PHILADELPHIA – J.T. Realmuto expected questions Thursday to focus on his contract status with the Phillies.
Is it possible that he could sign an extension before Opening Day on July 24? Or does it make more sense to test the free-agent market? He is only 60 games away at this point.
“If you guys don't mind,” Realmuto said on a Zoom call with reporters, “I’d appreciate if we can keep the questions away from the contract situation, just because we were in the really preliminary stages early on in Spring Training before the pandemic and we haven’t really gone anywhere since then. So if we could focus on the team here and speak a little bit less about myself that would be greatly appreciated.”
A source said Thursday that the Phillies and Realmuto’s agent have talked recently, but nothing is close. In fact, the best bet at this point is that Realmuto hits the open market and the Phillies try to sign him then. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said late last month that “the landscape we left in March is going to be different than the one we return to now, and 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, so we just need to factor that all in.”
Realmuto said he is concerned about the economic landscape of baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But only to an extent.
“Not necessarily for myself, but it does concern me for the free-agency class as a whole,” he said. “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.”
Realmuto is regarded as the best catcher in the Majors. He expects to be paid like it. Joe Mauer holds the average annual value record for a catcher at $23 million. Realmuto would like to beat that. He also would like to be paid more comparably to the best players in baseball, not just the best catchers. Paul Goldschmidt’s five-year, $130 million is often mentioned as a comp for Realmuto.
Realmuto’s reluctance to discuss his thoughts and feelings on contract negotiations and free agency Thursday could be taken by Phillies fans as mounting frustrations or unhappiness with the organization.
“There’s no frustration,” he said. “I understand the business of baseball. Like I said, I’m here to play baseball and focus on this team winning and getting to the playoffs.
“My opinion of the organization has not changed one bit. 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.”
Realmuto has a good friend in teammate Bryce Harper, who wore a Realmuto T-shirt the first few days of Summer Camp at Citizens Bank Park. Harper insisted he was not sending a message to anybody, although Harper is a savvy guy. He understands the camera is always on him. He understands his influence in the organization and city.
Realmuto hit a two-run homer in a scrimmage Wednesday.
“Sign him!” Harper yelled as he crossed home plate.
“I hope he owns a team one day, honestly,” Realmuto said. “I might be able to catch until I'm 60 if he owns a team. I know it's all in good fun. Obviously I appreciate the support from him, and the respect is mutual there. Yeah, he has a little fun with it, so I don't mind it too much. … I don't think Bryce is meaning too much by what he's doing. He's just having fun with guys. I wouldn't look too deep into it. From a public standpoint, it doesn't bother me how much it's being talked about. For me, I'm going to focus on this season and focus on helping this team win, and that's really all I can do.”