Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto met with the media on Zoom Wednesday afternoon, and it didn’t take long for questions about his contractual status to come up. It took even less time for the two-time All-Star catcher to request that he only be asked questions about the 2020 season.
Before changing the subject, Realmuto acknowledged that the Phillies were in “preliminary discussions” with his representatives before COVID-19 hit and no progress has been made since. Still, the 29-year-old catcher was willing to talk about how much he enjoys playing in the organization, giving you the sense that he hopes to remain in red pinstripes beyond the 2020 season.
However, MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki has since reported that while the Phillies have re-engaged with Jeff Barry, Realmuto’s agent, “nothing is close.” Zolecki went on to suggest that “the best bet” is the Phillies will allow Realmuto to reach free agency this offseason, and bid on his services there.
Given how open the Phillies and Realmuto have been about a desire to stay together for the long-run, it is rather startling to think that the club could be one great offer away from losing the reigning Gold Glove Award winner this offseason.
It is very possible that the Phillies feel that by letting Realmuto test free agency, he’ll realize that whatever they are willing to offer him is pretty close to as much as he’ll get. The possible downside, though, is that it would only take one really interested team to come off the top rope and woo Realmuto away. And it’s entirely possible that team could be a division rival, such as the Washington Nationals or New York Mets.
After MLB’s COVID-19-induced transaction freeze concluded, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak spoke openly about the position Realmuto is in.
“The landscape we left in March is different from the landscape now,” Klentak said. “We have to see how that manifests itself. We still love the player and want to have him for the long haul. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now. We need to factor that in.”
Is that uncertainty from the Phillies about their desire to re-sign Realmuto? Probably not. What it likely is, though, is a thought that given baseball’s difficult economic climate in 2020, maybe some potential suitors will be less inclined to bid on Realmuto than they otherwise would have.
In March, Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Realmuto’s camp was targeting an extension similar to the five-year/$130 million deal that the St. Louis Cardinals signed Paul Goldschmidt to last March. If push comes to shove, the guess here is that the Phillies would sign that deal over letting Realmuto walk. However, having Realmuto test free agency allows the Phillies to avoid bidding against themselves. If no other team is willing to offer more than, let’s say, $105 million over five seasons, then the Phillies aren’t going to give Realmuto $130 million just because.
While letting Realmuto test free agency may make some strategic sense, the catcher’s future will hang over the 2020 season. That’s especially true when you consider that Bryce Harper has been outspoken in his desire for the Phillies to re-sign his good friend. Last week, Harper said it would be “terrible and sad” if the Phillies let Realmuto leave. Wednesday, he screamed “Sign him!” after Realmuto hit an opposite-field home run in an intrasquad game. It’s all in good fun now, but there’s little doubt that Harper, under contract through 2031, would be pretty upset if Realmuto isn’t retained.
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