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Bryce: 'J.T. needs to be our catcher next year' 

@ToddZolecki
September 27, 2020

Bryce Harper came to Philadelphia to help owner John Middleton get his trophy back, but after falling short of the postseason the past two years, he minced no words on what must happen before 2021. Yes, folks, Harper made an already intriguing offseason more fascinating. Because not only are there

Bryce Harper came to Philadelphia to help owner John Middleton get his trophy back, but after falling short of the postseason the past two years, he minced no words on what must happen before 2021.

Yes, folks, Harper made an already intriguing offseason more fascinating.

Because not only are there prominent free agents like J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius to potentially re-sign, but there are also significant pitching and defensive problems, too. Oh, and the future of general manager Matt Klentak, whose job is in question after five years. Harper offered his thoughts on all of it.

But everything starts with Realmuto, who will be the most coveted position player in free agency this offseason. Harper is Realmuto’s biggest fan. He wore a Realmuto T-shirt the first couple of days of Summer Camp in July. He yelled “Sign him!” after he crossed home plate in a summer scrimmage at Citizens Bank Park. After Realmuto homered the first couple of times in the regular season, Harper gestured the signing of a large check.

“Sign J.T.!” was the summer catchphrase of Phillies fans, too.

“J.T. Realmuto needs to be our catcher next year,” Harper said following Sunday’s season-ending 5-0 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. “Plain and simple. I mean, he’s the best catcher in baseball. He’s the best hitting catcher in baseball. Our guys love to throw to him, if that’s [Zack] Wheeler, if that’s [Aaron] Nola, if that’s anybody.

"Anybody that’s the best at their position -- hitting and fielding -- needs to be signed, and that is J.T. Realmuto. I don’t think that should even be a question or anything. Because there’s going to be two teams or three teams in the NL East who are going to go after that guy, and if that happens, I mean, that’s going to be tough to swallow for us.”

Realmuto was unavailable to comment. The Phillies hoped to sign him to an extension in March, but they realized they were too far apart with his camp. Klentak said this summer that the economic landscape of baseball changed following the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating Realmuto might not be able to get what he wants. Realmuto, however, is betting on himself, because he believes elite players will always be paid.

The Mets, Yankees and Braves are just three teams that could make serious runs at Realmuto.

It only takes one team to meet a player’s demands, even if the Phillies believe they have the right number.

But Harper also talked about the Phillies’ pitching, because he said it wins championships. At the very least, it makes up for other deficiencies on the roster. The Phillies’ bullpen finished with a 7.06 ERA, which made it the second-worst bullpen in baseball history behind the 1930 Phillies (8.16 ERA), according to Elias Sports Bureau.

There is little doubt that with an average bullpen, the Phillies would have won another game or two and made the postseason.

“I think the bullpen is made from within,” Harper said. “Not all teams go out and spend a million bajillion dollars on bullpens. I mean, you can’t do it. You can’t just go out and just spend a crazy amount of money on a bullpen, because you have to be able to rely on the guys in your organization to get the job done. Pitching wins championships. Development wins champions. Being able to develop and understand what it takes to develop wins championships.”

But will Klentak be negotiating with Realmuto’s agents and looking for ways to rebuild the bullpen? Klentak has been with the Phillies since October 2015. The Phillies have not made the postseason in his tenure. They have not had a winning record.

Should Klentak be back next year?

“I mean, I’m not an owner,” Harper said. “So I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .