While it’s been a slow, if not boring, off-season for baseball in general, it hasn’t been that for the Miami Marlins. It started with the sale of the team that finally allowed the franchise to separate itself from team owner Jeffrey Loria and bring in someone who wouldn’t embarrass the team on a daily bases. At least that was the plan. The new ownership, led by former Yankee great Derek Jeter, has had a remarkably hard time clearing that low bar. After trading away young stars Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton, and Marcell Ozuna for an astoundingly average collection of prospects, it seems Miami is ready to finish the deed and move OF Christian Yelich and C J.T. Realmuto.
This matters to Braves’ fans because while Miami is just entering a long rebuild, Atlanta is trying to leave theirs. 2018 will be year 4 of this long process and the Braves seem like they’re finally ready to not be bad. And nothing helps bad teams like adding good players. So this Jon Morosi tweet from last night shouldn’t have been much of a surprise:
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 3, 2018
Now “inquired” is about the weakest way to describe a team’s interest in certain players given every team in baseball has probably inquired about theses two. So we don’t want to get crazy. But having an official report linking the team to two guys of this caliber and having a GM known for always looking for the big deal means we can’t just ignore it. But as this report sunk in to Braves Twitter last night, there’s was one fact that kind of rose above the rest: the amount of prospect capital it would take to acquire these two would be enormous. Fellow WOW writer Ryan Cothran said it best I think:
Build your package for Realmuto and Yelich and it won’t be enough.
— Ryan Cothran (@baldheaded1der) January 4, 2018
Talking Chop’s Scott Coleman had a similar notion:
Trading for Yelich *and* Realmuto likely turns the Braves into playoff contenders for 2018. It would also turn the farm system, with no IFA additions for years, into a wasteland.
— Scott Coleman (@scottcoleman55) January 3, 2018
Even our favorite beat writer Dave O’Brien joined in:
I tend to doubt they’d part w/ volume of prospects required to get both #Marlins, given what Alex said earlier about wanting to learn system. Seems unlikely that they’d move multiple top prospects it’d take to get Yelich AND Realmuto. But I could see doing a deal for 1 of them. https://t.co/REmpbIGJWu
— David O’Brien (@DOBrienAJC) January 4, 2018
And this isn’t a post telling you they’re wrong. They aren’t. They’re absolutely right in fact. The likelihood of getting one is slim. The likelihood of getting both is much slimmer. And the cost it would take to make it happen would terrify most Braves’ fans.
So the natural follow up question is, if you can only have one, which is it? Yelich or Realmuto?
Mark Bowman of MLB.com actually addressed this issue in his latest inbox series. Here’s what he said regarding which of the two to pursue:
Here is the portion where I irritate some of you by saying if given a choice of getting just one of the two remaining stars on the Marlins, I’d trade for J.T. Realmuto before acquiring Christian Yelich. I believe Yelich will continue to develop and have a great career, but it’s easier to find outfielders similar to him than it is to find a catcher like Realmuto, who is entering his first arbitration-eligible season.
And Bowman isn’t the only one to feel this way. I’ve seen several tweets in my TL making this same case. And it’s not a bad case. Realmuto does play the more scarce position and Atlanta currently has two catchers, both on 1-year contracts. Makes sense.
But here’s the thing. The right answer here is Yelich. It’s absolutely Yelich and I’m not sure it’s actually close. If you’ll allow me, I’ll present my case below and see how many of you who currently disagree I can persuade.
First, while Realmuto would be great for the future, he barely moves the needle at all for Atlanta in 2018. Here’s his 2018 projection along with Atlanta’s duo:
The fact is, the 2018 outlook just isn’t that much different with full-time Realmuto than it is with the Braves tandem. Trading for him marginally upgrades the present which means a move for him is really more about the future.
Trading for Yelich significantly upgrades both. The current LF for the the Atlanta Braves is Lane Adams. Or Preston Tucker. Or maybe Nick Markakis. I’m not going to make a chart showing you how much better Yelich is than any 3 of those guys because, well, it should be obvious. It’s All-star vs replacement level. With Yelich, you get a 4 WAR outfielder for 2018 while still getting around 2.5 WAR from your catchers. It’s just a better team in 2018. Significantly better. Plus all the future value.
If you go the other way, you really haven’t improved the 2018 team much at all.
Speaking of future value, that’s our next point. We’ve already shown Yelich is the much more valuable piece in the present, given Atlanta’s current roster, but what about the future? Who brings Atlanta more value post 2018? Let’s look.
Realmuto is entering his first arbitration year in 2018, projected around $4M, which is dirt cheap for his talent. But like we said, Realmuto doesn’t really provide that much of an upgrade in 2018 from what Atlanta currently has so what you’re really buying are the years that follow. The problem is there’s only two of them, 2019 and 2020, before he hits the open market.
Yelich, on the other hand, is controlled for 5 more seasons, all 5 of which you’re getting significantly better from what you currently have. And he’s dirt cheap too. Like, hilariously cheap. In those 5 years Christian Yelich will make a total of $58M. That averages around 11M/year. He’s a 4 WAR player being paid like Nick Markakis.
And if you think that’s cheap now, just wait till next year when Bryce Harper is making $45 or $50M/year. The extra 2 years of control, extra 3 years of adding plus value to the team, and the incredible baragin of the contract puts the check mark in Yelich’s column for future value.
The last point is the positional scarcity Bowman brought up in his piece. Outfielders are much easier to find than catchers. That is a definitively true statement. The problem is it’s entirely too general to apply here. In this specific case, the outfielder in question loses to no one in terms of scarcity. You’re welcome to look around baseball for an outfielder, controlled for 5 years, as young, as cheap, as talented, as healthy, with a proven major league track record, and as available as Christian Yelich. But you won’t find one. This kind of opportunity just doesn’t come along that often. Players like this don’t get traded, they get built around.
This is where I’m going to pause and point out that I love J.T. Realmuto as a player. I think he’s exceptionally good. This is an exercise in only being able to pick one. Please don’t mistake that as me bashing a guy. I simply prefer Yelich. Both are all-star level players.
Now I can’t end this thing without acknowledging that Yelich will likely cost more to acquire than Realmuto. This extra value will be factored into the price. And if you want to say you’d rather have Realmuto because he’ll cost less then there really isn’t much I can say. He will cost less because he offers less. But Miami has already stated they’ll need a ransom to move either guy. Realmuto is in no way going to be cheap. And when it’s all said and done, it wouldn’t surprise me if the difference in their cost is much more marginal than the difference in the value they’d bring, specifically to Atlanta. Plus there’s a certain joy knowing my outfield, for at least the next 5 years, would be Ronald Acuna, Ender Inciarte, and Christian Yelich that I can’t really quantify. It just makes me happier.
Anyway, did I sway you? Who would you rather have? Let me know.