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J.T. Realmuto, Phillies not close on deal. Could he end up in DC?

J.T. Realmuto, Phillies not close on deal. Could he end up in DC?

If one thing is for certain about the economic future of Major League Baseball, it’s that nothing is for certain. The league and its teams are in uncharted territory attempting to weather the fallout of a global pandemic that still has the potential to force the cancellation of the 2020 season.

One of the biggest question marks surrounds the outlook of the 2020-21 free agent class. Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto is set to be one of the most highly sought-after players available, but he’s hoping that he doesn’t even make it there. The two-time All-Star has had talks with Philadelphia about working out an extension, though there’s been little traction the last few months.

“We were in the really preliminary stages [of negotiations] early on in spring training before the pandemic and we haven't really gone anywhere since then,” Realmuto said in a Zoom press conference Thursday per NBC Sports Philadelphia. “There's no frustration…I understand the business of baseball. I'm here to play baseball and focus on this team winning and getting to the playoffs.”

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak offered a similar sentiment when he was asked about Realmuto’s future during a press conference 10 days prior.

"The landscape that we left in March is different from the one we return to now. We just have to see how that manifests itself in our discussions. We still love the player. We'd still love to have him in red pinstripes for the long haul. But there’s a lot of uncertainty in the game right now on a variety of levels. We just need to play that out."

If Realmuto does end up available in free agency, the Nationals would be a fit for his services. The team will lose half of its catching tandem next offseason when Kurt Suzuki’s contract expires, leaving Yan Gomes and a slew of unproven and unheralded catching prospects like Raudy Read, Tres Barrera and Jakson Reetz behind.

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Even though Gomes is owed $6 million in 2021 for the final year of his deal, his presence likely wouldn’t preclude Washington from going after Realmuto. In fact, the interest is already there. The Nationals attempted to trade for Realmuto during the 2018 season when he was still on the Marlins but backed off after Miami demanded a hefty package that included Victor Robles and Carter Kieboom in return.

Realmuto was instead shipped off to the Phillies in the same offseason former Nationals star Bryce Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million commitment to play in Philadelphia. If the Nationals want to return the favor and pry the Phillies’ star to their corner of the NL East, then they’re going to have to convince Realmuto to leave a franchise that he enjoys playing for behind—just like the Phillies did with Harper.

“My opinion of the organization has not changed one bit,” Realmuto said on the Zoom call. “I love this organization. They've been great to me and my family since I showed up. From top to bottom, they're just good people and they care about baseball, and that's really important to me.”

Among those who want to keep Harper in Philadelphia the most is Harper himself. The star outfielder yelled, “Sign him” into an empty Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday after Realmuto hit a home run during an intrasquad game.

The biggest factor that would determine the Nationals’ level interest will likely be the money. Realmuto is expected to negotiate with the goal of resetting the catcher market. Given that the record for the highest annual salary for a catcher is $23 million set by Joe Mauer in 2010, the price tag won’t be cheap.

Washington will also have future contract obligations for its own stars to consider. Max Scherzer is a free agent after the 2021 season and Trea Turner will be so as well the following year. And even though they’re still young, Juan Soto and Victor Robles loom as potential extension candidates with only room to further raise their value.

Of course, this is all depending on the state of the league’s finances. Even though the season still has yet to begin, free agency is only four months away. Teams are bracing for significant losses this year even if the season goes on as planned. If Realmuto does hope to land a record contract, then he will be counting on teams deciding they’re able to afford a player of his caliber without most of their 2020 revenue in the bank.

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“It definitely concerns me,” Realmuto said of his outlook on free agency. “Necessarily not for myself, but it does concern me for the free-agency class as a whole. I mentioned a few months back that the top guys usually find a way to get their dollars. Teams are going to want them, you know. Maybe if it's not 20 teams that are in on you, now there'll be five to 10.

“I just think that a lot of teams will be able to look at this as a time to take advantage and actually go for it instead of backing off. As half the league will probably be trying to cut revenue and save some money and the other ones will look at it as an advantage to maybe go forward and press forward. I think that it could affect free agency as a whole, but for myself, I'm not really too worried about it.”

Realmuto could end up signing a one-year deal and waiting until more teams have recovered financially before pushing for a long-term contract. However, he would then face the uncertainty of the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring. Following an ugly and public back-and-forth affair between MLB and the players union over the financial structure of a 2020 season, a lockout remains a very real possibility.

There are many different ways these next few months could go for Realmuto. If he struggles during the short sample of 60 games that the 2020 season is set to provide, it likely won’t impact his value too much. But even if he goes roaring into next winter, it’s still not clear whether teams will be willing or able to pay him what he’s looking for.

That includes the Nationals, who have a lot of factors to consider but probably wouldn’t mind stealing one of Harper’s favorite teammates away from their division rival.

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Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman opts out of remainder of 2020 MLB season

Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman opts out of remainder of 2020 MLB season

Mets starting pitcher Marcus Stroman has opted out of the remainder of the 2020 Major League Baseball season. He took to Twitter to share his statement. 

Stroman hasn't pitched a game yet this season due to a strained calf he suffered in camp. The right-handed pitcher cited family concerns with coronavirus. 

The Mets traded two minor league pitchers for Stroman's services last July. In return, New York got 11 starts out of him as he heads to be a free agent for the first time in his career this offseason. Though it's possible Stroman's time as a Met is now finished, there's still a chance the Mets can extend his deal with a qualifying offer this winter. 

One more glance at Stroman's Twitter statement, however, and it's easy to see that he made sure not to mince words in his conclusion as he's looking forward to returning to "baseball" next season, not the Mets. 

Either way, it's a tough blow for a Mets organization that surprisingly swooped in for Stroman last summer in the first place. 

Although Stroman would have been out on the injured reserve list anyways for the Mets-Nationals three-game series set for tonight, Washington fans will surely be relieved the Nats won't have to hit against the talented pitcher. 

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Nationals are off to season’s most dangerous spot: the road

Nationals are off to season’s most dangerous spot: the road

WASHINGTON  -- The Nationals ventured to their chartered train Sunday for a first: They were leaving Nationals Park to play a regular-season game elsewhere in 2020. This is a new challenge in a year filled with randomization.

The road is a bedeviling place in professional sports no matter the climate. Favorite places of all kinds -- restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues -- pull athletes from their hotel into the city streets. It’s standard. Among the running jokes in the NBA is players coming down with the South Beach Flu. Go to Miami the night before a game, play poorly the next, perhaps you caught it while out until 3 a.m.

For Major League Baseball in 2020, traveling has become the greatest barrier to the season’s completion. Organizations are petrified of an outbreak prompted by one person venturing into the night while on the road. Or even in the morning when visiting a cafe for breakfast.

The Nationals will first tangle with road protocols -- set both internally and by MLB -- this week in New York. A four-game series with the Mets will test their ability to sit still. Staying in the hotel is job one. A special guard was even considered in order to make it happen.

“I’m going to put [Mike] Rizzo in the lobby,” Davey Martinez said with a laugh.

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That, presumably, would be an effective deterrent to anyone who stepped out of the elevator, then into the lobby, coming face-to-face with the team president’s bald head. But, the job will be handled by MLB security, which is now in the hotels of road teams to watch the coming and going of players and staff following the coronavirus outbreak within the Miami Marlins organization. The rest is up to the Nationals.

“When you go on the road, you get in a routine: your favorite places to eat breakfast, your favorite places to go get coffee,” Martinez said. “There’s going to be none of that. And, that’s going to be tough. We got to adhere to the protocols. In order to keep everybody safe, we’ve got to stay in the hotel. So there’s going to be different things that we need to do. There’s not going to be any gallivanting around the city anymore. A lot of these cities, honestly, are pretty much closed down and there’s not a whole lot going on.

“We’ve got to be smart. If we’re going to pull this off and keep everybody safe, the best thing is to stay in the hotel and chill. There’s going to be plenty of food -- from what I gather -- at the ballpark. We’ve got restaurants that are going to cook for us. We’ll have lunch, we’re going to have dinner after the game. I think now we just got to feed ourselves for breakfast. I’m hearing that the hotels are going to be open for breakfast for room service, but we’ve got to do whatever we can to stay safe.”

One issue will be the pull to see family in different places. Juan Soto has family in New York. Several players have family in the Miami area. When Martinez returns to Tampa in mid-September, his adult children already know they won’t be meeting in order to protect his safety and that of the team.

“They understand,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, when this is all over, I’ll spend a lot of time with them.”

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He and Rizzo have trumpeted the same point from the start: what happens away from the field impacts everyone who goes to it. So, stay home, do your part, do not be the single lit match.

Testing negative, keeping the house in order, and playing on has both become a point of pride and competition. The Nationals enter the week with only one positive test result since play began -- that belonged to Soto, and he thought it was a false positive -- and the league’s worst offense. Without their best hitter, Washington has gone through a season-long scoring drought. Only the St. Louis Cardinals have scored fewer runs. They have also played seven fewer games because of a coronavirus outbreak in their organization.

“It's a new baseball season that we've never had before,” Rizzo said. “There's protocols in place that kind of break the routine that we've had our whole careers and our whole lives. So the team that adapts to that best and easiest and most seamlessly will have an advantage of being more comfortable playing baseball. Once the game starts, you're just playing baseball. I think that everybody kind of gets into their comfort zone, at least for the three hours during the game.”

The playing baseball portion has been more difficult than following protocols. The Nationals are a bewildering 4-7 through the jagged first two weeks of the season. They arrive in New York with Max Scherzer ready to return Tuesday. They may also recall a four-game series in Citi Field from last year. When the Nationals walked into the park, they were in a bad place. When they walked out, everything was worse.

They want to worry about the pitching matchups more than hotel entrances and exits. The league has tightened protocols since the Marlins debacle. The Nationals are even working on how to spread out their pregame meetings in conference rooms. And, maybe Martinez was on to something. In a season where cardboard cutouts have been put to use, a life-sized Rizzo with his hands on hips in the hotel lobby may just come in handy.

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