MIAMI — In October, J.T. Realmuto’s agent predicted the Miami Marlins’ All-Star catcher would be with another team by spring training.
He was right.
After months of speculation over what they’d do, the Marlins traded Realmuto on Thursday to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Jorge Alfaro, two pitching prospects and $250,000 in international signing bonus pool allocation.
Along with Alfaro, the Phillies gave up 20-year-old right-hander Sixto Sanchez, their top prospect, and left-hander Will Stewart.
“This is about us acquiring the best catcher in baseball,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said, “and we’re really excited about that.”
Realmuto, who turns 28 in March, had been with the Marlins longer than any other current player. His agent, Jeff Berry, predicted a trade after Realmuto informed the Marlins last fall he wouldn’t sign a long-term contract with them.
The Marlins got the deal done six days before their pitchers and catchers report to spring training. A rebuilding project for the perennial also-rans will probably continue for several years under CEO Derek Jeter, whose group bought the franchise after the 2017 season.
“We did not have to trade J.T.,” president of baseball operations Michael Hill said. “But our goal is to build a long-term sustainable championship organization.”
The deal could vault the Phillies into playoff contention, and they’re still pursuing free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado . They bolstered their lineup earlier with the additions of shortstop Jean Segura and 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen .
The Phillies had the worst batting average in the major leagues last year (.234) and were third in strikeouts (1,520). They led their division with the second-best record in the NL one week into August, then went 16-33 over the final 49 games and finished with a losing record (80-82) for the sixth consecutive season.
The Marlins had been talking for months with numerous teams about a Realmuto trade before deciding to send him to their NL East counterparts.
“We’re talking about the best catcher in all of baseball, so of course he was popular,” Hill said.
Alfaro is expected to replace Realmuto as Miami’s starting catcher. He hit .262 with 10 homers in his first full major league season last year and showed a strong arm, but had 11 errors and 10 passed balls.
Sanchez, a Dominican with a 100-mph fastball and excellent command, has a 2.48 ERA in 48 minor league games over four seasons.
“In Sanchez we saw a front-of-the-rotation starter,” Hill said. “Electric stuff — a pitcher we think can develop and lead a championship rotation.”
Sanchez pitched just 46 2/3 innings in Single A last season due to right elbow inflammation, but Hill said the Marlins are “extremely comfortable” about his health. He’s expected to start this year in Double-A, and Stewart will begin in Single-A.
Realmuto was a first-time All-Star in his fourth season last year. He hit .277 and set career highs with 21 homers, 74 RBIs and an OPS of .825.
Klentak also his defense and impact on the clubhouse are also a plus.
“We have heard outstanding things about J.T. and his work ethic and his makeup and his leadership and the type of teammate he is,” Klentak said.
Realmuto was in his second season of arbitration eligibility this winter. He will make $5.9 million in 2019, and can become a free agent after the 2020 season.
Shortly before the trade was completed, the attendance-challenged Marlins announced a reduction in ticket prices, with seats available this season for as little as $10.
The Marlins finished last in the NL East last year with a 63-98 record. They haven’t had a winning season since 2009 and haven’t been to the playoffs since winning the World Series in 2003.