The Phillies aren’t actively engaged in extension talks with star catcher J.T. Realmuto, but he hasn’t foreclosed the possibility of a longer-term relationship. Team owner John Middleton echoed that sentiment in a recent interview with Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Generally, Middleton continued to express great admiration for Realmuto and optimism about contract talks. The strong underlying relationship provides “a great basis to begin a negotiation,” says Middleton, who also said he has no issues with Bryce Harper’s less-than-subtle campaign for a Realmuto deal.
That said, there were strong undercurrents of baseball’s new realities in Middleton’s comments. For one thing, the just-cited quote rather clearly implies that the team believes that negotiations will need to start fresh in the new COVID-19 world we all live in.
Then, there’s the double-edged sword of the sizable new deal between the Dodgers and superstar Mookie Betts. Middleton lauded the “ingenious deal” for its “creativity” and suggested it could indeed be utilized in the Phillies’ case. “There’s no reason why not,” he said.
But the Phils owner also made clear that the Betts contract was in “reality … much less” than its advertised $365MM price. Betts and the Dodgers agreed upon a heavily deferred contract structure to smooth over the coronavirus-driven economic turmoil.
Middleton’s top baseball ops employee, GM Matt Klentak, recently referred to that wide-ranging uncertainty in discussing the team’s interest in a Realmuto deal. And the team owner used precisely the same terminology, explaining that the Betts deal “reflects the reality of the economic uncertainty that we find ourselves in today.”
The overarching message here seems to be that the Phillies see a pathway to a deal, but that it assuredly won’t be the one the Realmuto camp has long proposed. “I don’t feel pressure to make a deal one way or another,” Middleton noted. “I think you have to make a good deal.”
It’ll be interesting to see whether there’s any realistic attempt to forge an agreement before the 2020 season wraps up. No doubt both sides will want to know first whether the campaign is even going to make it through to the postseason, as that’ll be a key revenue generator and major factor in projecting near-future earnings. Though both team and player clearly maintain interest in an ongoing relationship, striking a deal may well require an open-market test.