Sometimes betting on yourself pays off.
After rejecting an $18.9MM qualifying offer earlier this offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies and two-time all-star catcher JT Realmuto have reunited on a whopping nine figure deal that will payout $115.5MM over five years. The deal, setting records in both AAV for a catcher and total for a free agent at the position, will cover Realmuto’s age 30-34 seasons. The contract will pay him and even $20MM in 2020, followed by $23.875MM in the remaining years.
Clearly Realmuto had multiple suitors for his services, but as the offseason went on, teams slowly pivoted to cheaper but competent options—such as the Mets striking early on James McCann. Though the Phillies came into the offseason with a lengthy todo list, namely the leviathan task of rebuilding what was a historically bad bullpen, the high payroll team still seemed to be a natural landing spot for Realmuto, even if it meant paying full retail. Add the organization’s hiring of big spender and championship building extraordinaire Dave Dombrowski and it was a no-brainer.
Since the start of 2018, Realmuto has hit to a more than respectable .274/.336/.489 batting line which has been good for a 118 wRC+—remarkably valuable in today’s catching market where teams are happily willing to trade hitting ability at the position for defensive prowess. But Realmuto, however, is the total package. Over the same timeframe, he has outpaced all catchers in baseball with 12.7 WAR and has been the 15th most valuable player in the game; a testament to his talent on all sides to the ball.
Realmuto rejoins a Phillies organization that has been no stranger to making splashes in the free agent market in recent years, previously doling out mountains of cash to players like Jake Arrieta, Andrew McCutchen, Zack Wheeler, and of course Bryce Harper. They have also been able to develop valuable pieces such as ace starter Aaron Nola, slugger Rhys Hoskins, and newcomer Alec Bohm.
While once a trendy sleeper preseason playoff pick by edgy baseball fans a few years ago, it does seem fair to wonder whether this is still a team on the rise. With the Braves continuing to stack themselves with depth, the Marlins emerging as a new and legitimate contender, the Mets having the sixth-highest WAR projection in all baseball (via Depth Charts on FanGraphs), and the Nationals only two years removed from a World Series title with largely the same band of players, all the Phillies have done is fail to meet lofty expectations, despite the spending and steady in bringing of high priced talent.
Make no mistake, the Phillies are much better with Realmuto than without him, and likewise, Phillies fans should be excited their team is one of the few who have been active in taking steps to get better, already adding pitchers Jose Alvarado and Archie Bradley. If they plan to compete in the uber-competitive American League East in 2021 season, however, they are far from done. Since acquiring Realmuto from Miami before the 2019 season, the Phillies have played sub-.500 baseball. That’s simply not going to cut it for the aggressive Dombrowski, and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Brian Menéndez is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a senior writer for DRaysBay. Additionally, he has been featured in The Hardball Times. You can find Brian on Twitter at @briantalksbsb.