Realmuto officially re-signs with Phillies

January 29th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies referred to Plans B, C and D this winter if they could not bring back free-agent catcher . But deep down they knew that Plan A was the only one that mattered.

They knew they needed Realmuto.

They got him on Friday, when the team announced that it had re-signed the star catcher to a five-year contract. Terms were not disclosed, but sources told MLB.com that the deal is worth $115.5 million, which sets a record average annual value (AAV) for a catcher at $23.1 million per season, besting Joe Mauer’s $23 million per season in his eight-year, $184 million deal with the Twins (2011-18).

Realmuto’s record-breaking contract fills a major hole in the Phillies’ roster. It makes a lot of people in Philly happy, too.

The Phillies knew they needed to re-sign Realmuto the moment they traded for him in February 2019, when they shipped Sixto Sánchez, Jorge Alfaro and Minor League pitcher Will Stewart to the Marlins. But the Phils also figured they had plenty of time, so they waited until after Realmuto signed a one-year contract in his final season of salary arbitration eligibility in 2020 before beginning negotiations on a multiyear extension.

One problem: the Phillies immediately found themselves miles apart from their star catcher. Realmuto sought more than $200 million in a new contract. The Phillies wanted to pay roughly half of that.

The organization became publicly and privately pessimistic about its chances to retain him. The pressure to re-sign him picked up. It started with , who opened Summer Camp in July at Citizens Bank Park wearing a Realmuto T-shirt. He shouted “Sign him!” after Realmuto homered during a scrimmage. A couple times during the regular season Harper even gestured the signing of a gigantic check after Realmuto homered.

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Fans hopped on the bandwagon, too. A truck circled the ballpark one summer afternoon, urging the Phillies to re-sign Realmuto. On Opening Day, some fans hung a large bedsheet on the fencing outside the players’ entrance on Darien Street, asking the same.

A fan group hanging around outside the ballpark during home games chanted “Sign J.T.! Sign J.T.!” whenever Realmuto homered or made a big play.

Still, the money is the money, and the Phillies thought they could not bridge the gap.

Things slowly turned toward a reunion in December. It seemed to start following the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations. It picked up once the Mets signed free-agent catcher James McCann, removing the Phillies’ biggest competitor from the market. There seemed to be few viable alternatives for Realmuto, especially once the Blue Jays signed center fielder George Springer to a $150 million deal last week. The Braves reportedly entered the picture in recent days, but the Phillies never considered the threat real.

Realmuto will be paid $20 million in 2021, with $10 million deferred to provide the Phillies cash-flow relief as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Half the deferral will be paid in '26 and the other half will be paid in '27. Realmuto will make $23.875 million per season from '22-25. A $1 million bonus is included if he were to be traded.

It is the highest contract signed by a free-agent catcher, besting Brian McCann’s five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees (2014-18). Mauer’s deal with the Twins and Buster Posey’s eight-year, $159 million contract with the Giants were extensions that came while each remained under team control.

Bringing back Realmuto improves the Phillies’ outlook in 2021, although on paper they still might be considered fourth or fifth in the National League East. They have considerable holes to fill, particularly at shortstop.

The Phillies recently focused their efforts on signing free-agent shortstop Andrelton Simmons, but on Tuesday night he agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million contract with the Twins, according to sources. Hours earlier, shortstop Marcus Semien agreed to a one-year, $18 million deal with the Blue Jays and shortstop Freddy Galvis inked a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Orioles. It leaves Didi Gregorius as the only accomplished free-agent shortstop remaining on the market. He is believed to be seeking a two-year deal, which might be why the Phillies pushed for Simmons in the first place.

So what happens if the Phillies don’t meet Gregorius’ asking price? They could look to sign a free-agent second baseman like Kolten Wong, Jonathan Villar or Jonathan Schoop, and play Jean Segura or Scott Kingery at shortstop instead. But ideally, they find a way to bring back Gregorius, like they brought back Realmuto.

The Phillies also need to acquire more pitching help. Dombrowski indicated recently that is the plan. They just signed right-hander Iván Nova to a Minor League contract with an invite to Spring Training.  

At least Nova and the other pitchers know who they will be throwing to. They should like that.