Revisiting the JT Realmuto – Sixto Sanchez trade 3 years later
On February 7th, 2019 the Philadelphia Phillies acquired All-Star catcher JT Realmuto from the division rival Miami Marlins in exchange for the Phillies’ top prospect, Sixto Sanchez.
During the offseason MLB labor stoppage, I chose to revisit the Jean Segura for JP Crawford trade, as three years had elapsed and it was still unclear who had benefited most from the substantial swap. Also, I didn’t hear many Phillies fans even discussing the deal, despite the fact that JP Crawford was playing well as the starting shortstop for the Seattle Mariners.
On the surface, the JT Realmuto-Sixto Sanchez trade shares many similarities with the Segura-Crawford deal. In both instances, the Phillies decided to ship off the top prospect in their farm system in exchange for a more established veteran, who better fit their win-now mentality under owner John Middleton.
While three years is not necessarily long enough to definitively decide who has won a trade, I believe you can at least establish an initial narrative, especially when an impact player like Realmuto is involved. Overall, I believe the Realmuto-Sanchez trade is worth revisiting on a more detailed level.
In my opinion, JT Realmuto was the best catcher in baseball even before he arrived in Philadelphia. His 2018 season with the Marlins, in which he was selected to his first all-star team and was awarded his first silver slugger, was worth 4.5 WAR, tying his first season with the Phillies for the best tally in his career.
I’m still baffled that the Marlins were willing to give up the best player at a thin position group, who was in his prime and under club control for two additional seasons. But that’s why the Marlins are one of the worst franchises in the league.
JT Realmuto has continued his excellence since arriving in Philadelphia. For the three-year period of 2019-2021, Realmuto has produced more WAR (9.3) than any other catcher. Salvador Perez may have eclipsed JT’s overall mark but he did not play in 2019 due to a lingering elbow injury.
Only 28 players in the history of baseball have put up four seasons with at least 4 WAR in their career. Twelve of those players already have plaques in the hall of fame and recent standouts like Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, and Joe Mauer will get in soon. Realmuto seems like a great bet to reach that threshold once again in 2022 as he has already accumulated 0.8 WAR in only 16 games.
At only 31 years old Realmuto is not out of the realm of possibility that he will be considered among the best catchers of his era.
The Phillies control JT Realmuto through the 2025 season when he will be 34-years-old. After Buster Posey’s retirement this offseason Realmuto’s AAV of $23 million makes him by far the highest-paid catcher in baseball and 30th overall.
But that number will surely be eclipsed when the next generation of catchers reaches free agency. Just this past offseason Salvador Perez signed a 4-year extension with an AAV of $20 million entering his age 31 season.
If JT Realmuto continues to produce 3-5 WAR over the next 4 seasons, his contract will only increase in value considering just how thin the talent at the catcher position is as a whole around the league. JT Realmuto is a team leader, a solid teammate, and a true competitor whom I would consider the best player on the Phillies if not for the existence of Bryce Harper.
Despite his natural athleticism and overall track record of good health, Realmuto will likely fall short of reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s incredibly hard to project career trajectories at the catcher position because of the sheer physical demand of squatting for so many innings. But we’re not here to analyze whether JT Realmuto is a generational talent or not, we are here to determine whether the Phillies got the better end of the deal with the Marlins.
We have not gotten to Sixto Sanchez yet, but he is going to need one hell of a career to exceed or even match the overall impact of JT Realmuto.
Sixto Sanchez did something in 2020 that no Phillies pitcher has done in over a decade by pitching in a playoff game. In fact, he made two starts for the Marlins during that postseason.
Once in the NL Wild Card Game in which Sanchez dazzled as a 21-year-old, tossing five innings allowing no runs and only four hits. Sanchez would take the loss in his second start allowing four ER in three innings against the Braves in the NLDS. For such a young pitcher to have success at the game’s highest level was something definitely worth taking notice of.
I remember watching those playoff games and quickly becoming concerned that the Phillies may have traded away a future #1 starter and possibly a generational talent. He had already beaten the Phillies in Miami on September 13th picking up the win by throwing seven innings and allowing one ER on just three hits.
Originally signed by the Phillies in February 2015 for a total of $35,000 and instantly shined in the minors. Much like the dominance currently being displayed in Single-A Clearwater by Phillies 2021 1st pick Andrew Painter, Sanchez dominated in rookie ball as a 17-year-old allowing only 3 ER over 54 innings.
Ever since, Sanchez has been ranked amongst the league’s top 100 prospects, peaking at #26 in 2018.
But like so many pitchers, injuries can postpone or even completely derail a promising career. In July 2021, the Marlins announced that Sanchez would miss the entire 2021 season after undergoing shoulder surgery on his throwing arm. A terrible turn of events after being viewed as the top candidate to win the NL Rookie of the year Award.
It has now been over 19 months since Sixto pitched in a big-league game and all signs coming out of Miami point to Sanchez being able to return to the mound in June at the earliest. This is not the first time Sanchez has missed extended time due to injuries. In 2018 he was shut down after only eight starts after experiencing elbow inflammation in his right elbow.
I want it on the record that I never liked Jorge Alfaro. He was piss poor defensively behind the plate and didn’t reach base nearly enough to warrant everyday at-bats.
2019 was far and away Alfaro’s best season following the trade. Despite rating out as a below-average hitter, Alfaro put together a respectable season of 1.0 WAR and actually was above replacement level as a catcher.
But Alfaro could not maintain that level of play on offense or defense beginning with the COVID-19 shortened season. In 2020, his OBP slipped below the .300; something that had never happened over his first three full major league seasons.
During the 2021 season, Miami finally realized they could no longer afford to play Alfaro as an everyday catcher and began experimenting with him at 1B and LF. Needless to say, he graded out at below-average at every position and he continued to struggle with his bat. This past offseason the Padres acquired Alfaro for cash considerations or a player to be named later.
I will concede that Jorge Alfaro may have been a better option in 2019 for the Phillies than backup Andrew Knapp, but Alfaro was clearly a disappointment for the Miami Marlins. They had to have expected Alfaro to hold down the starting job for more than two full seasons and in the end, the Marlins essentially ended up giving him away for nothing.
Will Stewart, a 20th-round pick by the Phillies in 2015 out of high school has yet to appear in the majors. At the time Stewart was rated as the 18th best prospect in the Phillies system. A left-hander, who flashes an above-average sinker and is excellent at inducing ground balls scouts believed Stewart had the possible ceiling of a back of the rotation starter.
Although Stewart is still only 24 years old, he is no longer among the Marlins’ top-30 prospects according to MLB.com. His best minor league season remains the 2018 campaign with A-Lakewood the year before he was traded. Stewart did make an appearance during 2022 Spring Training with the Marlins finishing 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in 8 IP.
At some point, Will Stewart could be pitching in relief against the Phillies, but so far he seems more like an inconsequential depth piece reliever than a difference-maker.
$250k in International Bonus Money
Because Jorge Alfaro and Will Stewart have had barely any positive impact since the trade, this essentially has become a referendum on a 1:1 swap.
There is no doubt that when healthy Sixto Sanchez has the pure ability to be an elite pitcher at the highest level. But when analyzing this trade three years later, it’s hard to ignore JT Realmuto’s on-field production and leadership qualities that have real tangible results, while much of Sanchez’s value still lies in his untapped potential.
According to FanGraphs, only 21 pitchers accumulated more than 3.5 WAR during the 2021 season. For Sanchez to exceed JT Realmuto’s impact he will have to be among the elite pitchers in all of baseball for at least a half-decade. For that reason, and the many others listed above, I believe that the Phillies ultimately got the better of this trade by quite a wide margin.
Gotta poll this one and leave it up to the readers. Let us know what you think.