By Spencer Schumacher
Phillies fans can take a collective breath after the team announced they have re-signed J.T. Realmuto to a record-setting contract for players at the catcher position. Realmuto secured a five-year, $115.5 million dollar contract, which also included additional incentives. With this deal, the team is financially bound to the core of Bryce Harper, Zach Wheeler, Realmuto and Aaron Nola for the impending future.
When Realmuto elected to enter free agency after declining the Phillies’ $18.9 million qualifying offer, the prospects of his future in Philly appeared in jeopardy.
Initially, it was reported by sources close to Realmuto that before the shut-down in March 2020, Realmuto had his sights set on a contract north of $200 million, seven years and an average annual value (AAV) of over $23 million.
But, Realmuto’s contract will still set records as reported by ESPN. His deal is the first in excess of $100 million given to any catcher in free agency, and it also breaks Joe Mauer’s AAV of $23 million, setting the new record at $23.1 million per year as the highest for a catcher.
Acquiring Realmuto from the Marlins meant the Phillies gave Sixto Sanchez, a highly touted pitching prospect, to the Marlins. Losing Realmuto after just two years would have been unfathomable, given how the Phillies gave up players like Sanchez who still have many years of team control.
The idea was that the Phillies would extend Realmuto, but previous General Manager Matt Klentak failed to do so after multiple negotiations, and it was a part of why the Phillies demoted him this offseason and hired Dave Dombrowski to take the reins.
Dombrowski made it clear that he was committed to signing Realmuto, going beyond phone conversations and flying to Oklahoma to meet with Realmuto in person right before Christmas.
In two seasons with the Phillies, Realmuto led all catchers in RBI’s and wins above replacement (WAR). He also posted the third highest OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 2020 along with tying for the most home runs among catchers (11). In 2019 he was awarded the gold glove, silver slugger and was the only player nominated to the 2019 All-Star Game from the Phillies.
Realmuto’s willingness to work with the Phillies to secure his contract helped them in many different ways. For starters, he agreed to push half of his 2021 salary of $20 million to $5 million dollar payments in 2026 and 2027.
This allows the Phillies to pursue other pieces to complete the roster, as they continue to monitor the shortstop and centerfield market, along with the possibility of acquiring another starting pitcher. The deal does not include any signing bonuses, opt-outs or no-trade clauses and only holds a million dollar penalty for trading Realmuto in the future.
With Realmuto signed, the team will rely on him to catch roughly 120 games, considering the MLB believes they will play a full 162 game season in 2021. Joe Girardi indicated that a catcher signing would be crucial with Andrew Knapp really the only other catcher that is MLB ready on the 40-man roster.
Securing Realmuto as the team’s starter for now and the future was a critical step in stabilizing the team’s overall roster for 2021 and beyond.