PHILADELPHIA -- The baseball landscape has changed dramatically since March, and its changes could affect contract negotiations between the Phillies and catcher J.T. Realmuto.
The Phillies will open summer camp on Friday with an eye toward Opening Day on July 23 or 24. Before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled Spring Training in March, many believed the Phillies and Realmuto would agree to a multiyear extension before the original Opening Day in late March. But sources said at the time that the two parties were not close to an agreement, and a deal might not be struck before then.
They are no closer now.
“As you know, we were prohibited from talking to J.T. or his representative for the last 3 1/2 months and that restriction was lifted on Friday,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said on Monday afternoon. “And, candidly, we’ve been nose to the ground on intake screenings [for COVID-19] and getting people here, so I have not touched base with them this weekend, either.”
Realmuto would love to break Joe Mauer’s record average annual value for a catcher at $23 million. An AAV north of that for four to six years seemed like a lock a few months ago, but perhaps a deal that size will be more difficult to attain in a sport hit hard by the pandemic.
It is not a crazy thought.
“Economically, nobody knows where the game’s going to be at at the end of this year,” Realmuto told The Athletic in May. “This being my free-agent year, who knows what could happen with that. Really, only time will tell whether that will impact me negatively. Or, we could have a shortened season and I go out and have the best half of my life, and it could do wonders for me.”
But now that Realmuto is only two months away from free agency -- instead of six, like in March -- perhaps he chooses to wait and lets more than just the Phillies bid on him.
“Probably too soon to tell,” Klentak said about a timeline.
The Phillies and Realmuto could get something done before the end of July. They could make something happen before the end of the regular season.
Or maybe the Phillies just wait until the offseason and win the bidding anyway.
Then again, if the Phillies wait too long, they could lose him.
“I need to talk with them,” Klentak said. “We need to find out. Obviously I don’t need to tell you guys this, 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 would 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. I wish I had a more concrete timeframe to give you, but I think we just need to play that out because I don’t know the answer.”
Realmuto did not seem too concerned in May.
“I think that the top guys out there are going to be wanted,” he said. “There are going to be more than five, six, seven, eight -- whatever it is, however many teams are really wanting to compete. Those teams are going to be there to spend the money that they’ve always spent, in my opinion. Now, there will be a lot of teams that might have to cut back financially. The free agents might feel the wrath of that. But in my opinion, I think the top tier of guys always seem to find a way to get their money.”