2020 Offseason

How many years will J.T. Realmuto get? Predictions are all over the place

MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki has reported that free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto could target a deal “in the $200 million range.” There don’t seem to be too many people that believe he’ll ultimately land such a deal, but estimates for how many years the two-time All-Star will sign for are all over the place.

J.T. Realmuto won a Gold Glove Award in 2019. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

First things first, Realmuto will have to decline the one-year/$18.9 million qualifying offer that the Phillies extended to him last Sunday. It would be shocking – even by the standards of 2020 – if Realmuto accepted the qualifying offer. He had 10 days from Sunday to make a decision with his agent, Jeff Berry.

Assuming Realmuto declines the qualifying offer, he’ll seek one of the biggest deals for a catcher in free agency. Phillies president Andy MacPhail said last Friday that the Phillies “weren’t able to find anything approaching common ground” in past extension discussions, but also expressed cautious optimism when Phillies Nation asked him about the team’s chances to re-sign Realmuto. That leads you to believe that the Phillies believe Realmuto’s camp is being unrealistic in the type of deal that are seeking, something the market may correct.

If Realmuto’s team really is hoping to approach $200 million with the deal they sign, they may be disappointed this winter. While there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on how many years Realmuto will ultimately sign for, there isn’t anyone signing up to say that they think he’ll get anywhere near that in total value:

Jon Heyman, RADIO.COMSix Years/$132 Million
Tim Dierkes, MLB Trade RumorsFive Years/$125 Million
Craig Edwards, FanGraphsSix Years/$140 Million
Jim Bowden, The AthleticSix Years/$134 Million
Ken Davidoff, The New York PostFour Years/$100 Million

We don’t have a clear indication of how many years Realmuto’s team will open the offseason seeking, nor do we know what they’ll ultimately be willing to settle for. Perhaps they don’t either. If Realmuto’s camp truly seeks a deal with a total value near $200 million, one would think they would be looking for seven or eight years. That seems like an unreasonable asking price for a catcher that will turn 30 next March. However, Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in June that Realmuto’s team could use the five-year/$130 million deal Paul Goldschmidt signed before the 2019 season as a comp. Could Realmuto approach or even top that deal? Maybe.

From the Phillies perspective, it’s unknown what framework they have put in front of Realmuto’s camp in past – admittedly unfruitful – discussions. If Dierkes’ five-year/$125 million projected deal had been put in front of the Phillies a year ago, they probably would have jumped at it. Now, there’s been a pandemic-shortened season, with uncertainty about how many games will be played in 2021 and what level of fans will be able to attend games at Citizens Bank Park.

MacPhail and managing partner John Middleton have expressed a desire to retain Realmuto, but last month, Middleton also admitted that the organization doesn’t know how much they’ll be able to spend this winter.

“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 said.

Realmuto’s free-agent market is one of the hardest to predict in recent memory. We’re pretty comfortable opining here that he’ll get at least five years. Six guaranteed years is possible, because it only takes one team coming in off the top rope. Whether the Phillies would be willing to go to six years – and whether it would be smart to do so for a catcher – are reasonable things to think consider.

Bryce Harper has been vocal about hoping the Phillies re-sign J.T. Realmuto. (Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Beyond saying they are in uncertain financial times, the Phillies have little organizational stability.

General manager Matt Klentak stepped down in October, and the plan was to re-assign him to another role in the organization. President Andy MacPhail acknowledged last week that he plans to leave his post after the 2020 season, if not sooner. Ned Rice is the interim general manager, and while it’s probably unlikely he ever gets the position on a full-time basis, he may be in the role for part or all of the 2021 season. Senior advisor Pat Gillick and special assistant Terry Ryan have opinions valued within the organization. Considering there was never a question of whether he would be retained, manager Joe Girardi’s opinion may be of some value on important long-term organization decisions, like how to proceed with Realmuto. And, of course, Middleton has the final say.

Middleton admitted last month that he didn’t believe the Phillies should trade former No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sánchez to the division-rival Miami Marlins to acquire Realmuto if an extension wasn’t signed upon completion of the deal. Ultimately, Middleton said the baseball operations department believed they could get a long-term deal done before Realmuto reached free agency, and Middleton deferred to them. Would Rice and MacPhail feel extra pressure to meet Realmuto’s asking price because of that history? Maybe, but it’s fair to wonder how much influence either should have over such a long-term decision when it’s possible – if not likely – that neither will be in their current roles a year from now.

Another factor worth considering here is that the division-rival New York Mets and Washington Nationals could swoop in and sign Realmuto if the Phillies don’t meet his asking price. There will be hell to pay from the Phillies fanbase – and maybe Bryce Harper – if Realmuto leaves. The optics of him leaving to sign with a division-rival would be disastrous in the short-term. That doesn’t mean you should commit to a sixth or seventh year on a catcher, especially if you’re going to have a new front office structure a year from now. It’s hard to imagine, though, that there isn’t an extra sense of pressure in the organization to re-sign Realmuto if there’s a chance that he could help prevent the Phillies from making the playoffs for the next half decade.

As we look to reach a consensus on how long Realmuto will sign for, and what average annual value he’ll receive, perhaps it’s best that we wait for the mail-in projections to come in. Right now, it’s difficult to sift through the 2020-21 offseason mirage.


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