At the outset of the offseason, there was some thought that if the Philadelphia Phillies determined that they didn’t believe re-signing J.T. Realmuto was likely, they could potentially pivot to another top-tier free agent, like George Springer or Trevor Bauer.
Increasingly, such a reality seems unlikely.
Never mind that both Springer and Bauer could sign before Realmuto ultimately makes his decision, Jeff Passan of ESPN wrote Monday that “the Phillies have suggested they do not have significant money to spend, according to sources — unless they re-sign Realmuto.” Passan added that “the money earmarked for him might not wind up in the pockets of other free agents” if Realmuto lands with another team.
Beyond the New York Mets being out of the running for Realmuto, it’s hard to know where the sweepstakes for the two-time All-Star catcher stand. The division-rival Washington Nationals have had “early discussions” with Realmuto’s agent, Jeff Berry, per Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic, though all indications are that may be an unlikely pairing. Potential interest from the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees may come down to who ultimately lands Springer and DJ LeMahieu.
The Phillies strategy this offseason seems to have been to let the market convince Realmuto’s camp that their asking price is simply too much. MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki reported that Realmuto’s representation “had been seeking a contract in excess of $200 million.” That could be $50 million more than what Realmuto, who will turn 30 in March, ultimately ends up signing for.
And so, in many senses we will wait, probably at least a month in 2021. Either Realmuto will receive another offer that the Phillies are unwilling to match, or his camp will eventually lower their offer and reach an agreement to return to Philadelphia.
Mum has been the word on whether the team will pursue a reunion with Didi Gregorius, who homered 10 times and drove in 40 runs for the Phillies during the pandemic-shortened season. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projected in December that Gregorius would land a three-year/$39 million deal. Based on everything we’ve learned this offseason, the Phillies re-signing Realmuto and Gregorius seems unlikely. But even if things don’t work out for Realmuto, would the Phillies see nearly $40 million as too steep of an investment for Gregorius, especially if someone like Marcus Semien may ultimately opt to sign a one-year, prove-it deal?
New president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said last week to Angelo Cataldi on SportsRadio 94 WIP that the Phillies were unlikely to spend big money on a closer this offseason, which likely rules out free-agent Liam Hendriks, among others. Dombrowski is tasked with rebuilding a historically-bad bullpen.
There’s not really a debate about how productive Realmuto was over the past two seasons for the Phillies, and that the team would be worse off in 2021 if he leaves. Still, the Phillies didn’t make the postseason – or even post a winning record – in either of the years that Realmuto spent on the team. If the Phillies believe that they are more likely to contend in 2022 or 2023 than 2021, does it make sense to commit five (or more) years to Realmuto, who will be very much on the wrong side of 30 by that time?
And so, Dombrowski faces a difficult test this offseason. There will be anger, at least in the short-term, if Realmuto doesn’t return. But there will also be anger if he returns, but the roster placed around him is worse than the one that has disappointed over the past two seasons.
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