The bet that the Philadelphia Phillies seemed to make in allowing J.T. Realmuto to reach free agency was that the catcher’s asking price would come back down to earth with a trip to the open market.
Such a strategy doesn’t come without a level of risk, but the Phillies were apparently willing to take the gamble that one team wouldn’t come off the top rope and meet Realmuto’s asking price.
MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki reports that at one stage, the two-time All-Star’s camp “had been seeking a contract in excess of $200 million.” It’s unclear exactly where Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s agent, stands now, but that initial asking price feels outlandish. Zolecki acknowledges that a figure like that may have just been a jump-off point in negotiations, but when you consider that Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has projected Realmuto will ultimately land a five-year/$125 million deal, you understand why club president Andy MacPhail admitted in late October that the two sides haven’t been “able to find anything approaching common ground.”
At the same time, MacPhail expressed a cautious optimism about the team’s chances of retaining Realmuto in the same meeting with the media. In part, that may be because MacPhail said there is a belief that Realmuto did legitimately enjoy his two seasons in Philadelphia. On top of that, though, the Phillies likely believed that if they balked at his asking price, other teams would as well.
Perhaps the New York Mets were always going to focus on George Springer and/or Trevor Bauer this offseason, but the fact that they didn’t wait for Realmuto’s market to play out and instead signed James McCann to a four-year/$40 million deal suggests that they maybe thought Realmuto’s team was too ambitious in what they were seeking. Now, the team that many believed was the favorite to sign Realmuto at the beginning of the offseason is off the board.
The Toronto Blue Jays could be a factor for Realmuto, though they may be more inclined to make a push for DJ LeMahieu. If the New York Yankees lose LeMahieu, they could pivot to Realmuto, but tendering a contract to Gary Sanchez makes you think Brian Cashman plans to run things back in 2021 with him and Kyle Higashioka. On paper, the Houston Astros are a fit, but they don’t seem to be trending in the direction of pushing all the chips to the center of the table for a catcher that will be 30 before the 2021 season begins. And as much as many think the Nationals would be a very good fit for Realmuto, Ken Rosenthal said on MLB Network earlier this month that the team may be more likely to diversify their investments this winter, rather than go all-in on one piece.
At some point this winter, there may need to be a reset from Realmuto’s camp. $200 million seems out of the question, and even $175 million probably is too. The tough pill to swallow is that given his position, Realmuto may not land more than five guaranteed seasons this winter. He’s dealt with injuries in each of his two seasons with the team, and there’s a very real possibly that by years four and five of a new contract, he won’t be able to handle the same workload behind the plate that he has to this point.
In his introductory press meeting last Friday, new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was complimentary of Realmuto, without giving much away in terms of how his front office will proceed with the fan favorite.
“Everybody in the organization loves J.T. [Realmuto],” Dombrowski said. “That’s anybody I talked to. I think there is a unanimous feeling they’d like to bring him back.
“There’s flexibility to do things, but I think we’ll look at each and every move in an intelligent fashion and if something makes sense, we’ll react to them. But I don’t by any means come in here and think we have an unlimited amount to spend.”
Not only will Dombrowski’s front office be tasked with trying to get Realmuto to meet them at a much lower figure this offseason, but also figuring out whether he still fits the organization’s timeline. Realmuto makes the most sense for a team that’s ready to compete for a World Series right now, but the Phillies seem to be signaling that while they aren’t rebuilding, they don’t believe 2021 is part of their championship window.
If the Phillies feel internally that they aren’t going to be ready to compete for a division title and beyond until 2022 or 2023, would it make more sense to let Realmuto walk and target one of the superstar shortstops that could become available next offseason? Idealistically, you’d like to believe both could be done. But will it play out in reality that the Phillies re-sign Realmuto this offseason and give Francisco Lindor, for example, $200+ million next offseason? Probably not.
Realmuto’s market figures to unfold throughout the first couple months of 2021, if not longer. During that time, the Phillies will get a feel for how they should proceed.
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