Phillies

J.T. Realmuto will fight for future generations in salary arbitration case against Phillies

J.T. Realmuto will fight for future generations in salary arbitration case against Phillies

More than once last summer, J.T. Realmuto expressed his affection for Philadelphia and said he’d one day be up for signing a long-term contract extension with the Phillies.

The specter of his upcoming salary arbitration hearing hasn’t changed his outlook.

“Not at all,” he said before the 116th annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet Monday night. “Anybody who knows about the arbitration process knows it’s business. It’s not necessarily me against the Phillies right now. There’s definitely not going to be any hard feelings there. So I feel like we’re at the same place we were two or three months ago as far as with the contract extension.”

Before the two sides go to work on a long-term contract extension, Realmuto is likely to play the 2020 season on a one-year contract. Barring an unlikely settlement, Realmuto will have his 2020 salary decided by an arbitration panel next month. He is seeking $12.4 million. The Phillies’ arbitration offer is $10 million. The arbitration panel will hear arguments from both sides then pick one number or the other.

Realmuto knows the game. He went to arbitration with the Miami Marlins two years ago and lost.

“I have a good understanding of the process,” he said. “I know it’s not the Phillies trying to slight me. It’s more the system. There are no hard feelings there.”

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is coming off a season in which he solidified himself as baseball’s best catcher while making $5.9 million. He was an All-Star. He was the catcher on the inaugural All-MLB team and he won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in the National League. He led all big-league catchers in hits, RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits while swatting a career-high 25 homers. He threw out 37 runners trying to steal, the most in the majors.

Realmuto’s 2019 season put him in a good position to win his arbitration case.

But he made it clear that this is about more than just himself.

"It’s not me against the Phillies,” he said. “It’s the system that we’re trying to fight right now.  I’m trying to go out and set a precedent for future catchers in the game and I feel like I had a season worthy of doing that so I’m going to fight for that.

"This is not because the Phillies didn’t give us a chance to come to an agreement. We’re fighting for a cause, fighting for the rest of the catchers. Historically, catchers have not been treated well in the arbitration process and we feel like this is an opportunity to advance that for the catchers. Just being able to fight for those guys is something I take pride in. I believe in fighting for future generations and I’m excited to do it."

Once Realmuto’s 2020 salary is established in mid-February, the Phillies are expected to initiate talks on an extension that would begin at the start of the 2021 season. Those talks should commence during spring training. A contract extension is expected to cover up to five seasons with an average annual value of over $20 million.

Realmuto, who was honored as the PSWA’s Athlete of the Year for 2019, was joined by new Phillies manager Joe Girardi at the banquet.

“I’m really excited to play for him,” Realmuto said. “I feel like he’s got a lot of feel. He knows exactly what he wants to do as a manager and has a lot of confidence and he’ll be able to instill that confidence in us.”

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Only 3 teams gained more value than Phillies from 2019 to 2020

Only 3 teams gained more value than Phillies from 2019 to 2020

The valuation of the Phillies franchise is up to $2 billion, according to Forbes. It’s an 8 percent increase from last year.

The only teams in the majors to experience a higher percentage year-over-year increase than the Phillies are the Yankees, the World Champion Nationals and the Orioles. Seven teams saw no gain or lost value: the Marlins, Pirates, Royals, Athletics, Indians, Tigers and Diamondbacks.

The Yankees are valued at $5 billion, leading the league for the 22nd straight year.

At $2 billion, the Phils’ valuation is eighth-highest in the majors. They are behind, respectively, the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, Giants, Mets and Cardinals.

The only team with a current valuation below $1 billion is the Marlins at $980 million. Miami was the only team to lose money in 2019, according to Forbes.

MLB’s total revenue in 2019 was $10.5 billion. More than 30 percent of that was from gate receipts, which baseball would not have in 2020 if games are played in empty stadiums. That was the largest chunk, followed by national TV deals, local TV deals and sponsorships.

The Phillies’ 13-year investment in Bryce Harper and the resulting increase in attendance and merchandise sales played an obvious role in the increase but the terms of rights deals are one of the biggest drivers of organizational values.

League-wide, profits have never been higher, which puts MLB in a position to at least withstand the pain of a shortened 2020 season. Forbes estimates that coronavirus concerns will cost U.S. pro sports leagues $5 billion.

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What must Scott Kingery do to make the next leap Phillies need?

What must Scott Kingery do to make the next leap Phillies need?

Scott Kingery hit his first major-league home run two years ago today, a solo shot to left-center at Citizens Bank Park against Reds left-hander Cody Reed.

Kingery's first two weeks in the majors went well but his rookie season was a slog after that. He expanded the strike zone a ton, struck out more than you'd like and barely got on base when the hits weren't falling.

Kingery took a big step forward last season at age 25. He missed a month between April 19 and May 19 with a hamstring injury but hit .347 from opening day through June 1. 

In the month of June, he was an extra-base hit machine with nine doubles, a triple and seven home runs in 114 plate appearances.

August was another productive month for Kingery. He hit .287 with 13 extra-base hits and an .825 OPS. 

All told, it was a solid second season from Kingery. His .788 OPS was exactly the league average, and his extra-base hit total increased from 33 to 57 in just 16 additional plate appearances. When you factor in the strong defense he has played at six different positions, the value is easy to see.

Kingery has started games at second base, third base, shortstop and all three outfield spots. No major-leaguer since 1958 has amassed as many plate appearances in his first two seasons (984) while playing all those positions. That's not just a random fact — it illustrates the rarity of a player being not just a super-utility player but a super-utility starter, and how doubly rare it is for a player to begin his career in that role. 

In 2020, whenever the season begins, Kingery will likely be at second base for the majority of the season. Things can change quickly, though. If Jean Segura suffers an injury, Kingery could shift to third base. If Didi Gregorius gets hurt, Kingery or Segura would slide over to short. If there are injuries in center field, Kingery would likely be the next man up after Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley.

Kingery's versatility is a good thing, not a bad thing, though it probably cost him some offensive effectiveness over his first two seasons. Kingery remarked this offseason that by preparing for so many different positions, there have been many nights in his first two big-league seasons that he felt spent by game time.

His biggest issue at the plate is his constant expansion of the strike zone. Kingery knows it. It's a goal of his to be better at laying off of pitches he has no chance of making good contact with.

Through two seasons, Kingery's strikeout-to-walk ratio is ugly. He's whiffed 273 times and taken 58 walks. No Phillie has struck out that many times in his first two seasons since Pat Burrell in 2001 — but Burrell also walked 75 more times than Kingery has.

Last season, 24% of the pitches Kingery saw were low and away off the plate. He swung at those low-and-away pitches nearly 30% of the time and hit just .127. Obviously, that is a zone a hitter would rather leave alone. 

Kingery's selectivity must improve for him to reach a higher offensive level. There are 118 players with as many plate appearances as him the last two seasons and Kingery ranks 108th in walks.

The Phillies are not relying on Kingery to be their offensive centerpiece or even their sixth-best hitter. However, they'd be so much stronger as a lineup if Kingery could maneuver his way closer to the top of the order and produce. If Kingery could provide consistency in the 2-hole, it would allow someone like J.T. Realmuto or Didi Gregorius to move into more of a run-producing role. And even if Kingery does stay in the 7-spot in the lineup for most of the season, he has a chance to lengthen the Phillies' lineup and turn it into one of the NL's best if he can build on his sophomore season.

Kingery had a .315 on-base percentage last season. The league average was .323. Had he reached base just 10 more times in his 500 plate appearances, he'd have been at .334, which is the same as Realmuto's OBP the last three seasons.

It's a realistic target for Kingery, who does not need to become the next Chase Utley to be valuable or to live up to the $24 million contract he signed before ever playing a major-league game.

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