Whatever you think of the tenures that Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail had at the forefront of baseball operations for the Philadelphia Phillies, they did a good job of anticipating what the free-agent market for J.T. Realmuto would lead to.
Sure, a global pandemic probably affected Realmuto’s market. The Phillies may have also gotten lucky that teams like the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays elected to go in other directions with their money this winter, but that was part of the gamble that they made in letting Realmuto reach the free-agent market. While MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki reported that at one stage Realmuto was targeting more than $200 million, he didn’t get even get $150 million ultimately. Not even close, really. Five years and $115.5 million is a deal that comes with a record $23.1 million average annual value for a catcher, but it’s a far cry from what Realmuto and his agent, Jeff Berry, had hoped for at the beginning of the offseason.
However, while Klentak and MacPhail bet correctly on how Realmuto’s free-agent stint would play out, the jury is still out on how history will view the February of 2019 trade that allowed them to acquire the All-Star catcher. Re-signing Realmuto doesn’t mean that the Phillies won the trade, nor does it essentially mean things are a wash.
In his first two seasons with the Phillies, Realmuto graded out as the top catcher in the sport, making the National League All-Star team and winning a Gold Glove in 2019. And yet, despite elite production, the Phillies don’t have a playoff appearance to show in either of Realmuto’s first couple seasons in red pinstripes. They haven’t even posted a winning season with Realmuto.
That, of course, is not the fault of Realmuto. If he wasn’t on the Phillies in 2019, they probably would have been more like a 75-win team, as opposed to the one that went 81-81. Certainly, though, when the Phillies traded for Realmuto, they did so under the belief that they were ready to win right away. Why else would you trade for a catcher that’s in his late-20s? One popular theory has been that acquiring Realmuto helped seal the deal with Bryce Harper in free agency, but while he acknowledged that it probably didn’t hurt their chances, managing partner John Middleton told Phillies Nation last October that he didn’t believe that acquiring Realmuto was something that the team absolutely needed to do to get Harper to sign on the dotted line.
Realmuto is now signed through the 2025 season, but it stands to reason that as a catcher who will turn 30 in March, he’s probably at the back-half of his prime. So, if the Phillies aren’t able to compete in a meaningful way over the next two seasons, you’re left to wonder if the calculation that ended in trading away Sánchez was wise, even if Realmuto ends up being a Wall of Famer.
While he playing for the Double-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp in 2019, it was easy to overlook Sánchez, especially as Realmuto put up a monster season. In 2020, though, Sánchez looked dominant at times in his first major league action, posting a 3.46 ERA and 3.50 FIP in his first seven major league starts, including a seven-inning complete game over the Phillies in a crucial series in September. As the Phillies sat at home for a ninth consecutive October, Sánchez helped the Marlins to return to the postseason for the first time since 2003, even defeating the Chicago Cubs in the opening round of the National League playoffs.
Though he won’t be eligible for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2021, Sánchez is still technically a prospect. With that in mind, Baseball America was so impressed with his early returns at the major league level that they ranked him as the top overall pitching prospect in the sport earlier this month.
If Sánchez has a five-year stretch as one of the league’s elite arms, giving that up, especially for a franchise that doesn’t regularly churn out elite prospects, would be a tough pill to swallow. It would be that much more difficult if the Phillies don’t have significant team success while Realmuto is at the height of his powers. You’d be hard-pressed to find an executive in the sport that would take the top catcher in the sport over one of the 15 or 20 best starting pitchers.
So while it’s excellent news, at least in the short-term, that the Phillies re-signed Realmuto, don’t take a victory lap on the trade just yet.
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