Predicting the magic number it will take Phillies to extend J.T. Realmuto

Predicting the magic number it will take Phillies to extend J.T. Realmuto

NEW YORK — There was a point this season when, on our "At the Yard" podcast, I asked Jim Salisbury if he thought J.T. Realmuto's (at that point) solid but unspectacular offensive season might lower the cost of his next contract.

We might as well forget that conversation ever took place.

Realmuto has been unreal in this second half. He has been one of the best hitters in baseball since the All-Star break, but his surge began a few weeks before that. Dating back to June 29, Realmuto has hit .312 with a .949 OPS, 19 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs and 43 RBI in 244 plate appearances.

Defensively, Realmuto is not only elite but unmatched. No catcher in 2019 possesses as many defensive tools as Realmuto does, combining the majors' best pop time and throwing arm with top-notch ability to block behind the plate and frame pitches.

His baserunning has been superb in several ways. He's not just "a good baserunner." Realmuto is also legitimately fast and quick, especially for a catcher. He runs out every ground ball and that constant hustle has made a tangible difference in terms of beating out would-be double-play balls. Realmuto has stolen eight bases in nine attempts this season, the best success rate of his career.

Fangraphs has Realmuto as not only the best baserunning catcher in 2019 but also the 13th-most-valuable baserunner in the majors, sandwiched between Trevor Story and Ozzie Albies. Their grading system has Realmuto ahead of speedsters like Mookie Betts, Elvis Andrus and Brett Gardner.

Now comes the multi-million dollar question: How rich will Realmuto's next contract be? It's a multi-layered topic.

Little precedent

How do you gauge Realmuto's worth when he's so unique? Look around the league at his position. There are catchers like Gary Sanchez, Yasmani Grandal, Willson Contreras and Wilson Ramos who can make a major impact with their bats. But none of them are close to Realmuto defensively or on the basepaths.

There are catchers known for their defense like Austin Hedges, Christian Vazquez, Yadier Molina and Salvador Perez. But none of them have close to the offensive ability of Realmuto.

Relevant catcher contracts

The richest contract ever given to a catcher was Joe Mauer's eight-year, $184 million deal with the Twins. Mauer, of course, was a catcher for only the first three seasons of that contract, which ended up being regrettable because it was too much money for a first baseman.

Buster Posey, in 2013, signed a nine-year, $167 million extension with the Giants. But Posey was 26 years old and coming off an MVP season. Realmuto will be 28 when this season ends and hasn't had as storied a career as Posey had to that point.

Brian McCann, in 2014, signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees. 

Russell Martin is the owner of the richest active contract for a catcher. He signed a five-year, $82 million deal with the Blue Jays in 2015.

Realmuto's leverage

An important factor in all of this is that Realmuto has the Phillies over a barrel. They traded their top pitching prospect, Sixto Sanchez, along with young catcher Jorge Alfaro for him. A team doesn't make that sort of trade to control a player for only two years.

Everyone knows the Phillies want to extend Realmuto. They're not shy about saying so. It is an organizational priority, probably the highest organizational priority outside of adding pitching this winter.

In a negotiation like this, a low-ball offer probably won't even be made. The Phillies know they'll have to pay up to get Realmuto to forego free agency after the 2020 season. There is no reason for him to give the Phillies a hometown discount.

The context of the situation will increase the worth of his next contract.

Realmuto's personality

He is a very to-the-point athlete and he's as committed to his craft as any Phillie since Chase Utley. Realmuto prepares intensely before games, both physically and mentally. Afterward, one of the first things he often does is go back and watch video of that night's game. This doesn't make him extremely unique but it does make him dedicated, the sort of hard worker a team views as a wise investment.

He's a gamer, the kind of guy who wants to play every day. When Gabe Kapler approaches him about a potential off-day, Realmuto typically responds by reminding his manager he recently had an off-day. Entering Sunday's game, Realmuto had started 14 more games than any other catcher this season and caught 98 more innings.

This is obviously Realmuto's best chance at life-changing money that sets his family up for generations. But he just does not seem like the type who will hold out for every last dollar. He more so seems like a guy who will want to get the deal done for peace of mind and so that he can focus exclusively on baseball. Again, doesn't mean he and his agent will give the Phillies a discount, just that the process may not be as arduous as it would with other athletes.

So ... how expensive?

You can pretty much bank on Realmuto receiving no less than the $85 million McCann signed for six years ago. You can also bank on the deal not lasting nine years like Posey's.

Four years, $100 million? Five years, $125 million? 

Only two catchers ever — Mauer and Molina in his current three-year deal — were paid more than $20 million annually. That will likely be the number Realmuto's representatives try to beat. And they should.

The prediction here is five years, $112.5 million. It would make Realmuto the highest-paid catcher, per year, in baseball history at an average of $22.5 million. It would also make him only the third catcher ever to get a nine-figure contract.

He's worth it.

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news


At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon

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