PHILLIES

J.T. Realmuto’s free-agent adventure is only just beginning

PHILLIES

The calendar, thankfully, is about to turn to 2021, but as the New Year begins to unfold, the Phillies will be facing many of the same issues and questions that have hovered over their baseball operation for months.

They added hard-throwing lefty reliever Jose Alvarado, a roll of the dice because of his health history, earlier this week, but still need several more relievers to improve the bullpen that conspired to scuttle the 2020 season.

They still don’t know who their shortstop will be in 2021. Jean Segura? Scott Kingery? The Phillies’ starting pitching staff knows how to roll a ground ball so this is no small issue. Maybe there will be room in the budget to sign a defense-first stopgap that would buy the team more time to develop and evaluate Bryson Stott.

Center field is another issue.

So is the bench.

And cross your fingers that the trio of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin stays healthy and effective for the long haul because there’s not much depth after that and whatever there is ranks as thin and unproven.

That’s already a rather daunting list and we haven’t even gotten to the biggest issue that faces the club as we move into the New Year.

What about J.T. Realmuto?

It’s a question that impacts the offense.

It’s a question that impacts the defense.

It’s a question that impacts the clubhouse because he leads brilliantly by example and, of course, is highly valued by Bryce Harper, who has not been afraid to voice his desire to see the All-Star catcher remain with the club.

 

Phillies ownership is on record saying that re-signing Realmuto is a priority. The two sides have talked on and off for months and a lack of a deal to this point has fueled some public pessimism. 

But is it time to panic? Is this reason for alarm?

Heck, no.

In recent years, we’ve seen offseason signings extend right into spring training. The Phillies have had two of them with Harper and Jake Arrieta. It takes more time than ever these days for the markets for top players to develop. Agents try to push price tags up and teams try to push them down. Suddenly, the sounds of mitts popping in spring training camps get louder and deals get struck.

This winter’s market is complicated by a pandemic that cut into the revenues that teams use to sign free agents. As the New Year arrives, there’s been little hint of where the top free agents will land. George Springer, Trevor Bauer, DJ LeMahieu, Liam Hendricks, Brad Hand, Realmuto. Lots of speculation. But nothing yet.

Look for the action to heat up in January, but some of these signings might not happen until spring training is knocking at the door. As players try to work their markets upward, teams are still gauging the pandemic – when will spring training even start, how many games will there be, and will fans and the revenues that come with them, be allowed in the stands?

Here’s what we know on the Realmuto front:

The Mets are out and that’s good for the Phillies. The Mets have money to spend – their new owner was not subject to pandemic-related losses last year – and they had a hole at catcher until signing James McCann.

The Phillies have not made an official offer to Realmuto, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark, but that’s not alarming because both sides are still setting parameters, feeling each other out, trying to determine what the market is. Realmuto’s agent, Jeff Berry, recently called new Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. All that stuff about Berry wanting to congratulate Dombrowski on the new job is great. But deep down inside, Berry was making sure the lines of communication with the Phillies about his client would remain open.

Realmuto is a potential fit with teams like the Nationals, Yankees, Blue Jays, Astros, Rangers and even Dodgers. Some of these teams are more realistic than others. The buzz out Washington is that Realmuto is more of a secondary target, but you can bet the Nats are watching to see where his price tag goes. The Yankees could become realistic if LeMahieu signs elsewhere and they suddenly have room in their budget. The Blue Jays have money to spend and Realmuto has privately expressed a fondness for the two Texas teams because of their proximity to his Oklahoma home.

 

But Realmuto also has a fondness for Philadelphia. He’s made that clear many times. There’s no way he seriously considers any offer without first swinging back to the Phillies and seeing what they say.

None of this is to suggest that anything is close. There are many miles to go in this free-agent season, many miles to go in this drama involving the Phillies and J.T. Realmuto. 

In the meantime, there are plenty of other holes to fill.

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