Star Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto expressed disappointment today — not with his earnings or with the team, but with the process — after learning he had lost his arbitration case against the ballclub. Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer was among those to collect Realmuto’s thoughts.
Realmuto says he’s “fortunate” to earn a hefty $10MM salary, but said he’s “disappointed in the system more than anything.” He had sought a $12.4MM salary, with his side arguing that he ought to be compared as much to other high-quality position players as to prior catchers.
The hope, says Realmuto, was “to advance it a little bit and do something for future catchers.” Calling the system “outdated,” he criticized the fact that “there’s a separate catchers’ market.”
Realmuto ran into some of the same problems some other players have had with breaking up the strange forms of arbitration. Just as Josh Hader failed to convince a panel that he shouldn’t be undervalued just because he didn’t have a lot of saves, Realmuto struggled to pull away from the gravitational field of prior catcher salaries.
While the Phils will save some cash this year, don’t expect Realmuto to lower his sights when it comes to working out his first multi-year contract. That’s not out of bitterness — Realmuto didn’t express any disdain for the Phillies — but the same business-oriented approach that led him to take his arb case to a hearing. The arbitration process “doesn’t change anything from my outlook,” he said.
So, how likely is a deal? Realmuto says he “can’t predict the future.” He did express an ongoing interest in holding discussions with the team but wasn’t interested in handicapping the outcome. “Whether it matches up or not, that’s to be determined,” says the two-time All-Star.
The big question remains just what price Realmuto will demand — and how far the Phillies will stretch to keep him from reaching the open market. Breen joins Jon Heyman of MLB Network (video link) in suggesting that Realmuto’s camp would like to top the catcher-record $23MM annual value achieved a decade back by Joe Mauer. And Heyman says he expects Realmuto to look for a seven-year term.
It’s frankly tough to imagine the Phillies reaching to that level to lock up Realmuto with a year to go before free agency. Even on the open market, that level of annual salary and length of term seems like a reach for a player who’ll turn 30 before opening the 2021 season. Mauer’s monster deal is outdated, it’s true, but he was at the time a perennial MVP candidate and was also still just 27 years of age. If Realmuto is earn that sort of AAV over a significant term, he may need to log a big all-around season and market his services to all thirty teams next winter.