The importance of J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension

Whether or not Major League Baseball is ever able to actually play out the 2020 season, Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto is now in the final year of his current contract.

Realmuto is seeking a record deal for the catching position, with a salary ask likely in the neighborhood of $25-30 million dollars annually over a four-to-five years length. That’s a total value of between $100-150 million.

The current record annual salary for a catcher is the $23 million made by Twins star receiver Joe Mauer. The homegrown Minnesota icon earned that for each of his final eight seasons from 2011-18, though he only caught in one game after 2013.

Realmuto, who turned 29-years-old just over two weeks ago, is making $10.5 million dollars this year after losing in his arbitration hearing last month. Matt Breen at The Inquirer quoted him as not being happy with the entire process:

Obviously, I’m not disappointed about making $10 million. Like I said before, I’m fortunate to be in the position that I’m in. That part I’m not disappointed with. It’s just the system and how catchers are treated…I wanted to advance it a little bit and do something for future catchers, and that didn’t work out for us. In that aspect, I’m disappointed…

Realmuto is coming off an outstanding season in his first year wearing Phillies pinstripes, producing 25 home runs, 83 RBIs, and a .275 batting average. Those numbers placed him among the top three catchers in all of baseball in those key offensive statistics.

Lines of communication with the club were supposedly open prior to the recent MLB shutdown due to the coronavirus. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has been talking to Realmuto’s representatives for the last few months on possibly getting that new deal done, one that would keep him with the Phillies for the rest of his productive career. But no luck thus far.

Now, with the pandemic health crisis, MLB has halted all transactions for the sport as part of an agreement reached last Friday with the MLBPA. This all puts a further snag into any attempts to get a deal done before Realmuto reaches free agency. With the game on pause it allows us time to examine just why it is so vitally important for the Phillies to get this deal done.

Prior to spring training a year ago, Klentak shipped top Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, the club’s starting catcher Jorge Alfaro, and minor league pitcher Will Stewart to the Miami Marlins for Realmuto, who had two years left on his deal at the time.

Alfaro has the potential to be a top catcher in the game if he continues to improving upon his numbers and overall performance in Miami last season. With the Marlins in 2019 he was a defensive standout, playing Gold Glove-caliber defense while clubbing 18 home runs with a .262 batting average. Nearly three years younger, Alfaro may very well ultimately develop into a better player than Realmuto over the next few seasons as the two continue to age.

The other key piece to the deal, at least from Miami’s perspective the single most important piece, is Sanchez.  The 21-year-old right-hander has the potential to become the Miami staff ace for many years. He could break into their rotation as soon as the coming summer. However, Sanchez has experienced some arm trouble during his young career, which may have made it a little easier for the Phillies to move him.

During his first season at the Double-A level in the Miami system, Sanchez went 8-4 with a 2.76 ERA over 18 starts. Sanchez may start the season back in Double-A with a likely quick promotion to Triple-A at some point as he pushes closer to his big-league debut.

There is every possibility that, should they remain healthy and continue to develop towards their full potential, Sanchez and Alfaro could come back to haunt the Phillies for years in NL East play. That will be even more so if the Phillies front office fails to get a long-term deal done with Realmuto.

If the Phillies do not sign Realmuto and he winds up with another team via free agency this upcoming off-season, the front office will have rushed their rebuilding process and may have set the team back for many years to come. Not only that, their fans will be severely upset. In fact, most already are upset that no deal has already been completed.

With the trade, the Phillies weakened their farm system in order to more quickly improve their big-league club roster. If they are successful in luring Realmuto back long-term, giving up those assets is much more likely to have been worth it.

Realmuto is also big in the clubhouse. One teammate in particular has been vocal about bringing him back. That player is Bryce Harper. “I want him here. We need him here. He’s the best catcher in baseball. Everybody knows it,” the Phillies big-ticket right fielder told Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Harper himself signed a long-term deal with the Phillies. He is a big fan of Realmuto and wants the catcher to get an extension done in order to help the Phillies become a legitimate contender and ultimately to win a championship.

Failing to keep Realmuto long-term would appear as if the Phillies had not kept a key promise made to Harper by principle owner John Middleton during negotiations last off-season. That promise was to do everything possible to surround Harper with the pieces necessary to become a consistent winner. That could cause some negative issues to develop between Harper and the team, and it’s hard to believe that Middleton would allow that to happen.

Middleton and the ownership group spent lavishly over the last few off-season’s in a push to improve the club with players such as Harper, Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, Didi Gregorius, and Zack Wheeler.

Bringing back Realmuto, for whom they payed a premium price to play the all-important catching position, a position at which he gives the Phillies elite performance, is key now. A five-year, $135 million offer should get it done. So, let’s get it done.