As he boarded a flight home for Las Vegas, Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper was sure to leave one last reminder of what he believes needs to be done this offseason on his Instagram story, as he donned a cream J.T. Realmuto jersey, with the caption “Reppin’ All Winter.”
Phillies managing partner John Middleton agreed Saturday that retaining the two-time All-Star catcher Realmuto is “a priority,” but didn’t sound certain it will prove to be what happens.
“We kind of figured he’s going to be heading to free agency,” Middleton said. “We’ve figured that a long time ago. I see no change in that, generally.”
“I can’t tell you. Can you tell me what the governor [of Pennsylvania] and the mayor of Philadelphia are going to allow us to have next year in the way of fans? Because if you do, you know something that I don’t,” Middleton continued.
“I have no idea what we’re going to be allowed,” Middleton said in reference to how many fans Citizens Bank Park could hold next season — if any. “Obviously, that’s going to determine revenues and revenues determine what you can and can’t do.”
In that answer, Middleton doesn’t suggest that the Phillies won’t attempt to keep Realmuto, but there does appear to be some sense of bracing the fanbase for the possibility that he goes elsewhere in free agency. Now-former general manager Matt Klentak struck a similar tone in late September.
So what happens if the Phillies do make an offer to retain Realmuto, but ultimately they get the sense another team is willing to outbid them? It’s possible that as Middleton suggests that finances are tighter than normal, the Phillies don’t immediately sign another star to make up for the loss of Realmuto and sit on the money not spent on Realmuto until a more certain economic climate. Admittedly, that strategy on top of letting Realmuto leave wouldn’t be advised by public relations professionals.
However, RADIO.COM MLB Insider Jon Heyman has now suggested on multiple occasions that another route could be in store:
“They have money…they make money…they have a great TV deal…John Middleton, their owner, is willing to spend. They’ve brought in – in addition to [Bryce] Harper – [Jake] Arrieta and [Zack] Wheeler in the last three years, so they will spend,” Heyman said on the latest edition of Big Time Baseball.
“I would not be shocked if they are right in the middle of it for Trevor Bauer. There are gonna be a lot of teams in on Trevor Bauer, though, especially with him going out there and saying he’s willing to do a one-year deal. Now that push comes to shove and he could be the Cy Young winner…certainly a leading candidate for that award and he pitched great in the postseason against the Braves. But I think if they are unable to sign Realmuto…and I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave it another shot with Realmuto…but I have heard of some pessimism there…I think they’ll look towards Bauer and they’ll look towards James McCann, who is a catcher with the White Sox.”
Seemingly, making another effort with Realmuto, as Ned Rice now leads the front office on an interim basis, will be the first priority for the Phillies. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia did note at the outset of the offseason that while Realmuto could be drawn elsewhere, his preference is still to remain in Philadelphia. However, Heyman reported shortly after Salisbury’s report that there is “pessimism” about the organization’s chances to reach a long-term pact with Realmuto, adding that he’s been told that the two sides are “far apart.”
Bauer is probably the most polarizing personality in baseball right now, so some would question his fit in a market like Philadelphia. That said, it’s hard to question his fit from a baseball sense. Since the start of the 2018 season, FanGraphs says that Bauer has been the sixth-most valuable starting pitcher in baseball. If he pitched at that level in a starting rotation that also includes Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, the Phillies would have one of baseball’s deepest rotations, especially if there’s continued growth from Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard.
Perhaps the most appealing part of Bauer as a free agent is that he’s in the past suggested that he only wants to sign his contracts one-year at a time. He told Jeff Passan in 2018 that he bet one of his friends that if he ever signed a deal in excess of one year, he could shoot him with a paintball gun in the groin.
Now, for the chance to secure a five or six-year deal that guarantees him over $100 million, Bauer might be willing to take said shot. Most would be. However, he’s a unique enough character that it isn’t hard to imagine him signing a one-year/$25 million deal – or thereabouts – this offseason. Whether that would be with the Phillies or another team is unclear.
Bauer, though, would be in place of Realmuto, not in addition to him. So what would the Phillies do at catcher? They have Andrew Knapp and Rafael Marchan internally, but Heyman suggests signing Chicago White Sox catcher James McCann, who is set to become a free agent this offseason. He’s not Realmuto – no one is. However, the 30-year-old slashed .289/.360/.536 with seven home runs, 15 RBIs and five defensive runs saved in 2020.
Could you make a case that spreading resources to Bauer and McCann, as opposed to Realmuto, could actually make the Phillies a deeper team? Maybe. Heyman also suggested that if Realmuto leaves, the Phillies could invest in an everyday center fielder, the weakest spot in their lineup currently.
Of course, making a case to the fanbase (and Harper) of why Realmuto wasn’t re-signed – especially when you traded Sixto Sánchez to a division-rival to acquire him – may be an insurmountably tall task.
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