Neither the Phillies nor J.T. Realmuto had been quiet about the fact that the two sides were exploring an extension prior to the league’s shutdown in mid-March. However, the roster freeze that was implemented back in March also prohibits teams from negotiating long-term contracts with their players, so talks between the two sides were halted. In a new interview with The Athletic’s Matt Gelb (subscription required), Realmuto indicates that the Phils had yet to present a formal offer, but he also speaks optimistically that a deal indeed could have come together.
“There was definitely a feeling that things were about to start moving pretty quickly,” Realmuto tells Gelb in a wide-ranging interview that discusses his mindset during the pandemic shutdown, the upcoming free-agent landscape and the league’s attempt to reboot the 2020 season. (Phillies fans, in particular, will want to read it in its entirety.)
The Phillies sent three players — catcher Jorge Alfaro, top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, young lefty Will Stewart — and international bonus allotments to the Marlins last winter in order to acquire Reamluto’s final two pre-arbitration seasons. However, it has long seemed that the goal all along was to entice Realmuto to sign a long-term deal in Philly, adding him to a core group including Aaron Nola, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery. General manager Matt Klentak has gushed about Realmuto’s importance to the club and had no qualms about labeling him the game’s best backstop — an opinion with which many onlookers would agree. It’s understandable that there’d be strong interest in locking the 29-year-old up for the long term.
Whenever the transaction freeze is lifted, the two sides will be able to resume negotiations. The Phils surely still have interest in retaining Realmuto long-term, but mutual interest between the two parties may be the only constant that carries over from previous talks. With a surefire loss of revenue on the horizon, there’s no guarantee that owner John Middleton will be willing to put forth the same number he might have under normal circumstances — or whether he’ll be willing to put forth an offer at all.
There’s also no telling how the looming uncertainty will impact Realmuto’s asking price and desire for stability. The catcher says to Gelb that the “top tier” of free agents “always seem to find a way” to get paid. However, the forthcoming offseason has the potential to be even chillier for free agents than the tepid 2017-18 and 2018-19 offseasons that led to allegations of collusion and set the stage for what should be an extraordinarily contentious wave of collective bargaining. (The current clash over player compensation in a shortened season only figures to exacerbate that tension.)
Given that owners are already seeking additional concessions from players who’d previously agreed to prorated salaries, it’s hard to envision many teams handing out lucrative multi-year extensions when the freeze is lifted — at least extensions that are deemed reasonable on the player side. Deferred money and backloaded structures might curb some concerns from the team perspective, but the wide-ranging economic uncertainty will complicate extension negotiations in an unprecedented manner.