with a couple of other high-end prospects in the organization. Of the teams involved, the Rays and the Padres have the best farm systems.
It appears that we're entering the final stages on a deal for Realmuto, and it remains to be seen if the Rays will make one final push for the All-Star catcher. Ultimately, the Rays feel confident in their current roster and the organizational depth they have acquired throughout the years, and will only make a big deal if it makes sense in the short and long term.

** Juan Toribio ** covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.