J.T. Realmuto

Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies went into this offseason prioritizing a contract extension for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Even as the Phils pursue pitching and possibly a third baseman, they are quietly trying to hammer out that extension, according to multiples sources. 

But the extension might not come before the New Year. It might not even come before the opening of spring training.

Don’t panic. Realmuto solidified his status as the top catcher in baseball by winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2019. The Phillies very much want to prevent him from becoming a free agent after next season and Realmuto, for months, has professed his affection for the Phillies and Philadelphia as well as his desire to stick around.

“Everything I’ve experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome so I wouldn’t be opposed to spending the rest of my career there,” he said in July. 

In order to preserve some payroll flexibility for the 2020 season, it is possible that the Phillies could sign Realmuto to a one-year contract this winter — he projects to make about $10.5 million in his final arbitration year — then subsequently finalize a separate multi-year extension that would kick in at the start of the 2021 season. The extension could be finalized and announced later this offseason or even in spring training.

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is projected to get an extension of four or five years with an average annual value of $20 million or more. By starting the extension in 2021, the AAV of Realmuto’s deal would not count toward the 2020 payroll and thus affect luxury-tax calculations. For tax purposes, the Phillies currently have about $116 million committed to nine players for 2020. Even with Realmuto’s 2020 salary still to be determined and raises due to a number of other players, the Phils do not appear to be in jeopardy of reaching the $208 million tax threshold in 2020 and have the room to pursue top free agents. But pushing Realmuto’s extension back to 2021 would allow for even more room under the tax threshold and that could come in handy this winter or even at the July trade deadline.

After the 2020 season, the Phils will gain some payroll flexibility as Jake Arrieta’s $25 million AAV and David Robertson’s $11.5 million AAV come off the books just as Realmuto’s extension would kick in.

The Phillies have never exceeded the tax threshold. Teams exceeding it for the first time pay 20 percent on every dollar they go over. Last month, owner John Middleton offered his thoughts about exceeding the tax threshold.

“I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team,” Middleton said. “That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

Other than expressing a desire to extend the relationship, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has steadfastly declined comment on the status of talks with Realmuto on a possible extension. Klentak continued that tack at this week’s GM meetings.

“We love J.T.,” Klentak said. “Every week, it seems like he’s winning a new award. What all of that is doing is confirming what a lot of us have felt for a long time. This guy is the real deal. He can do everything. At some point in this offseason, we will likely talk to him about trying to keep him in the fold beyond his control years and hopefully we’ll line up on something.”

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Another week, another award for J.T. Realmuto

Another week, another award for J.T. Realmuto

Even more hardware for J.T. Realmuto. A week after winning the Gold Glove award, Realmuto on Thursday was named the NL’s Silver Slugger recipient among catchers.

Realmuto beat out Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal, who hit .246/.380/.468 with 28 homers and 77 RBI. Realmuto himself hit .275/.325/.493 with 25 homers and 83 RBI. Comparable offensive seasons aside from OBP.

The big difference in their seasons is that Grandal had a furious start to the season, whereas Realmuto didn’t start clicking until right around the All-Star break. After a slightly disappointing first half, Realmuto still ended up setting career-highs in slugging, homers, RBI, doubles, runs and walks.

It is Realmuto’s second straight Silver Slugger award.

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J.T. Realmuto calls Bryce Harper 'one of most misunderstood people in baseball'

J.T. Realmuto calls Bryce Harper 'one of most misunderstood people in baseball'

Folks who watch baseball, who know baseball, understand how nonsensical the end-of-year storyline was that the Nationals were finally able to win it all because they were free of Bryce Harper. It was troll-like schadenfreude that existed mostly among casuals. Whatever. We all find our own reasons to enjoy the game.

On MLB Network Tuesday, Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto was asked by Chris Russo about his teammate and the perception that Washington needed to cleanse itself of Harper. The Gold Glover said this:

I feel like Harper's one of the most misunderstood people in baseball. Coming in, I wasn't sure what kind of teammate he'd be just because of some of the things I'd heard. But the guy's an awesome teammate, goes out and plays the game hard as he can every single night. That's the kind of leader you want on your team."

I can't speak to how Harper handled himself early in his career, but he was a pro in every way here in Year 1. He gave full effort every day, didn't want to take games off, took his preparation seriously, took off-the-field stuff seriously, led vocally and by example, came up big in clutch moments. He didn't big-time teammates, staffers or reporters. There was no major sense of arrogance emanating from him. He mostly carries himself like a normal big-leaguer.

Yet still, this idea exists and may always exist that Harper is just the brash, cocky veteran version of the brash, cocky kid who first came up with the Nationals. It's not reality. It's perception. In too many sectors of society in 2019, perception matters more than ever before and reality matters less.

In reality, the 2019 Nationals won it all because they were able to replace Harper with Patrick Corbin, who is arguably as important to a rotation as Harper is to a lineup. The Nationals wouldn't have won the World Series without a third ace.

In reality, the Nationals won it all because they had a ton of very good pieces already in place aside from Harper. When Harper hit free agency, a case could be made that the Nationals already had three players better than him in Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Max Scherzer. 

Washington won it all. Hats off to them. It wasn't because the specter of Harper no longer loomed.

"I'm not sure why he's the villain in baseball because really, his personality doesn't portray that in the clubhouse," Realmuto said. "Harper gets a little bit of a bad rap."

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