The closer that J.T. Realmuto gets to free agency, the more you begin to wonder if the two-time All-Star catcher has played his final game with the Philadelphia Phillies.
While Bryce Harper began the offseason yesterday by declaring that the Phillies need to re-sign Realmuto, it doesn’t appear that the organization’s brass thinks it’s as simple.
RADIO.COM MLB Insider Jon Heyman said on the latest edition of “Big Time Baseball” that the Phillies are beginning to sense that Realmuto could end up elsewhere this offseason.
“You’re hearing some pessimism from Phillie people, about Realmuto and the ability to re-sign him. And I understand they gave up Sixto Sánchez and Jorge Alfaro…they gave up a lot to get him for two years. They’ve made some efforts…I don’t know that anything that recent…but they’ve made some tries and my understanding is the sides are far apart. He’s clearly going to be a free agent at this point and have the opportunity to look around. And he’s a unique player…under 30. He’s certainly using the comp of [Joe] Mauer for an eight-year deal. And some people don’t think they want to give a catcher a long deal. I think a lot of people are going to say ‘catcher, that’s a tough position, we only want to give five years.’ But there’s gonna be somebody out there that gives him more than five years.”
Realmuto will turn 30 next March. He’s pretty universally viewed as the best catcher in the sport currently, and his athletic body type should help him to age better than some other catchers. Still, though, catching takes a toll on your body. Realmuto has dealt with lower-body injuries in each of his two seasons in Philadelphia. It’s one thing to attempt to reset the catcher’s market, but it’s pretty shocking, if true, to hear that he could be looking for a deal as long as eight years.
Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported Sunday that Realmuto is using the eight-year/$184 million deal that Joe Mauer signed with the Minnesota Twins in March of 2011 as a comp to a degree, though he suggested it was more in terms of average annual value. Mauer signed his deal before his age-28 season. Realmuto just completed his age-29 season.
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. Such a deal would allow Realmuto to top Mauer in terms of average annual value by $3 million per season, but wouldn’t force whoever winds up signing him to employ him through his age-37 season.
It’s hard to think that by his mid-30s Realmuto won’t need to play another position elsewhere at least on a part-time basis. While he’s athletic enough to be serviceable at another position, his offensive production wouldn’t stand out nearly as much if he was playing first base or DHing.
If Realmuto is truly targeting an eight-year deal, the Phillies may be forced to walk away. Even if he ultimately ends up signing for five or six years, it’s fair to wonder how well such a pact will age. But if the Phillies had reservations about paying Realmuto into his 30s, perhaps they never should have traded for him in the first place. Heck, given how well Sixto Sánchez looked in his rookie season, it’s fair to wonder whether the Phillies won’t live to regret the trade, even if they do retain Realmuto.
Heyman went on to say that while you can’t rule out the Phillies chances of re-signing Realmuto in free agency, they could pivot to another key free agent.
“It’s a wild card, but at this point, I think they may turn their attention elsewhere if their pessimistic feelings come true and they may look instead and spend that money on Trevor Bauer. You can’t rule it out, but once a player becomes a free agent, who is a star like this, it wouldn’t be shocking if he went elsewhere and played for somebody else.”
Though he’s perhaps the most polarizing person in baseball currently, there’s little denying how effective Bauer is as a pitcher. After Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, the Phillies have little certainty in their rotation in 2021 or beyond. Adding Bauer, who FanGraphs says has been the sixth most valuable pitcher in baseball since the start of the 2018 season, would give them one of baseball’s best rotations on paper. That said, not re-signing Realmuto would create a hole in the lineup and behind the plate, so it’s unclear how much better (if at all) you would be as a team.
The Phillies also have to make decisions this offseason on Didi Gregorius, Jay Bruce and Phil Gosselin, among other impending free agents, plus they need to rebuild a historically bad bullpen. A lengthy task list makes it extremely important for managing partner John Middleton and company to come to a quick decision on whether or not Matt Klentak will return for a sixth season as general manager.
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