The Tampa Bay Rays are continuing their search for upgrades this offseason in order to compete in the AL East this season, and the best catcher in baseball may be on their radar.
When it comes to upgrading on the trade market, it is no secret that Marlins catcher, J.T. Realmuto, is undoubtedly the big fish (pun intended). Realmuto has been the best catcher in all of baseball over the past couple of years. Since 2017, J.T. has posted a phenomenal 8.6 WAR, more than any other catcher over that span, with Buster Posey being the closest, but still significantly behind with 6.2 WAR.
It’s no surprise that almost every team in the bigs have at least checked on Miami’s backstop, but the Marlins’ front office has reportedly been asking for a hero’s ransom for Realmuto, which has deterred most clubs. But, against what you may expect, the Rays are still being rumored to be one of the remaining teams that are still “in” on the all-star catcher.
Things will be tough for Tampa, though. As the Astros, Dodgers and Padres are also heavily involved with the Marlins for Realmuto. All these teams are like the Rays in that they are hungry and looking to score a huge upgrade at the catching position, and all three of these teams have some top-tier prospects that can be used as trade chips in order to lure J.T. over to their club.
So why are the Rays in? Surely they’re set at catcher after acquiring Mike Zunino from the Mariners earlier this offseason? I don’t blame anyone for thinking that, because while a Realmuto acquisition isn’t necessary by any means, getting the best player at a premium position is always an opportunity a contending team should keep their eyes on. J.T. can also play first base too, and positional versatility is always valuable to Chaim Bloom’s front office.
The Marlins will be looking for high-value prospects and players that are just breaking in to the majors that have lots of team control, which the Rays have in spades, and I believe that if Tampa wanted to, they could outbid any of the other suitors in terms of the players they could offer.
There are many ways Tampa Bay can approach a potential Realmuto trade, as they have so many players that could work in a package, but I will attempt to put together a package that the Rays would be comfortable giving up but would match the Marlins’ high price tag.
It has already been rumored that the Rays would include their top outfield prospect as the headline piece in a Realmuto package. Jesus Sanchez is projected to be a great player at the major-league level and is only a year or two away from the majors. The Marlins have been in search of a star prospect ever since their underwhelming returns for Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton last winter, and Sanchez can do just that. The Rays have already shown a willingness to trade him too, as he was reported to be part of their pitch to acquire Paul Goldschmidt earlier this offseason before he was traded to the Cardinals.
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Next, flipping Zunino gives the Marlins a veteran catcher known for his defensive prowess that can help work with a young and developing pitching staff. It was also clear up any playing time problems that would come with the having both Zunino and Realmuto on their squad.
Brandon Lowe is a versatile player that has a lot of potential upside and has proven that his power works at the big league level, along with heaps of team control to boot. The Marlins can use him at second, first, or even the outfield and make an impact as soon as soon as 2019, which is arguably more valuable than a high-end prospect.
Finally, we have Shane McClanahan. One of the Rays first round draft picks in 2018, McClanahan is Tampa’s #8 prospect according to mlb.com. He features an electric fastball and is just a couple of control issues away from being a really scary pitcher that already has posted a high strikeout rate at the college level.
He would be a great addition to any farm, but the Rays can afford to part with him due to already having some excellent lefties in their organization such as Matthew Libatore and two-way star, Brendan McKay.
While the Rays could likely outbid any of their competition, the trade remains a long shot due to the Dodgers and Astros being more aggressive in their pursuit of the catcher. The Rays definitely do not need Realmuto as much as LA or Houston. But imagine the lineup they would have with him:
2B Joey Wendle
3B Daniel Roberston
LF Tommy Pham
DH Ji-Man Choi
C J.T. Realmuto
1B Yandy Diaz
RF Austin Meadows
SS Willy Adames
CF Kevin Kiermaier
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And that lineup is assuming the Rays haven’t signed Nelson Cruz. Who would likely take Choi’s place.
What do you think of the potential Realmuto trade? Be sure to let us know on Twitter (@Rayscologlasses and @OfficialPatDav). For all offseason news, rumours and more, be sure to stay tuned to Rays Colored Glasses.