More than 2½ months have passed since Bryce Harper threw down the gauntlet and said, “J.T. Realmuto needs to be our catcher next year … Anybody that's the best at their position — hitting and fielding — needs to be signed and that is J.T. Realmuto. I don't think that should even be a question.”
The Realmuto situation is one of the most critical — and potentially thorny — that Dave Dombrowski has inherited as new Phillies president of baseball operations. The team has a glaring hole at catcher and Realmuto is immensely popular with fans — and the $330 million man who plays right field.
Scott Boras, Harper's agent, will conduct his annual December state of the game (and his clients) news conference via Zoom on Tuesday afternoon.
Boras probably won't comment in depth about Harper's current feelings on the Realmuto situation because it involves another agent's player. But he really doesn't have to. From his actions during the summer, to his comments after the Phillies’ last game of the season, Harper has made it clear he won’t be happy if Realmuto is not back with the Phillies in 2021.
Manager Joe Girardi was asked Monday if that was something he worried about. After all, Harper is one of the highest-profile players in the game and his mindset — good or bad — can influence a clubhouse.
“I think you always worry about how players are going to handle things when things maybe don't go exactly the way they want or they think they should go, or the way it is,” Girardi said. “But, obviously, I'll sit down and have discussions about him with him, and I'm sure Dave will probably have discussions with Bryce about, 'Look, we want to win just as bad as you do. Trust us. And we're going to do everything we can to bring a championship to Philadelphia. Sometimes things don't go exactly the way you want, but you've got to trust us. You've got to trust Dave and what Dave's going to do.'
“There's friendships that sometimes, too, play a role in that, and I get that. I've been with teammates that I loved being a teammate with and the next year they're not there and it's a little bit difficult. But you form new relationships and you get involved in the season and then it just kind of becomes normal again. But in a time where you're not extremely busy, I think you probably think about it a lot more.”
For the record, the Phillies have not ruled out re-signing Realmuto. In fact, managing partner John Middleton has called it a priority. The team is currently monitoring Realmuto’s market. The Mets had been seen as a strong challenger for the All-Star catcher’s services, but they have signed James McCann. The Nationals, Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros and Angels could all still be fits for Realmuto, but the Phils can’t be ruled out at this stage of the offseason. And while it’s true that Dombrowski now oversees all Phillies baseball matters, determining whether or not to re-sign Realmuto would be a financial decision that would extend to the ownership level.
Girardi is a former catcher. He and Realmuto built a solid bond during the manager’s first year in Philadelphia in 2020. Girardi said he’d be happy to speak with Realmuto, but, ultimately, this recruitment will come down to dollars. All teams lost revenues in 2020 because there were no fans in the stands and that has impacted budgets around the game.
“You know, I've done it with young players to sign with us,” Girardi said of the possibility of speaking with Realmuto. “I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll do it. I believe that's part of my job and part of my job is selling people on this organization. It doesn't matter if it's a software engineer or it's in the analytical department or it’s a Double-A pitching coach or a player. I believe in this organization and that's part of my job.”
With only one big-league ready catcher on the 40-man roster, backup Andrew Knapp, Girardi acknowledged the need for a Plan B and Plan C should Realmuto sign elsewhere. Free agents who could interest the Phillies include Curt Casali, Mike Zunino and Kurt Suzuki. But, right now, Girardi is not tossing and turning at night, wondering who his catcher will be.
“There's still a lot of the offseason left, and I think Dave just got here and he understands what he needs to do and what we need to address,” Girardi said. “But I think that we will figure out where we are over the next week or so and continue to try to improve our club.
“I'm sure the market is going to have a lot to do with things as we move forward. I don't know how fast the market is going to move. With the uncertainty of when fans might be in the stands again, that affects how you might spend this winter. There's still a lot of things up in the air.”
Regardless of who his catcher is in 2021, Girardi expects to preside over a team that can make a run at breaking a nine-year postseason drought, the longest in the National League.
“I always believe we can make the playoffs, I don't care what team we go to spring training with,” he said. “We have some really solid pieces. And any time you have three starters (Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin) at the top of your rotation like we do, I don't think that's a rebuild, I think it's a retool. We had a young player in Alec (Bohm) who came up and was extremely successful and we're excited about having him for a full season.
“Are there areas that we need to address? Yes, and we know that, we understand that. But we still have a lot of good pieces in place.”