Extension talks between catcher J.T. Realmuto and the Phillies have not progressed much since the two sides held initial talks back in Spring Training, Realmuto himself said yesterday at Phillies Summer Camp (Twitter link via Todd Zolecki of MLB.com). The free-agent-to-be made clear that he’s not frustrated by the situation and voiced his fondness for the organization. Realmuto’s assessment of the situation aligns closely with recent comments from general manager Matt Klentak.
“Candidly, we’ve been kind of nose to the ground — intake screenings and getting people here — so I haven’t touched base with [Realmuto’s camp],” Klentak said as players prepared to report to Summer Camp. The GM added that the “landscape” has changed since initial talks in early March but stressed that he’d love to sign Realmuto to a long-term deal.
Of course, that’s not entirely up to Klentak and his front office. Realmuto is the top catcher on the upcoming offseason’s free-agent market and quite arguably the top overall catcher in the game. He’s been open in the past about advancing the market for future catchers and figures to come with a substantial asking price. He may not be able to approach the total guarantees in record contracts signed by Joe Mauer (eight years, $184MM) and Buster Posey (eight years, $159MM), as he’ll turn 30 before Opening Day 2021. However, a record annual value topping Mauer’s $23MM over a shorter term would line up with that goal. The Cardinals guaranteed Yadier Molina $20MM annually for his age-35 through age-37 seasons. All of that will factor into the asking price for Realmuto and his agents at CAA.
As is the case with all financial matters in baseball right now, that’s where the uncertainty lies. Phillies owner John Middleton hasn’t been shy about spending in the past — see: the infamous “stupid” money quote from 2018 — and has dished out a nine-figure contract in each of the past two offseasons (13 years, $330MM for Bryce Harper; five years, $118MM for Zack Wheeler). However, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports reported in early June that Middleton projected more than $100MM in losses in an email to employees. His willingness to continue aggressively spending despite those unprecedented and previously unforeseeable revenue losses is the key factor in the ongoing Realmuto saga.
Notably, the Phillies do have some substantial money coming off the books this winter. Jake Arrieta’s three-year, $75MM deal came with a two-year club option that won’t be exercised. David Robertson’s two-year, $23MM contract seemed like a quality value for the Phils at the time it was signed, but he underwent Tommy John surgery last summer. His $12MM option will very likely be bought out for $2MM. Didi Gregorius is playing on a one-year deal worth $14MM, and Jay Bruce will be off the books as well (though the Mariners are already covering much of Bruce’s salary).
In all, the Phillies have about $113MM on the 2020 books. Next year’s arbitration class doesn’t feature many big names aside from Rhys Hoskins and a bump for second-time-eligible Zach Eflin. Odubel Herrera’s contract will expire after the 2021 season, creating further flexibility.
All of that would be critical context under normal circumstances. To an extent, it likely still is. But it’s difficult to tell right now just what type of long-term dollars Middleton is willing to commit amid these revenue losses. That’s true of just about any owner in the league at the moment, really; since transactions resumed, we’ve yet to see Yasiel Puig land with a team and haven’t seen any dollars given out beyond the prorated $700K salary that reliever Jared Hughes agreed to in his deal with the Mets.
Realmuto said back in May that prior to the shutdown, he had gotten the sense in talks with the front office that negotiations “were about to start moving pretty quickly.” As we’re all aware, though, early March in many ways feels like a lifetime ago.