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J.T. Realmuto doesn’t think he’ll reach free agency

J.T. Realmuto had an impressive first season with the Phillies. (Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)

Even as he prepares for an arbitration case that will nominally pit him against the Phillies, catcher J.T. Realmuto still believes his long-term future will be in Philadelphia.

“I could see myself staying in Philadelphia and playing my entire career here,” Realmuto told John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Also being one year away from free agency, that wouldn’t be bad for me either. But I don’t think it will get to that. I think the Phillies and myself could line up pretty well.”

Sunday, Bryce Harper talked about the importance of the Phillies bringing controllable talents like Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard to the major leagues to supplement the more expensive pieces on the current roster. Harper added that he believes the Phillies would be a much better team if they are able to retain Realmuto for the foreseeable future, and he specifically cited the next six seasons.

Wednesday, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Phillies will have their arbitration hearing with Realmuto in Phoenix. If Realmuto’s side wins the case, the catcher will make $12.4 million in 2020. If the Phillies side wins the case, Realmuto will make $10 million in 2020.

Either way, the hope from the organization continues to be that a long-term deal will be reached with the soon-to-be 29-year-old catcher before he can become a free agent next offseason, and preferably sooner.

“I still feel very strongly that I would like to do that [sign Realmuto to a long-term deal] – everyone in our organization does,” general manager Matt Klentak told the assembled media last Thursday. “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.”

Given that the Phillies are pressed up against the $208 million luxury tax threshold as is, it feels unlikely that the Phillies would rip up Realmuto’s 2020 arbitration year as part of a long-term deal. Whether he’s making $10 million or $12.4 million in 2020, that’s less than Realmuto will make annually as part of a long-term deal. Him making slightly less in 2020 is an advantage with Jake Arrieta and David Robertson in the final years of lucrative free-agent contracts that will pay them $31 million combined.

More likely is that Realmuto’s arbitration year will effectively serve as year one of a long-term deal. Last August, Phillies Nation projected that a five-year deal for Realmuto that pays him between $100 and $110 million would be in the neighborhood of what a long-term deal could look like. Yasmani Grandal, widely considered to be the second best catcher in baseball, landed a four-year/$73 million deal from the Chicago White Sox in free agency this offseason, so five years seems to be a fair length for Realmuto. Whether that five years would count his 2020 arbitration year or begin in 2021 could ultimately become a point of contention.


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