Unsurprisingly, the Washington Nationals are interested in taking part in the Miami Marlins’ fire sale, showing interest in acquiring either outfielder Christian Yelich or catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Or maybe both, per MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro.
Frisaro notes that Washington could be interested in either individually — or in both, as a “mega package.”
Deals between division rivals are pretty scarce; generally, it’s sometimes hard for teams to swallow the pill of giving up their best talent to someone they’ll see eighteen times a year.
The latest. Sources: #Nationals interested in Realmuto, Yelich @Marlins #Braves #Phillies also in mix. Return would be high. @MLB https://t.co/8xlJt3oeNF— Joe Frisaro (@JoeFrisaro) January 4, 2018
Moreover, unlike Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon, the Marlins aren’t dead set on moving these players at whatever feeble price to cut salary.
They see Realmuto and Yelich as potential blocks to center a rebuild around.
#Marlins NOT seeking to attach Prado, Castro or any other high-salaried player to Yelich and/or Realmuto in trade talks, sources tell The Athletic. Financial pressure no longer as severe; payroll currently projects to $96.8M, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. MIA seeking best talent.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 5, 2018
That said, everyone has their price, and the Marlins apparently aren’t particularly interested in winning in the near future.
So, that begs the question: what would it take to get either player — or both of them — wearing the Curly W?
Realmuto is the more obvious fit for the Nationals, whose two-year, $21 million investment in Matt Wieters looked like a flop from day one.
It’s quite possible that Wieters rebounds — and publicly, the team is counting on it — but getting consistent production out of the catcher slot would be a huge get for the team.
Realmuto, who could be a free agent in 2021 at the earliest, bats right handed and was worth 3.6 fWAR in 2017, compared to Wieters’ -0.2. The twenty-six-year-old hit .278 last season, launching 17 home runs.
Overall, if he kept that level of production up, he would be a significant upgrade over Wieters, at a significantly lower price (the arbitration process is just beginning for him).
It should also be noted that the Nationals have consistently shown themselves to be fans of young players on cheap deals, which is akin to saying that donut makers have consistently shown themselves to be fans of rainbow sprinkles; in other words, said assets aren’t necessary to getting the job done, but they sure do make things better.
However, what the Nats may like most about Realmuto—his long term controllability—may also be what drives his price up the most. Long-term assets generally cost nothing less than a high-level prospect or two.
Realmuto certainly wouldn’t command both of the Nationals’ top prospects, Victor Robles and Juan Soto (ranked numbers three and thirty-seven on MLB Pipeline, respectively), but he may be worth one of them, along with top infield prospect Carter Kieboom.
Other than said prospects, Derek Jeter and Co. would also most likely ask for some major-league talent — no stars, but a younger player, along the lines of Michael A. Taylor, Wilmer Difo, or Koda Glover.
What may deter the Nats from making the deal most — other than the high cost in players — would likely be the fact that Scott Boras already stiff-armed them into paying for a catcher, and the Lerners may not be interested in dedicating more resources to the position.
Our best guess for what he would cost: Michael A. Taylor, Juan Soto, and one other prospect.
Besides being the twin brother of SNL stalwart Pete Davidson, Yelich is a consistent .280-.300 hitter for the Marlins who plays exceptional defense.
Over the past two seasons, he has been worth 4.5 fWAR both times.
Yelich is also under contract for a while, thanks to a large extension he signed back when the Marlins were convinced that they were going to contend this decade; however, it’s not a mega-extension.
Under the deal, Yelich’s highest salary will be $15 million dollars in 2022 (he won’t crack a salary above $13 million until after the 2020 season).
Again: Another low-cost, high-control player.
The left-handed hitting 26-year-old is perhaps in more demand than Realmuto, and also makes less sense for the Nationals, given that they have their next three outfielders of the future lined up.
Michael A. Taylor (the first) roams center field. If he fails, or is injured, or is traded away, he’ll most likely be replaced by Victor Robles (the second, and most advanced prospect in the Nats’ system). If Bryce Harper were to leave, Robles would also likely replace him.
Even if the Nats somehow lost Taylor and Harper, they would still have Juan Soto by early 2019 (the third, and rumored to be the most well-regarded inside of the Nationals’ front offices). In other words, the outfield is a complete logjam, with Adam Eaton also locked in until 2021.
The Nats could attempt to alleviate this jam by trading away Taylor and either Robles or Soto, therefore clearing two spots in the outfield.
If they received Yelich in return, he could fill one spot, and the remaining prospect would assume the other, once Bryce Harper departs in free-agency (which this situation assumes).
However, Yelich may cost more than just Taylor and an outfield prospect, given that everyone from the Dodgers to the Phillies has been mentioned connected to his name.
Yelich is a more known commodity in a place where many teams are always looking to upgrade.
With that in mind, he would almost certainly be worth more than Realmuto in terms of return.
There’s no real way to guess what he would cost because Miami would almost assuredly attempt to lure teams into a bidding war over him.
A lot more should clear up in the coming weeks as the Marlins meet with Yelich and discuss their plans with him:
yelich camp and marlins are due to talk over trade possibility late this week. (naturally, a lot of teams are calling) https://t.co/aYVJM8VmJw— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 5, 2018
Acquiring both Yelich and Realmuto would require a lot of dominos to fall into place.
The Nats would have to commit themselves either to re-acquiring Bryce Harper, or to Michael A. Taylor as their third outfielder of the future.
They would most likely have to accept that, sometime in the 2020s, the team is going to go through a rebuilding phase.
They would have to come to terms with blowing both Soto and Robles on Realmuto and Yelich — two names not nearly as attention-grabbing as Chris Sale, with whom they had been previously associated.
Mike Rizzo and the Lerners would have to declare 2018 is the year that they would go all-in, that it’s now or never, that the team would never be this good again, at least for a few decades.
But if Mike Rizzo decided that it was worth it to hand two or three of the best prospects in the system to a division rival for two very good — but not great — players — this is a deal that the Nats are equipped to make.
It would completely require giving up both Robles and Soto, and probably another lower-level prospect that was less well-known but still promising — think Daniel Johnson or Seth Romero.
In this scenario, the Nats can’t give up Michael A. Taylor, because they wouldn’t have somebody in center field come 2019 if Bryce Harper were to depart in free-agency.
The farm system would be decimated — but if the two pieces are the pieces that push the Nationals’ offense from a remarkable one to a flat-out dominant one that steamrolls to a World Series title, then most people won’t remember the names Victor Robles and Juan Soto.
Instead, they’d only remember the new banner hanging at Nationals Park -- which would fly long after all of these players’ careers end.