J.T. Realmuto doesn’t agree with his loss in his arbitration hearing with the Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday, but any animosity that he has is more against the system than the team that employs him.
Realmuto will make $10 million in 2020, a figure that an arbitrator determined Wednesday. His camp had fought for him to make $12.4 million in 2020. As Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia noted, $10 million is still the most a catcher eligible for arbitration has ever earned. But the two-time All-Star believes that the system that simply pegs him as a catcher is flawed.
“It’s so outdated,” Realmuto told Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer of the arbitration system.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.”
To a degree, Realmuto’s case seems to have been that elite catchers are essentially undervalued in this current system. At the same time, his camp also seems to believe that he was uniquely qualified to break that stigma through the arbitration process. After all, FanGraphs says that he was the most valuable defensive player at any position in 2019 and the 15th most valuable overall player in terms of WAR, ahead of players like Juan Soto, Kris Bryant and Pete Alonso.
Bryant is an interesting player to contrast with Realmuto. While he has won an MVP and World Series, Realmuto has unquestionably been a better player than Bryant over the past two seasons. Yet, Bryant, in his second year of arbitration eligibility was able to settle with the Cubs on $18.6 million, because he was held to the standards of other third basemen. Realmuto, in his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, would have made over $6 million less than Bryant even if he had won his case because he’s treated as a catcher, rather than just one of the game’s most productive players.
As Realmuto inches towards free agency, will the outcome of his arbitration hearing – and his criticisms of the system – affect the likelihood of a long-term deal being reached with the Phillies?
“No, not really,” Realmuto told Lauber. “What we went through in the hearing doesn’t change anything from my outlook.”
General manager Matt Klentak continued to express a desire to hammer out a long-term deal with Realmuto last weekend, and suggested that the process could begin in earnest after his arbitration hearing.
It’s long been believed that an extension is likely to pay Realmuto $20 million or slightly more annually over the course of five seasons. What will be interesting is if Realmuto’s camp insists that the soon-to-be 29-year-old’s five years begin next season, rather than including his $10 million salary in 2020 as part of a long-term deal.
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