Phillies Acquire J.T. Realmuto from Marlins

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The Philadelphia Phillies have acquired catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins. And they’re paying a heavy price to do it. The clubs just announced that the Phillies are sending top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, catcher Jorge Alfaro, lefty Will Stewart, and international bonus pool money to Miami.

Realmuto, who will turn 28 during spring training, is coming off an All-Star season in which he hit .277/.340/.484 with 21 home runs, 74 RBI, and 74 runs scored in 531 plate appearances. By FanGraphs’ version of WAR Realmuto was the best catcher in baseball in 2018 by a substantial margin, outpacing second-place Yasmani Grandal by 1.2 wins. He was hurt by his pitcher-friendly home park as well, so between a literal change of scenery from moving to Citizens Bank Park and a philosophical change of scenery from leaving the dreary world of Miami Marlins baseball, there is reason to believe that he’ll have a nice 2019. Ask Christian Yelich how that works.

That’s all good — it’s a big pickup for the Phillies — but to get him they are giving up one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Sanchez, 20, throws what ESPN’s Keith Law recently described as “the easiest 100 mph fastball in pro baseball.” He was just ranked as baseball’s 13th best overall prospect by Baseball America, 23rd by Baseball Prospectus, 27th by MLB.com, and 35th by ESPN. This despite the fact that he has yet to pitch an inning above A-ball. While his 2018 season was cut short by elbow inflammation, he is reported to be healthy again and ready to resume a minor league career that has already seen him post a 2.48 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 191/43 in 221.1 innings.

Alfaro, who was slated to be the Phillies’ starting catcher, hit .262/.324/.407 (OPS+ 95) with ten homers in 377 plate appearances last year. Stewart was a 20th round pick for the Phillies in 2015. He’s coming off an excellent 20-start season in A-ball in which he posted a 2.06 ERA.

Realmuto is certainly an upgrade behind the plate for the Phillies. The question people will ask, at least if Sanchez fulfills his considerable potential, is whether the Phillies could’ve realized a significant upgrade behind the plate by signing a free agent, such as Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal and giving up only money, rather than a blue chip prospect, to do it.

That may be a question that is never asked — pitching prospects can break your heart — or, at the very most, will be asked another day. For now the Phillies are finally getting their man and the Marlins, at long last, are unloading a catcher who made no secret about wanting out of Miami.

A lot of baseball teams have decided that they didn’t want to improve themselves this offseason. One cannot say that about the Philadelphia Phillies.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.

As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.

Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.

As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.

While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.

Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.