The Braves have expressed trade interest in a pair of young Marlins standouts, outfielder Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto, although at this point it seems highly unlikely Atlanta would be willing to part with the load of prospects it would require to land both Miami players.
A person familiar with the situation confirmed a Wednesday report by MLB.com’s Jon Morosi that the Braves contacted the Marlins about Yelich and Realmuto, each entering his prime years and controllable for up to five more seasons (Yelich) and three seasons (Realmuto).
The Marlins are under new ownership and back in strip-down-and-rebuild mode again, having already shedded slugging outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. Any deal involving Yelich or Realmuto would require multiple prospects and/or young players in return, and the bounty required from any team trying to trade for both players would likely be enormous.
The Braves have one of baseball’s deepest farm systems including more pitching prospects than any other team, and prospects, particularly pitchers, are what would interest the Marlins most. New Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos had a reputation for making bold moves in his years as Blue Jays GM, and already he’s shown creativity and aggressiveness in dumping the onerous contract of Matt Kemp in a five-player deal with the Dodgers.
But Anthopoulos said after taking over Braves baseball operations in November that he wasn’t likely to do anything “crazy” involving multiple Braves prospects until he had a better idea of what the team had in its farm system. However, he also said that improving team defense was a priority, and adding Yelich could assure the Braves have potentially as strong a defensive outfield as any in baseball for the next several years, with Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte flanked by Yelich and super prospect Ronald Acuna.
Yelich would also be the second-best hitter in the Braves current lineup behind only star Freddie Freeman.
Either Yelich or Realmuto would be under control long enough to be integral pieces for the Braves when they plan to be division contenders again, which realistically could come as soon as 2019 given the talent they have just below the major league level and the amount of money they’re expected to have available to add a few impactful pieces via free agency or trade a year from now.
The AJC reported during last month’s Winter Meetings that the Braves had interest in Yelich, a former Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award winner who turned 26 in December and is controllable through 2022 at just under $60 million, including $44 million guaranteed through 2021 plus a $15 million option with a $1.25 million buyout.
A left-handed hitter, Yelich has a .290 average with 59 home runs, a .369 OBP and .800 OPS in just over 2,800 plate appearances through his first 4 ½ seasons. He had 30 or more doubles in each of his full seasons and totaled 39 homers and 179 RBIs over the past two seasons while playing 311 games.
Yelich won a Gold Glove as a left fielder in his first full season in 2014 and played 155 games in center field in 2017
After showing interest in Yelich the Braves traded Kemp in December. That opened spot for Acuna, the Braves’ top prospect and a dynamic talent who could be rated baseball’s No. 1 prospect this spring. He’ll compete for an opening-day starting job, but could be kept in the minors for at least a few weeks at the start of the season to assure an extra (seventh) year of team control before free agency.
The Braves still have veteran right fielder Nick Markakis, who has one year and $11 million left on his contract. But that wouldn’t stop the Braves from acquiring Yelich, since Markakis could presumably be dealt without too much difficulty during the offseason or in the spring.
It’s conceivable the Marlins could even take Markakis as part of a potential trade for Yelich, given that Markakis’ contract is expiring after the season. But the Braves might need to take a high-salaried player from Miami – perhaps third baseman Martin Prado? -- to offset the immediate payroll impact for the Marlins.
Again, the Marlins can and will command multiple prospects in any trade for Yelich, who has reportedly drawn interest from about 15 teams.
Realmuto made it known last month that he wanted to be traded after it became apparent the Marlins weren’t aiming to compete again anytime soon. At least 10 teams are said to have shown interest in the catcher, who’ll be 27 in March and is projected by MLBTradeRumors.com to make about $4.2 million in the first of three arbitration-eligible seasons before free agency.
His stock has soared after back-to-back highly impressive seasons in which Realmuto -- durable, strong on both sides of the ball, uncommonly athletic for a catcher -- posted a surprising 3.4 WAR in 2016 and topped that with 3.6 in 2017. He totaled more than 1,100 plate appearances in 278 games over that two-year span.
After hitting .303 with 11 homers, 31 doubles, 12 stolen bases and a .771 OPS in 2016, Realmuto hit .278 in 2017 with 31 doubles, five triples, 17 homers and a .783 OPS in 2017.
The Braves return veteran catchers Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers, who were one of baseball’s best tandems in 2017 and are also valued for their handling of Atlanta’s young pitchers and, in Flowers’ case, exceptional pitch-framing skills. But both will be free agents after the 2018 season and it’s probably not realistic to expect them to match last year’s performances at the plate.
While the Braves have a few catching prospects lined up in the minors, the closest to the majors is power hitter Alex Jackson and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready by 2019 – or that he’ll continue the encouraging strides he made in 2017 after switching back to the catching position following 2 1/2 minor league seasons as an outfielder in the Mariners system.
Suzuki re-signed for $3.5 million after hitting .283 with an .887 OPS and a stunning career-high 19 homers in just 309 plate appearances (81 games). He turned 34 in October.
Flowers, who’ll be 31 in three weeks, had 12 homers and set career-bests in average (.281) and OPS (.823) in 2017. The Braves picked up a $4 million option on the Roswell native’s contract for 2018.