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J.T. Realmuto is reportedly targeting a massive new deal


J.T. Realmuto is entering his second season with the Phillies. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

If COVID-19 forces the start of the 2020 MLB season to be delayed, it may give the Philadelphia Phillies and J.T. Realmuto more time to hammer out an extension before the regular season begins.

They may need it.

On the latest episode of Big Time Baseball, RADIO.COM MLB Insider Jon Heyman reported that Realmuto is targeting a much bigger deal than many initially anticipated.

“My understanding is that he’s looking for more than Buster Posey money. The same agency did that deal for $161 million. Of course, Posey was a bigger star at the time, that’s fair to say, but he had four years of arbitration in there, so it’s reasonable to think he’s going to be looking at more than $161 million and that is what I’ve heard. That was the figure he was looking at I think in the Marlins discussions earlier. The Marlins were thinking about [Brian] McCann, [Russell] Martin, different catchers…they weren’t close. But the Phillies are a team with big revenue, unlike the Marlins, they have a motivated owner, and they gave up a lot to give him, so there’s no evidence anything is close, but I think they are going to work hard on this and I think there’s a decent chance that they could have a deal.”

In March of 2013, the San Francisco Giants agreed to an eight-year/$159 million extension with Posey. Like Realmuto, Posey was seen as the best catcher in the sport at that time. Unlike Realmuto, Posey had just won the National League MVP and helped the Giants to win two World Series titles in three seasons. Posey’s extension was also set to begin in his age-27 season. Realmuto will turn 29 next week, meaning if he signed a long-term pact that would begin in 2021, the deal would be starting in his age-30 season.

Even if Realmuto isn’t a better player than what Posey was at his peak, there have been nearly seven years since Posey agreed to his deal. It’s entirely reasonable for Realmuto’s camp to expect him to comfortably top the $19.875 million average annual value of Posey’s deal. However, if his agent, Jeff Berry, insists on Realmuto getting seven or eight seasons in a deal that would begin until his age-30 season, he may find it difficult to complete a deal with the Phillies or any team in free agency next offseason.

After losing his arbitration case to the Phillies, Realmuto made clear that he believes that catchers are undervalued by the current system. He probably has a case. Kris Bryant, who Realmuto has been a better player than over the past two seasons, settled with the Chicago Cubs before his second year of arbitration eligibility for $18.6 million. Realmuto lost his arbitration case in his final year of eligibility and will make $10 million. Even if he had won his case, Realmuto would have made $12.4 million, far less than Bryant’s salary.

So, yes, there is a case to be made about undervaluing the league’s elite catchers on a year-to-year basis. However, it’s going to be extremely difficult for Realmuto’s camp to suggest that he’s going to be immune to the long-term wear and tear that comes with catching. Even if players like Posey, Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer have remained or did remain productive into their 30s, they weren’t able to sustain a level of peak production like superstars at other positions typically do. Catching simply puts too much stress on your body.

Heyman also added that Realmuto’s camp has used the comps of Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon in discussions.

Last March, the St. Louis Cardinals reached a five-year/$130 million extension with Goldschmidt shortly after acquiring him from the Arizona Diamondbacks. That deal will begin in 2020 – Goldschmidt’s age-32 season – and is probably a realistic target for Realmuto’s camp.

Arenado signed an eight-year/$260 million extension with the Colorado Rockies before the 2019 season, a deal that famously includes an opt-out after year three. He was 28. Rendon, who will turn 30 in June, landed a seven-year/$245 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels this offseason after helping lead the Washington Nationals to a World Series last year. While Realmuto is similar in age to these two – especially Rendon – teams generally feel more confident about a third baseman holding up over the long haul than a catcher. Arenado and Rendon are also just more valuable overall players – especially on offense – than Realmuto is. That’s not a dis, it simply puts in perspective just how dominant those two are.

However, Realmuto’s camp has leverage in the sense that the Phillies need him more than he needs the Phillies. To acquire Realmuto, the Phillies sent a package headlined by catcher Jorge Alfaro and No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez to the Miami Marlins. Realmuto has become a fan favorite and was the best player on the team a season ago. If he’s allowed to leave in free agency, an organization that already doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence from large swaths of its fanbase will be panned. Realmuto may prefer to stay in Philadelphia, but there are certainly other places that will be willing to pay him $120 million or more in free agency, and he would be a really, really good player for their team too.

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