Love for Philly brings Realmuto back to club

February 1st, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- , Dave Dombrowski and their better halves met for lunch just before Christmas in Oklahoma.

The Realmutos are from the Sooner State. Dombrowski’s wife is, too. Dombrowski considered this coincidence an opportunity to meet the man who sparked the #SignJT movement in Philadelphia. Dombrowski did not arrive with a contract offer in his pocket, but he used his time to express his vision for a franchise that fell short in its recent rebuild. Certainly, he knew the money needed to be there, but he hoped his efforts to meet Realmuto, plus his ability to express a plan to fix the Phillies, might matter, too.

“We walked away from that meeting, in the car on the way home, talking about how impressionable Dave and his wife were,” Realmuto said Monday afternoon in a Zoom call with reporters. “How nice they were. How we could tell how genuine they were. Obviously, the success he’s had speaks for itself. But that meeting, that was honestly the first thing that happened in the offseason for us. Other than a couple of Zoom calls. But that was the first time we could walk away, in the offseason, and feel confident about what was going on. We felt like Philly was going to be a good place for us again.”

Understandably, Realmuto might have had some concerns. The Phillies spent a lot of money in his first two seasons in Philadelphia, but never finished with a winning record. Then, it seemed like they planned to take a step back in 2021, openly discussing their need to slash payroll, while the Braves, Mets, Nationals and even Marlins seemed better positioned to make the postseason.

Don’t believe it, Dombrowski said.

“He talked to me about [managing partner John Middleton’s] and his thoughts and where they saw the organization going,” Realmuto said. “Some of the stuff in the media that was reported wasn’t quite as accurate, which happens. But he kind of laid rest to some of that stuff and let us know the organization is in a place to try to win. He mentioned John said he wanted this Phillies team to be one of the best teams ever. So that stuck with me. That gave me the confidence that they want to go out there and get to the postseason.”

Realmuto agreed last Tuesday to a five-year, $115.5 million contract that was signed Friday. It helped that the Mets did not wait for Realmuto and instead signed free-agent catcher James McCann in December. New York had been considered the Phillies’ top competitor. It also helped that other free spenders like the Blue Jays (George Springer) and Yankees (DJ LeMaheiu) spent their dollars elsewhere, while other clubs reduced payroll because of lost revenues from the pandemic.

But it worked out. Now Dombrowski just needs to enact the rest of his plan.

“Obviously, we have a long road ahead of us,” Realmuto said. “We have to make some adjustments. We have to get better, bottom line. Offensively, defensively, pitching. Specifically, with defense and pitching, there are a lot of improvements we can make. The talent is there. We just have to put it together and work hard in Spring Training. We'll see how it goes.”

Last week, the Phillies agreed to contracts with shortstop Didi Gregorius and left-hander Matt Moore. Gregorius completes a lineup that ranked fifth in baseball in scoring in 2020. Moore is a perceived favorite to win a job in the rotation behind Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin. The Phillies previously acquired relievers Archie Bradley, José Alvarado and Sam Coonrod, who should improve one of the worst bullpens in baseball history.

More help is coming.

“There are still a lot of free agents out there, so I still think we’re looking at value in some ways,” Dombrowski said.

Any value moves moving forward matter more now that Realmuto is back. Without him, it would have been difficult to see any path for the Phillies to finish near the top of the division.

There had been enormous public pressure to re-sign Realmuto, particularly following Sixto Sánchez’s success last year in Miami. The Phillies traded Sánchez, Jorge Alfaro and a Minor League pitcher to the Marlins in February 2019 to acquire Realmuto. The idea of losing Realmuto after failing to make the postseason in his only two seasons in Philadelphia seemed unfathomable.

It was why Bryce Harper and others joined the #SignJT campaign, too.

“Are the rumors true?” Harper texted Realmuto when news first broke Tuesday.

“Yeah, we’re getting close,” Realmuto replied.

Once the deal became official, Harper texted, “Let’s go,” with a lot of exclamation points, Realmuto said.

“I’m really just glad that it worked out the way it did,” Realmuto said. “The organization and my teammates, they brought me in like I was their own right away. The fans embraced me right away. They were good to me from Day 1. They treated me my family great, so it was important to us. We haven’t been shy about how much we love playing for the Phillies, so we’re just really excited and grateful for the opportunity they’ve given us.”