If Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto were playing in a larger market, he may be a slam-dunk selection for the 2018 MLB All-Star Game. Instead, the Marlins best player must hope the baseball gods and the fans nationally recognize how great a season he is having to get him to Washington.
The Miami Marlins have never been a big-market team, but players such as Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich were recognizable enough that the mainstream fan knew them and followed them daily, even if the team they played on hasn’t had a winning season since 2009. Realmuto isn’t as popular on the national stage, but he deserves to be on that canvas.
Once again, another good player is dealing with the losing ways in south Florida, so much so that it’s a safe bet to claim that Realmuto is the best at his position in the National League, yet no one is really noticing outside the state of Florida or the National League East.
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If respect is something earned, then Realmuto deserves more than he currently gets. There is a way to fix that, however. If the Marlins new ownership led by Derek Jeter would spend rather than cut corners on its payroll, all might be well in the friendly confines of Marlins Park. And the Jeter-Realmuto relationship could forge a lasting legacy one of the MLB’s smallest markets.
No matter how much Realmuto works on his craft, puts up solid numbers and continues to be the face of this “new” franchise, recognition will be hard to come by. Dave Hyde of sun-sentinel.com perfectly explains the catcher’s plight.
"“It’s different with the Marlins, and always has been, as anyone following along all these years knows,” Hyde writes. “So this isn’t some civic plea for more recognition on the streets or the ballot box for Realmuto, even if he is deserving in this sleeping market.”"
Being a hero is south Florida is hard to do. Not since Dan Marino was slinging footballs in the NFL or Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade were hoisting an NBA banner has sports mattered in this hotspot of a city. Sports are forgotten as quickly as the top pop song of the week.
If Jeter wants to make his first real impression on this market – in a positive way – he should consider a long-term deal with his 27-year-old star, which would not only keep Realmuto in a Marlins jersey for the long-term, but it will show the former New York Yankees’ great has an understanding of building relationships with players and fans.
The damage has already been done by Jeter and co-owner Bruce Sherman. The days of Jeffrey Loria’s reign as owner of the Marlins were once thought to be gone, but purging a popular roster, cutting over $50 million in payroll and dismissing former legends Andre Dawson, Jeff Conine, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon was considered treason.
He even fired the person who filled the role of Billy The Marlin to cut costs internally. There was no shame in how Jeter went about trying to define “his” team.
Now, as Hyde and I both agree, there is a chance to rectify this situation, to create a rainbow of hope.
"“If Jeter thinks this franchise can be ready to win in a couple of years, if he thinks it can turn to relevance that quickly, then the smart move is to invest in and build around Realmuto,” Hyde added."
The sand through the hourglass is shrinking however as Realmuto may still be used a trade bait next winter, with some contender offering plenty of prospects for the Marlins and a super-sized Brinks truck to give Realmuto more than he’s worth. It’s how most professional athletes get what they feel they deserve.
In this case, having Realmuto on board when this team starts winning would create the arc from the present to the future. It’s certainly plausible. While there is speculation of this occurring will the Marlins, namely, Jeter, push the right button on this kind of deal?
The real talk will come in a year or so if he is still part of this organization. The Marlins control Realmuto’s contract the next two seasons. If he tests free agency, there is no doubt he will be gone in a flash, a faded memory of what he was to this organization and what could have been.
He is the player on this current roster most teams covet, as both Arizona and Washington showed some interest when he demanded a trade in February. Now, he has embraced the role of teacher and leader like a veteran coming into his own.
The Marlins are still squirming in the bottom of the National League East but have shown signs of life. After missing the first few weeks of the regular season, Realmuto has been the real deal for this organization, even spending some time at first base.
His presence alone has made manager Don Mattingly’s job a bit easier with all the changes the team has made to its pitching staff. Realmuto is the calming influence on young arms and wiley veterans.
Once again, I agree with Hyde and his assessment of the situation. If there is a chance Jeter thinks this team will be a contender in the next couple of years, there is no doubt Realmuto should be signed to an extension and long-term deal. Doing so gives the team’s leader a chance to continue to make difference on a youthful ballclub.
It also gives Jeter a fresh start as the owner and perceived villain in a town looking to support its baseball team, not rally against it for years to come.