Phillies Nation

2020 Offseason

Andy MacPhail gives interesting answer on J.T. Realmuto’s future


Philadelphia Phillies president Andy MacPhail kicked off his season-end press conference by answering a couple questions from Phillies Nation in regards to the future of All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Will J.T. Realmuto return to the Phillies in 2021? (Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The answers didn’t do much in the way of making clear how the team feels about their chances to ultimately re-sign Realmuto.

Last month, managing partner John Middleton said that he wasn’t in favor of the February 2019 trade that sent former No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sánchez to the Miami Marlins as part of a package for Realmuto if the deal didn’t include a contract extension for the catcher. Ultimately, though, the deal got completed, with Middleton saying “the baseball people thought they could get the extension.”

Friday, MacPhail recalled his thought process at the time of the deal.

“I think what you have to go back and remember is we really weren’t given the opportunity to enter into a negotiation about his contract prior to the trade,” MacPhail said. “That is a practice that I don’t think has gone on in this sport for almost a decade. When was the last time that there was an extension prior to a trade? Teams just don’t do that anymore. Either you want to make the trade or you don’t. So as a practical matter, you had to determine whether you were going to do it or not do it.

“Look, as it relates to J.T., we tried to sign him in 2019…we tried to sign him in 2020…we tried to engage him in a conversation after the [Mookie] Betts extension [in July of 2020]. We just weren’t able to find anything approaching common ground.”

That quote leaves you with the feeling that the Phillies aren’t especially optimistic about their chances to retain Realmuto this offseason, something RADIO.COM‘s Jon Heyman has previously reported.

However, when pushed about whether the Phillies feel good about their chances to re-sign Realmuto on the free-agent market, MacPhail sounded cautiously optimistic.

“Yeah, because there are two things that we’ve got going for us. The first is that I think he enjoyed his time here and obviously, we want him back. So I think those two things give you some measure of hope. In any offseason, there are just an amazing amount of variables, you can just multiply that exponentially this offseason. But yeah, as long as the player enjoyed his time here and the team has a legitimate interest in bringing him back, there’s that possibility.”

So how do you square the idea that the Phillies are admitting that they don’t believe they’ve had traction with Realmuto’s team in any contract talks, but also that they seem to believe that there’s a very real chance that he returns to the team in 2021? Perhaps the Phillies believe that Realmuto’s agent, Jeff Barry, isn’t being realistic in his contract requests, and a trip into free agency will make them realize that.

Following the conclusion of the 2020 season, both Jon Heyman of RADIO.COM Sports and Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that Realmuto’s camp planned to used Joe Mauer’s eight-year/$184 million deal as a comp this winter.

However, it’s not exactly clear in what sense that would be the case. Salisbury wrote that Realmuto and agent Jeff Barry are targeting a deal “way beyond the $23 million” that Mauer collected annually as part of his deal. That’s to be expected. Heyman agreed with that part but also added that Realmuto could open free agency looking to match Mauer’s deal in terms of years as well.

Realmuto is the best catcher in the sport currently, but he’ll turn 30 before the 2021 season begins. In an uncertain economic climate is there going to be a team that wants to give a catcher seven or eight seasons? The guess here is no.

Craig Edwards of FanGraphs released his free-agent predictions Friday, and while he ranked Realmuto the top overall player available on the market, he projected him to land a six-year/$140 million deal. That would allow Realmuto to get slightly more than Mauer did in terms of average annual value, but it’s a far cry from eight years. It’s also nowhere near $200 million, a total value that MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki has reported Realmuto could look to approach.

It, of course, would only take one mega offer for another team to lure Realmuto, arguably the most complete player on the team, away from the Phillies. And while playing in New York might not be his first choice, there’s some thought that new Mets’ owner Steve Cohen could be motivated to spend big off the bat this offseason. As Bryce Harper said on the final day of the season, the scariest part about potentially losing Realmuto isn’t just that he wouldn’t be in your lineup anymore, but that he may end up suiting up for a division-rival.

And if this winter wasn’t already setting up to be miserable enough, MacPhail suggested – and we agree with his suggestion – that the free-agent market could move at a similar pace to what it did two offseasons ago. The Phillies went on a spending spree prior to the 2019 season, but didn’t sign Bryce Harper until the final day of February. Monitoring the ebbs and flows of Harper and Manny Machado’s free-agent markets drove some fans – and all writers – pretty insane.

And so the race is on – will Realmuto sign his contract before there’s a vaccine for COVID-19?

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