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Marlins' trade of J.T. Realmuto to Phillies changes look of NL East

Mets had pursued aquiring Realmuto in December, but balked at Marlins' asking price.

Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto follows through on two-run

Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto follows through on two-run base hit in the fourth inning against the Braves in Atlanta on Aug. 14, 2018. Photo Credit: AP/John Bazemore

The J.T. Realmuto saga is over, finally, and his trade may have shifted the balance of power in the NL East.

The rebuilding Marlins sent Realmuto, perhaps the best catcher in baseball, to the Phillies on Thursday for a three-player package: high-end pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospect Will Stewart, plus international bonus space.

Such a move tightens the already tight division — the defending champion Braves, Nationals, Mets and Phillies all appear poised to contend — and the teams aren’t done.

Philadelphia, for example, still is in prime position to sign outfielder Bryce Harper or infielder Manny Machado. And if the latter heads to Philly, it’s still possible that Harper will return to the Nationals.

The Mets pursued a Realmuto trade in December, sources said at the time, but balked at the Marlins’ high asking price. The hypothetical package revolved around one of the Mets’ young, controllable position players — Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario — plus other prospects.

When Miami’s asking price didn’t come down, the Mets moved on, signing Wilson Ramos to a two-year, $20-million deal on Dec. 18. Such a move was in line with general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s preference to be proactive.

One path to making multiple major additions would have been to trade a corner outfielder or Rosario as the centerpiece for Realmuto, then sign the corresponding big-name free agent (Harper in a corner, Machado at shortstop). The Mets preferred to retain their homegrown players and sign Ramos, staying away from the biggest fish in the free-agent tank, as they have for years.

Instead, Realmuto heads to the Phillies, who stand to be one of the NL East’s greatest threats, particularly if Harper or Machado joins them. The Braves reportedly also were in on the Realmuto sweepstakes.

“Hopefully the fans recognize we did make a big offseason splash,” Van Wagenen said this week. “We just spread it around among a number of different players, be it free agency or trades. There’s a lot to be excited about. We have not been quiet about our belief in this team, and our players have expressed the same.”

Those were the latest in a series of Van Wagenen statements dripping with bravado. In December, after signing Ramos, Van Wagenen declared the Mets the NL East favorite. Last month, after introducing utility infielder Jed Lowrie, Van Wagenen issued a challenge to the rest of the division: “Come get us.”

“I look forward to showing people that we’re a team to be reckoned with,” Van Wagenen said. “I fully expect us to be competitive and to be a winning team, and our goal is to win a championship, and it starts with the division.”

Realmuto is a significant upgrade behind the plate for the Phillies. He hit .277 with a .340 on-base percentage and .484 slugging percentage, totaling 21 homers and 74 RBIs last season. Switching his home stadium from the pitcher-friendly Marlins Park to the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, he could see a bump in his offensive production from that career-best year.

In 2018, Alfaro, 25, had a .262/.324/.407 slash line, 10 homers and 37 RBIs in 108 games.

For the Marlins, moving Realmuto is the final big piece of a fire sale that began last winter. In Sanchez — the sort of blue-chip prospect the Mets didn’t have, hence the need to include one of Conforto/Nimmo/Rosario — the Marlins get the No. 13 prospect in baseball and the second-best righthanded pitching prospect, according to Baseball America. Alfaro figures to slot in as Realmuto’s replacement as the starting catcher.

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