It has a chance to go down as one of the worst trades in team history and not because the Phillies got a bad player in the deal. They, in fact, got the best player as well as the best catcher in baseball.
And still the transaction that brought them J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins could go down as a disaster if he walks away as a free agent and Sixto Sanchez continues the superstar course he appears to be on in the embryonic stage of his career.
The Phillies knew at some point that their hitters would step to home plate and have to face the electric right arm of Sanchez, the pitching prospect who was the key figure in the trade that brought Realmuto to Philadelphia before the 2019 season.
That day will officially arrive Sunday, when Sanchez is scheduled to take the mound for the second game of the Phillies' doubleheader with Miami at Marlins Park. For many in the organization, it will create a flood of emotions that go beyond just the ramifications of the Phillies' having to face Sanchez many more times in future years.
First and foremost, it will bring back the memory of Bart Braun, the well-respected and good-humored scout who discovered and signed Sanchez in a most serendipitous way in late 2014.
Braun, who died at the age of 64 just before the start of this season, had been dispatched to Santo Domingo to watch a 26-year-old Cuban catcher named Lednier Ricardo.
Braun, accompanied at the workout by Phillies Dominican scout Luis Garcia, loved what he saw during the workout, but not from Ricardo. He was enamored with the 16-year-old pitcher who had been brought along to throw to Ricardo.
Braun immediately contacted international scouting supervisor Sal Agostinelli and said the Phillies needed to sign Sanchez. The deal was done for $35,000, and two years later, after posting a 0.50 ERA in 11 starts for the Gulf Coast League Phillies, Sanchez was among the top 100 prospects in the game.
By 2019, Sanchez had climbed to No. 13 on Baseball America’s preseason list and he was the player the Marlins had to have if they were going to part with Realmuto.
Now, Realmuto is roughly two months away from becoming a free agent and Sanchez is a big-league pitcher who has entered the National League rookie of the year conversation by posting a 1.80 ERA and striking out 25 batters in 25 innings over his first four starts. He has walked just two batters and is not shy about using any of the five pitches in his arsenal.
According to Statcast, he has thrown his four-seam fastball and changeup 26.1% of the time, his sinker 20.9%, his slider 17.5%, and his curveball 9.5%. That’s an impressive balance that must be a nightmare for the hitters.
Add in the fact that 27-year-old catcher Jorge Alfaro was also part of the deal and he still has the potential to become an All-Star and it is obvious that all the negotiating leverage is in Realmuto’s favor with the Phillies. While it’s true that a lot of fans despised Jayson Werth when he left via free agency, it’s more likely that the Phillies will feel the wrath of the paying customers if they fail to sign Realmuto.
Sanchez, 22, is not the first highly touted prospect the Phillies have surrendered in an effort to get an established star. Former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. almost annually tapped that well during his first four seasons as general manager as the team attempted to add a second World Series title to the one it won in 2008.
Amaro sent Carlos Carrasco to Cleveland as part of the package for Cliff Lee at the 2009 trade deadline and Kyle Drabek and Travis d’Arnaud to Toronto for Roy Halladay after the 2009 season. At the 2010 trade deadline, Amaro gave up Jonathan Villar and J.A. Happ as part of the deal to acquire Roy Oswalt and a year later he surrendered Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, and Domingo Santana to get Hunter Pence as a midseason replacement for Werth.
Even though the Phillies never won another World Series, it’s impossible to say that getting Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, or Pence were bad trades, even though some really good players went the other way. The Phillies had a legitimate chance to win another World Series because Amaro acquired those players and they were all part of playoff teams.
The players who ended up being good (Carrasco, Happ, Villar, and d’Arnaud) took a long time to get there and none of them qualify as superstars.
Sanchez, on the other hand, looks ready to be a superstar right now and for a long time into the future.
If the Phillies win the World Series this season -- a bet I’d suggest not making -- getting Realmuto for two years could be considered worthwhile. Anything short of that and general manager Matt Klentak will forever be known as the guy who let Sixto Sanchez get away and then couldn’t re-sign the catcher he got for him.