J.T. Realmuto began his first chat with reporters since baseball’s re-start with a request on Thursday.
He asked that questions about his contract situation with the Phillies be kept to a minimum.
But in explaining why, Realmuto said plenty.
“We were in the really preliminary stages (of negotiations) early on in spring training before the pandemic and we haven't really gone anywhere since then, so if we could focus on the team here and speak a little bit less about myself that would be greatly appreciated,” the All-Star catcher said.
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two separate comments from two different people involved in this drama that would suggest negotiations aren’t going particularly well
Ten days ago, general manager Matt Klentak, who rarely even entertains a question about ongoing contract negotiations, offered this on the state of talks with Realmuto’s camp:
"The landscape that we left in March is different from the one we return to now. We just have to see how that manifests itself in our discussions. We still love the player. We'd still love to have him in red pinstripes for the long haul. But there’s a lot of uncertainty in the game right now on a variety of levels. We just need to play that out."
Opening day for the shortened 2020 season is just two weeks away. Given the tone of the remarks offered by both sides, it’s difficult to see the Phillies and Realmuto coming to terms on a deal before then. Once the season starts, Realmuto will be just a few months away from free agency, a place that elite players fantasize about.
Realmuto was pressed on the topic of what appear to be stagnant negotiations with the Phillies.
“There's no frustration,” he said. “I understand the business of baseball. I'm here to play baseball and focus on this team winning and getting to the playoffs.”
The business of baseball in the pandemic year of 2020 means revenues are down all over the game. Phillies managing partner John Middleton, in an email to club employees back on June 1, said the team was braced to lose “significantly more than 100 million” this season.
Realmuto, 29, has long made it known that he’s looking to significantly raise the salary bar for all catchers in his next contract – be it with the Phillies or out on the open market. Something rivaling Joe Mauer’s average salary of $23 million – a record for a catcher – in the form of a multiyear deal seemed to be the starting point for Realmuto and it really didn’t seem that unreasonable over the winter.
Then the pandemic hit. The game shut down. Even when the games come back in two weeks, there will be no fans in the stands. The “gate” accounts for about 40 percent of the revenues that most teams bring in. Teams will reap some television revenues when the shortened, 60-game season begins in two weeks, but who knows if the season will be completed with COVID-19 spiking in a number of baseball states, and who knows if there will even be fans in the stands next season. The world begs for a vaccine. Baseball’s next free-agent class begs for a vaccine.
Realmuto has concerns about how "the new landscape" will affect the overall free-agent market this winter, but, personally, he’s undaunted about the prospect of hitting the market.
“It definitely concerns me,” he said. “Necessarily not for myself, but it does concern me for the free-agency class as a whole. I mentioned a few months back that the top guys usually find a way to get their dollars. Teams are going to want them, you know. Maybe if it's not 20 teams that are in on you, now there'll be five to 10. I just think that a lot of teams will be able to look at this as a time to take advantage and actually go for it instead of backing off. As half the league will probably be trying to cut revenue and save some money and the other ones will look at it as an advantage to maybe go forward and press forward. I think that it could affect free agency as a whole, but for myself, I'm not really too worried about it.”
Even with negotiations not progressing, Realmuto expressed affection for the Phillies organization.
“My opinion of the organization has not changed one bit,” he said. “I love this organization. They've been great to me and my family since I showed up. From top to bottom, they're just good people and they care about baseball, and that's really important to me.”
It’s still quite possible that Realmuto and the Phillies find a way to strike a long-term marriage. Baseball negotiations can endure painful moments and still end up with everyone happy. But no baseball negotiation has ever had to play out against a pandemic that has caused the game to hemorrhage revenues. Had this pandemic hit 18 months ago, Relamuto’s teammate, Bryce Harper, probably would not have landed a $330 million contract.
Harper wants Realmuto to remain with the Phillies. He wants him to get paid. He made that clear when he shouted, “Sign him!” during an intersquad game at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.
“I hope he owns a team one day, honestly,” Realmuto said. “I might be able to catch until I'm 60 if he owns a team.
“Honestly, it’s all in good fun. I appreciate the support and the respect is mutual there. He has a little fun with it so I don't mind it too much.
“From a public standpoint, it doesn't bother me how much it's being talked about. For me I'm going to focus on this season and focus on helping this team win and that's really all I can do.”
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