There is currently some measure of concern and consternation among Phillies fans due to the contract situation involving catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Almost one year ago, the Phillies dealt away catcher Jorge Alfaro, top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, and another young pitching prospect, Will Stewart, to the Miami Marlins in order to obtain Realmuto.
It was a steep price to pay, but it put the best catcher in baseball into a Phillies uniform. Realmuto delivered a 2019 All-Star campaign in which he won both Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.
The Phillies inherited Realmuto’s contract situation, which called for him to become a free agent following the upcoming 2020 season. After paying the price they did, it was incumbent on general manager Matt Klentak to get a contract extension done with Realmuto, one that would keep him with the team for years to come.
So far, that extension has not come to pass. The Phillies and Realmuto’s representatives instead exchanged salary figures for a one-year deal to be determined by the arbitration process in February.
Of course, the two sides could let that process play out, put a 2020 contract into place, and then still agree later on a long-term deal. They could also reach such a deal before the arbitration hearing ever takes place.
But one thing is certain. The Phillies must get a deal done with Realmuto. Two years, even two excellent years, will not be enough when considering that price paid. I have to believe a long-term deal will be in place well before the 2020 regular season opens.
Realmuto’s is not the only arbitration case looming for the Phillies, and it is not the only important one. The club also has a hearing scheduled with erstwhile closer Hector Neris.
While most Phillies fans would rightly not consider Neris at the same level of importance as Realmuto, the fact remains that the reliever is also a key piece to the club’s success moving forward.
Neris will turn 31 years of age in June. He has been a member of the Phillies bullpen for six seasons, and has been a key part of their relief mix for the last five of those years.
In 2019, Neris put up excellent overall numbers. Over 68 games he allowed just 45 hits in 67.2 innings pitched with an 89/24 K:BB ratio. The big right-hander had a 2.93 ERA, 1.020 WHIP, and recorded 28 saves.
During the course of his career with the Phillies, Neris has allowed 256 hits over 311.2 innings across 307 appearances with395 strikeouts and 67 saves. He has career 3.29 ERA and 1.161 WHIP marks with an 11.4/3.1 K/BB ratio per nine innings.
Phillies fans frequently have become frustrated with Neris over his occasional blowups, and those do exist. While 53 of Neris’ 68 appearances (78%) in the 2019 season resulted in scoreless outings, he also had three appearances in which he allowed three runs and another three in which he allowed a pair of runs to score.
The season prior, Neris had opened the year as the Phillies closer. While he had nine saves by the middle of May, Neris had also blown a number of opportunities as well. A pair of horrendous outings in June left him with a 6.90 ERA as that month ended, and resulted in a demotion to the minor leagues.
Neris regained his confidence that summer at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, striking out 31 over 19 appearances while allowing just nine hits across 18.2 innings.
When called back to the Phillies in mid-August, Neris was so dominant that he was named the National League Reliever of the Month after just a half-month of work. He allowed no runs and just three hits over nine innings with a 20/2 K:BB.
From the time of his recall on August 15 through the end of the 2018 regular season, Neris allowed 11 hits over 17.2 innings with a 2.04 ERA, a .172 batting average against, and a dominating 35/5 K:BB ratio.
The fact is that Neris is an extremely valuable, experienced relief pitcher in a bullpen that is desperate for just that type of arm.
Neris filed for a $5.2 million salary in 2020 after being paid $1.8 million a year ago. The team filed a figure of $4.25 million. No matter what happens, he will get a healthy raise this year, one that will set him and his family up for life.
With one more year of arbitration eligibility to go, the Phillies don’t have to make a long-term agreement with Neris at this time. But if the two sides can find something reasonable for a three-year deal, something that covers his age 31-33 seasons, that would be more ideal.
One thing is clear, especially when you consider the health and performance problems that the Phillies have experienced with the rest of their bullpen arms over the last couple of years. It is a near certainty that Neris will be a key pitcher over at least the next two summers as the Phillies try to put together a playoff team.
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