The Phillies are 0 for 3 in attempts to sign J.T. Realmuto, but they'll keep on trying.
"We tried to sign him in 2019, we tried to sign him in 2020, we tried to engage him in a conversation after the (Mookie) Betts extension (in June) and we just weren't able to find anything approaching common ground," club president Andy MacPhail said on Friday.
Realmuto officially became a free agent on Wednesday. Free agents can begin signing with new clubs on Sunday night.
This market is not likely to move quickly. Revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic hit the game hard in 2020 and the impact is likely to be felt throughout the free-agent market. Teams are already dumping payroll. The Cleveland Indians earlier this week placed Brad Hand, one of the best relievers in the game, on waivers in an attempt to avoid paying the $1 million buyout on his $10 million option for 2021. No team bit on Hand, whose performance the last five seasons would make him well worth $10 million and he is now a free agent.
"I'll tell you that this is about as miserable a time in baseball as I have ever seen, by far," MacPhail said.
In June, Phillies managing partner John Middleton projected the team's losses at "significantly more than $100 million." It's not known if there will be a full season in 2021 or whether fans will be allowed in the seats. The Phillies are currently reducing their workforce, from scouting to player development to office staff, with buyouts and layoffs.
"The losses we accrued in 2020 and what is reasonable to assume for 2021, it's not pretty, not pretty," MacPhail said. "It's unlike a strike. You can plan for a strike. Strikes have different periods. But something like this caught us in a bad spot. We had just expanded the operation. We had expanded the payroll. We had been active in signing free agents like (Zack) Wheeler and (Bryce) Harper. We didn't anticipate a global pandemic."
MacPhail predicted that this winter's free-agent market will move at a pace similar to 2019 and 2018, when top players remained unsigned even beyond the opening of spring training camps.
The Phillies will closely monitor Realmuto's market this winter and make a fourth attempt to re-sign the All-Star catcher. Realmuto is looking to raise the bar on catcher salaries and land a multi-year contract that would surpass the $23 million that Joe Mauer made per season in his eight-year deal with the Minnesota Twins. Some sources have indicated that Realmuto has set his price significantly higher that Mauer's total package of $184 million.
It will be very interesting to see where Realmuto's market goes in this uncertain winter. The Phillies surely will extend to him a qualifying offer of $18.9 million by Sunday's deadline and receive draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere.
There is much pessimism about the Phillies' chances of re-signing Realmuto, but MacPhail is actually optimistic something can get done.
"There are two things we've got going for us," he said. "The first is, I think he enjoyed his time here and obviously we want him back, so I think those two things give you some measure of hope.
"In any offseason, there are an amazing amount of variables and you can just multiply that exponentially this offseason. But, yeah, as long as the player enjoyed his time here and the team has a legitimate interest in bringing him back there is that possibility."
The New York Mets, with a rich, new owner eager to get going in free agency, could be a major player for Realmuto. It would surely sting Phillies fans to see Realmuto as an opponent 19 times a season for the next five or so seasons. Realmuto, according to a person close to him, is not keen on the idea of playing in New York but would not have any qualms about signing there if that's where the record-setting payday he seeks resides.
MacPhail was correct in saying that Realmuto enjoyed his time in Philadelphia. The player has said that many times.
The Phillies gave up top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez to get Realmuto from Miami in February 2019. Earlier this month, Middleton said he was on board with the trade at the time — provided the front office could sign Realmuto to an extension. So far, the Phils are 0 for 3.
Sanchez, who dazzled in the majors with Miami this season, will forever be linked to the Phillies' acquisition of Realmuto and the judgments that will accompany their success or failure to re-sign him.
"Obviously, a lot of that is going to be contingent on how well Sixto does," MacPhail said. "He had a great debut, but we know there is no guarantee when it comes to young pitching going forward: (a) staying healthy, and (b) continuing a certain level of performance.
"But he's an outstanding prospect. He was generally regarded as our best prospect when we made the trade. We were aware of that. (Not signing Realmuto) is not the outcome we would have preferred, but that history will be written in a few years to see how equitable the deal was or wasn't."
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