The Phillies have been “quietly trying to” negotiate a contract extension with star catcher J.T. Realmuto and his representatives, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury reports. It isn’t known how far along in the process the two sides are, though Salisbury cautions that a deal might not be completed until later in the offseason for a variety of reasons.
It isn’t any secret that the Phils are hoping to keep Realmuto over the long term, as GM Matt Klentak stated that sitting down with Realmuto about a new contract was “one of our offseason goals.” Realmuto is only under team control through 2020, and is slated to be one of the most sought-after members of next winter’s free agent class unless the Phillies can lock him up in the interim.
Realmuto is projected to earn $10.3MM in his final year of arbitration eligibility, a more-than-reasonable sum for the sport’s best all-around catcher. That one remaining arb year, however, could also factor into extension talks, as Salisbury suggests that the Phillies might prefer to work out Realmuto’s 2020 salary first rather than fold 2020 into a multi-year arrangement. The average annual value of any contract is counted as a player’s luxury tax number, and thus the Phillies would surely want to keep Realmuto in the $10.3MM range for 2020 in order to give them more potential room to spend this season without crossing the $208MM luxury tax threshold. A Realmuto extension (and subsequent higher AAV) therefore wouldn’t kick in until 2021 — Salisbury observes that Jake Arrieta and David Robertson will both be off the Phillies’ books at that point, allowing for more spending flexibility.
This isn’t to say that the tax threshold is necessarily a major concern for Philadelphia at the moment. Owner John Middleton has suggested in the past that the Phils would be willing to pay the luxury tax if it meant adding the final pieces to a World Series contender, but not for “a little gain,” or “a better chance to be the second wild-card team.” As presently constructed, the Phillies have a lot of work to do in order to approach title contention, so while Klentak and company certainly seem poised to be aggressive in the wake of a disappointing 2019 season, it seems like the club will stop short of exceeding the $208MM figure this winter.
Roster Resource projects the Phillies’ luxury tax number at slightly beyond $186.34MM, and that figure could certainly drop based on some rumored moves — potential non-tenders or trades of Maikel Franco ($6.7MM in arbitration) or Cesar Hernandez ($11.8MM), for instance. That leaves the team with plenty of space to acquire multiple players, perhaps the starting pitching upgrades that seem to be a clear need.
The majority of contract extensions aren’t settled until Spring Training or even slightly beyond Opening Day, as teams generally prefer to get their offseason business completed before turning to in-house matters. Though there is something of a ticking clock on Realmuto given that he is only a Phillie for one more season, the All-Star catcher has himself expressed interest in remaining with the team, so both sides would seem to have mutual interest in completing a new deal.