The Phillies continue to make improvements to their roster and they haven't even spent stupid money yet.
Six days before the first workout of the spring for pitchers and catchers, the team on Thursday acquired J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins for three players and international signing bonus money (see story).
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak offered his immediate take on the deal.
"J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball," he said. "This is about us getting better and we believe it improves us considerably."
The Phillies sent catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart to Miami. The loss of Sanchez stings, but you have to give something to get something (see story). The 20-year-old right-hander had been considered the Phillies' top pitching prospect for his power arm and uncanny control, but he was limited to just eight starts at the Class A level last season because of an elbow injury and there is some thought in the scouting community that he may one day end up in the bullpen.
Instead of rolling the dice on Sanchez's potential, the Phillies went for an established major-league difference-maker who plays a premium position. It is a sound move, especially for an improving team that hasn't been to the postseason since 2011 and needs to make the town crackle with baseball excitement again. On top of it all, the Phillies were able to get the deal to the finish line without adding one of their top prospects as the third man.
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"It's hard to acquire top players at any position, especially catcher," Klentak said.
The GM, entering his fourth season with the Phils, has had a very good winter. He was able to move Carlos Santana in a deal that, one, allowed Rhys Hoskins to get back to first base and, two, upgraded the shortstop position with the addition of Jean Segura. He replaced Santana's on-base skills with outfielder Andrew McCutchen's 30-double, 20-homer pedigree, and brought in David Robertson, one of the game's most consistent late-game relievers.
Klentak's winter could go from very good to out-freaking-standing if he can spend some of John Middleton's stupid money on Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. The Phils are in on both of those mega free agents. The field of bidders is small and the Phillies have deep pockets. The conventional wisdom is the Phillies will get one of them if they stay the course.
First and foremost, Machado and Harper are looking for dollar signs, lots of them, but wins mean something, too. Surely, they noticed that the Phillies got better with the signing of Realmuto.
"This is another acquisition that demonstrates our commitment to winning and I hope that demonstration would be appealing to free agents," Klentak said.
Realmuto, who turns 28 in March, will make $5.9 million in 2019. He won't be a free agent until after 2020. The Phillies did not explore a contract extension during negotiations with the Marlins, but Klentak said they might at some point.
"I think it's a good idea to date the person before you ask to marry him," Klentak said. "But we have every reason to believe this is the type of person we want to represent the Phillies."
Realmuto is considered an excellent handler of pitchers.
"I've received so many calls and texts the last couple of hours from people who've been around him," Klentak said. "They've talked about how much confidence pitchers have in him, how much confidence they have that they can throw the ball in the dirt because they know he'll block it. He will have a really big impact on our group."
He will also have a big impact on a Phillies' offense that was inconsistent last season. Realmuto hit .277 with 30 doubles, 21 homers, 74 RBIs and an .825 OPS for the Marlins last season. And he did much of his damage on the road, away from cavernous Marlins Park. His road OPS last season was .870, compared to .773 at home. Over his career, he has hit .309 with a .848 OPS in 280 games on the road and .245 with a .678 OPS in 260 games in Marlins Park. He could conceivably hit second in the Phillies' lineup and he should love the results he gets in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.
"I'd be lying if I told you we didn't think playing half his games in Citizens Bank Park would make him better," Klentak said.
The Phillies will introduce Realmuto at a news conference in Clearwater on Tuesday.
And, who knows, maybe they can keep the dais erected for another big unveiling in the days after that. The Phillies have had a good winter and it still might get better.
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