J.T. Realmuto was clear toward the end of his time with the Marlins that he wasn’t interested in signing an extension with Miami, but the All-Star catcher has taken a different tone with his new organization after just a few months. As Matt Breen of Philly.com reports, Realmuto wasn’t shy during this week’s All-Star festivities about expressing his interest in signing a long-term deal with the Phillies.
“Everything I’ve experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome, so I wouldn’t be opposed to spending the rest of my career there,” Realmuto told the media. It doesn’t sound as though there’d be any particular deadline on talks, either, as Realmuto indicated he’d be open to talks “whether it be tomorrow or in the off-season or next July.”
While plenty has gone wrong for the Phillies in 2019, their acquisition of Realmuto has proven to be a terrific move. His offense is down from last year in Miami (despite a move to a more hitter-friendly park), but his .273/.328/.438 slash line translates to roughly league average for a hitter, per OPS+ and wRC+. Relative to other catchers throughout the league, that’s considerably above-average. And defensively, Realmuto has taken his already strong game to a whole new level.
Realmuto leads the Majors with an incredible 49 percent caught-stealing rate, having thrown out 26 of the 53 players who’ve been bold enough to attempt a steal. His framing marks, once again, are comfortably above the league average, and Baseball Prospectus credits Realmuto as the game’s second-best pitch-blocker (behind Cleveland’s Roberto Perez). Realmuto is tied with Perez for second among all MLB catcher with 10 Defensive Runs Saved, and Baseball Prospectus rates only San Diego’s Austin Hedges as a superior defender behind the dish.
As can be seen in MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, there haven’t been many catchers with four-plus years of service to ink long-term deals in recent seasons. Both Francisco Cervelli (three years, $31MM when he had 5+ years) and Salvador Perez (five years, $52.5MM as a 4+ player) did so in 2016, while Miguel Montero (five years, $60MM as a 5+ player) did so back in 2012. Montero’s deal is dated, though, while Cervelli wasn’t nearly as established a hitter and Perez was signing a make-good deal after initially inking an astronomically club-friendly extension as a pre-arb player. (Mammoth extensions signed by Joe Mauer and Buster Posey were outliers for prime-aged superstars coming off MVP seasons.) From an annual value standpoint, Yadier Molina is earning $20MM per year on a three-year pact that he signed when he was four years older than Realmuto would be in free agency. Yasmani Grandal secured an $18.25MM salary this past winter.
In a sense, a Realmuto extension could help to set some form of precedent for this type of player. He’s already earning $5.9MM in his second season of arbitration and could see that sum pushed to $10MM or more next year even without an extension. He’s on track to reach free agency in advance of his age-30 season, which would set him up nicely for a contract of four years in length. The Mets, as a point of comparison, were willing to pay a reported $60MM for Grandal at the same age, although that deal obviously never came together.
From a team vantage point, the Phillies could easily fit a long-term deal for Realmuto onto the books. Philadelphia opened the current season with a payroll in excess of $161MM (and has pushed $180MM in the past); the organization currently has just under $90MM on the books for Realmuto’s first would-be free agent season in 2021, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez.