Astros: How the Astros Can Catch Two Big Fish
Should the Astros take advantage of the latest fire sale for the Marlins?
Another day, another Miami Marlin on the block, which means another column about the Astros trading for one or all of them! The latest is catcher J.T. Realmuto who, upset that his team is shedding players and essentially becoming the Major League Baseball version of ¯_(ツ)_/¯, has formally asked to be traded.
Meanwhile, outfielder Christian Yelich has requested a meeting with team officials to discuss the future of the franchise, and I have a strong suspicion they’re going to respond with, well, this guy again: ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
Realmuto is a 26-year old catcher who has gotten better each of his three Major League seasons, topping out last year with a 3.6 bWAR that ranked fourth among all full-time catchers. He has a touch of power (17 home runs and 31 doubles last year) and, for a catcher, is surprisingly quick, having stolen 20 bases the past two seasons while being caught just six times.
If Realmuto is starting to feel déjà vu-y, he should. Here are his first three big league seasons compared to another catcher’s first three seasons; see how long it takes you to guess the mystery catcher:
Realmuto: .281/.323/.430/.753; 83 2B; 38 HR; 177 R; 28 SB; 104 OPS+ (1,591 PA)
Mystery Catcher: .277/.346/.372/.718; 68 2B; 21 HR; 196 R; 65 SB; 106 OPS+ (1,739 PA)
Yep, Mystery Catcher is, of course, Mitch Meluskey. Wait… nope – sorry: Craig Biggio. It’s Craig Biggio.
As good as he is, Realmuto’s contract is even better – he’s under cheap club-control through the 2020 season. At this point, while you’re wiping the drool from your chin, you’re likely asking yourself, “Self, doesn’t Realmuto seem like the type of cheap, productive player the Marlins should focus their rebuild around?”
Yes, yes he does.
But the team, which is doing a complete tear down of its system (which was not very good, to begin with), is unlikely to be competitive for many years. By the time Miami is ready to compete again (if ever), Realmuto will be… 29, 30, 31 years old and either past his prime or entering the Russell Martin Memorial Overpay Me phase of his career.
But wait! There’s more! Once the Marlins essentially show Yelich a blank PowerPoint presentation detailing the team’s future. He’s going to want out, too, and as enticing as Realmuto would be, Yelich might be even better.
Yelich is a year younger and a burgeoning offensive force. These past two years, he slashed .290/.373/.460/.833; 125 OPS+. To properly contextualize Yelich, here’s what World Series MVP George Springer has done the past two seasons:
Yelich: .290/.373/.460/.833; 125 OPS+
World Series MVP George Springer: .271/.363/.487/.849; 134 OPS+.
And World Series MVP George Springer is two years older than Yelich, who owns a Gold Glove already. Slotting him in center field (where he played last year) or left field (where he won his hardware) makes the Astros’ outfield defense one of the best in baseball.
Oh, and Yelich turned 26 less than three weeks ago. He’s 26!
Unlike Realmuto, though, Yelich is actually making money. The Marlins owe him $58MM through the 2022 season, so the urgency to trade him is far greater, although, “urgency,” in this case, is relative because even with his contract, Yelich is ridiculously underpaid. Averaging four bWAR a year thus far in his career (with every indication he’ll only get better), Yelich carries a projected value (at four bWAR/season) of $160MM over the life of his contract, a surplus of more than $100MM.
At this point, you likely know the catch: any deal for Realmuto and Yelich is going to cost the Astros… well, basically their entire farm system. Players of their ilk are only dealt when socks get knocked off. So we’re talking about offering up previously untouchable prospects like Kyle Tucker, Forrest Whitley, J.B. Bukauskas, Francis Martes, Yordan Alvarez, Cionel Perez… Note: I never used “or” in that statement… Think of an Astros prospect and they’d probably have to be included to pry both Realmuto and Yelich from Miami.
Except… the Marlins are desperate to slash payroll.
Reports have ranged the cuts will be anywhere from $50-$85MM. They’re off to a good start, having dealt Stanton and Gordon but that’s merely a start. The team is swimming in debt. Their new ownership group’s liquidity is reportedly severely limited, and they have shrinking attendance and the league’s smallest local television deal. So this is more than a one-year process; they’re clearing money for the foreseeable future. And that’s where a smart, progressive-thinking front office with financial flexibility can swoop in and take advantage.
Now that Stanton and Gordon are gone, the worst remaining contracts on Miami’s payroll are Wei-Yen Chen (4 years, $68MM); Starlin Castro (3 years, $37 MM) and Martin Prado (2 years, $28.5MM). While overpaid, Castro is only 27 and can easily be flipped in a trade. Chen and Prado, however, combined to make $23.1MM last year while producing .6 bWAR. They will make $26.1MM this year and, at ages 32 (Chen) and 34 (Prado), are unlikely to improve significantly. No one is trading for either player; certainly not both. Miami is stuck with both onerous contracts.
If I’m Jeff Luhnow, I’m calling Derek Jeter and offering to eat Chen and Prado’s ugly contracts for the small, almost infinitesimal price of tossing Realmuto and Yelich into the deal as well. It’ll still cost the Astros prospects (and good ones) – but if you’re eating $96.5MM worth of trash, you better believe they won’t be THAT good.
Here’s the best part: let’s assume Realmuto (who is arbitration-eligible) jumps to $4.5MM in 2017; the four would then cost $37.6MM this season. If they all simply repeat their 2017 bWAR performances, totaling 8.1 (and, again, it’s highly likely Realmuto and Yelich will be better, given their age and development), they would actually be worth about $65MM; a surplus value of $27MM.
Next: Astros Rumors: Why the Astros are looking at Yu Darvish
Make no mistake about it: the Prado and (especially) Chen contracts are butt-ugly and deserve to be taken out behind a barn and put out of their misery. But if the Astros can smartly leverage those deals to land a top-flight proven young talent like Realmuto and Yelich, it would be worth it.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***