During the Philadelphia Phillies Sunday afternoon Spring Training Game with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bryce Harper was asked by Gregg Murphy of NBC Sports Philadelphia which of his teammates would fare the best in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and what even they would thrive in. Harper’s answer? J.T. Realmuto could be a star in the shot put, you’ve seen his throwing arm right?
Never mind that throwing a baseball and shot putting are entirely different motions, Harper’s answer, as insignificant as it may have seemed, was the latest reminder of how much he loves Realmuto.
During the 2018 MLB All-Star Game – when Harper was playing for the Washington Nationals and Realmuto was playing for the Miami Marlins – Harper half-jokingly put his Nationals cap on Realmuto, suggesting he wanted the Nats to trade for him. At his introductory press conference last March, Harper called Realmuto “his favorite player in the game.” In August of 2019, Harper said it would be an “absolute joke” if Realmuto didn’t win a Gold Glove Award, which he, of course, ultimately did. And when he arrived at Spring Training last weekend, he talked about the importance of not trading players like Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard, because they can come up and provide cheap production for a few years, balancing out a roster with many large contracts, a group that Harper soon hopes includes Realmuto.
Harper loves himself some Realmuto.
“I want him to get as much as he can, because he deserves that,’’ Harper said of Realmuto to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “All of the games he catches, what he does at the plate, the way he affects the game, it’s just unheard of.
“I want him here. We need him here. He’s the best catcher in baseball. Everybody knows it.’’
Realmuto lost his arbitration case to the Phillies last week, meaning he’ll make $10 million in 2020, rather than the $12.4 million that his side had filed for. After 2020, Realmuto can become a free agent. There’s no indication that losing in arbitration will affect Realmuto’s willingness to sign a long-term deal with the Phillies, but he did say Friday that he believes the team benefited from a system that undervalues catchers.
“It’s so outdated,” Realmuto told Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer of the arbitration system. “There’s a separate catchers’ market. That’s what the team’s main case was on, that you can’t go outside the catchers’ market. But if you line up my numbers with position players, that’s where our figure comes into play. It’s never happened before where catchers go outside the catchers’ market. But it’s not in the rules that you can’t. The team knows they had a pretty strong case just for that and took advantage of it.”
Realmuto’s agent, Jeff Berry, agreed with his client’s sentiments.
“A man that squats and catches for five-plus years at a Gold Glove level shouldn’t get paid less for doing so,” Berry told Lauber. “It doesn’t take an Ivy League degree or a judgeship to figure that out.”
Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but Phillies general manager Matt Klentak went to Dartmouth College, one of the eight Ivy League universities. Prior to Realmuto’s arbitration hearing, Klentak reiterated a desire to reach a long-term deal with the two-time All-Star, whether that meant before this season or even into free agency next offseason.
“I try not to operate with hard deadlines or operate in absolutes, but yes it would be nice to have some sort of resolution prior to Opening Day just so it’s not a distraction, mostly to the player, but even to us during the season,” Klentak said to the collective media earlier this month. “So that would be ideal, but by no means do I view that as a hard cap.”
“I still feel very strongly that I would like to do that [sign Realmuto to a long-term deal] – everyone in our organization does. J.T. is a really good player. I say that, I also would have hoped we would have settled his arbitration case by now, and that didn’t happen. Frankly, I hoped that if we had settled his arbitration case we would already be at the bargaining table on his extension talks, but as you know we have to do one before the other. So we have to wait before one before we can talk about the other. So once we have a resolution to the one-year number, we’ll come to the table and see if we can find common ground on a long-term deal. I hope that we can, and if we can’t, we could always continue those talks into the season and even into free agency if we have to.”
The Phillies acquired Realmuto from the Marlins last February for a package headlined by RHP Sixto Sanchez, who Baseball America now says is the 16th best prospect in the sport. In addition to the aforementioned Gold Glove Award, Realmuto was the team’s lone All-Star in 2019, won his second consecutive Silver Slugger Award and led the team with a 5.7 fWAR. He was the Phillies best overall player a season ago, making it pretty hard to fathom letting him leave in free-agency, especially when you add in the package that you gave to a division rival to land him.
For what it’s worth, after critiquing the arbitration system, Realmuto said that he didn’t believe losing a hearing to the Phillies affected his perception of his future in Philadelphia.
What the last few days show, though, is that Realmuto and his representation aren’t simply going to seek to top the four-year/$73 million deal that Yasmaini Grandal – widely seen as the second best catcher in baseball – landed in free agency this offseason. Getting Realmuto to sign on the dotted line will likely entail a five-season commitment with a higher average annual value than the $20 million that St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina leads the position with. And don’t expect Realmuto, who will turn 29 in March, to count the $10 million that he’ll make in his final season of arbitration eligibility as year one of such a pact.
As all of this goes on, Harper, who is signed through the 2031 season, is watching closely. And he doesn’t appear to be mincing words on what his desired outcome is.
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