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Bryce Harper on J.T. Realmuto: ‘I want him more than anything’


Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto are both entering their second seasons with the Phillies. (Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

A lot has changed in the world since the outset of spring training. What hasn’t changed, however, is Bryce Harper’s belief that the Philadelphia Phillies need to – and ultimately will – find a way to retain All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

When he first arrived at Clearwater in early February, Harper gave a nuanced take on the idea of potentially trading for his good friend Kris Bryant, saying that the Phillies needed to keep some of their cheap, younger talents to supplement the more expensive players on their roster. That, of course, includes himself, as he enters year two of a 13-year/$330 million deal. The thought process is that it will eventually include Realmuto as well, who Harper said at the time that the Phillies “need.”

As the Phillies wait for word on when – and if – the 2020 season will begin, Harper is still steadfast in his belief that the Phillies need to sign Realmuto to a long-term deal. He also seems confident that when push comes to shove, the two sides will hammer out a long-term pact.

“I think we have a long ways to go on that,” Harper said to the collective media Monday, including Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. “I think the Phillies organization absolutely loves J.T. and our team absolutely loves him as well. He’s the best catcher in baseball. He’s a great person. He’s a great family man. He’s a guy that we need in our clubhouse. I think the Phillies fans understand that as well. Us as an organization, we have to understand that he’s going to help us in the years to come and if you want the best catcher in baseball then we’ll make that happen. But at this time of course it’s shut down, but I don’t think anybody should fear us not getting J.T. back. I want him more than anything, so I mean it’s something we need to make happen as an organization. But you know when that time comes then [general manager Matt] Klentak and [managing partner John] Middleton will make that decision and hopefully he’s back in Phillies red.”

Realmuto, 29, will make $10 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and can become a free agent after the 2020 season. Even if the effects of COVID-19 ultimately force the 2020 season to be cancelled, Realmuto will still become a free agent.

Matt Klentak and the Phillies have a vested interest in keeping Realmuto past 2020. Not only did they trade former No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez to the division-rival Miami Marlins to acquire him, but Realmuto was the team’s best player a season ago. In his first season in red pinstripes, Realmuto made his second consecutive All-Star team, won his second consecutive National League Silver Slugger Award and won his first National League Gold Glove Award after throwing out 37 would-be basestealers.

Simply put, it would be a disaster for the Phillies to lose Realmuto in free agency this upcoming offseason, especially when Harper has been outspoken about his desire to see Realmuto re-signed for the long-term.

Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last month that Jeff Barry, Realmuto’s agent, is seeking a deal in line with the five-year/$130 million deal that the St. Louis Cardinals inked Paul Goldschmidt to before the 2019 season. $26 million annually may be higher than the Phillies hoped to go to for a catcher that would be 34 in the final year of the deal, but if that’s what it takes, what other option do they have?

The question will then become if Realmuto’s camp truly believes that another team will approach that type of contract in free agency after the 2020 season. In theory, Realmuto’s camp has more leverage because the Phillies seemingly need him more than he needs the Phillies. However, as Phillies Nation‘s Destiny Lugardo has pointed out, we have no idea what free agency will look like this upcoming offseason and how motivated teams will be to spend after Coronavirus has devastated the economy and likely cost teams quite a bit of revenue in 2020.

The unfortunate thing for the Phillies right now is that they can’t even speak to Realmuto or his representation as part of the league-wide transaction freeze. The guess here is that the two sides will have a sense of urgency to reach a deal once the freeze is lifted, but this is unquestionably lost time that won’t be made up for.

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