CHERRY HILL, N.J. -- J.T. Realmuto is on a mission.
He said Monday that he hopes to set the standard for future catchers by winning a salary-arbitration hearing next month. The Phillies recently offered to pay him $10 million in 2020. He requested $12.4 million. Either number will make him the highest-paid catcher in baseball history in the final season of arbitration eligibility. But win or lose, Realmuto said it will not affect his chances of a contract extension with the club.
“No, not at all,” he said before the Philadelphia Sports Writers’ Association banquet at the Crowne Plaza. “I mean, anybody who knows much about the arbitration process knows that it's business. It's not necessarily me against the Phillies right now. There's definitely not any hard feelings there. So I feel like we're in the same place we were two or three months ago with the contract extension.”
The Phillies and Realmuto have not had deep negotiations about a multiyear deal, in part because the Phillies are pushing up against the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold in 2020. If they sign Realmuto to a multiyear extension now, they would blow past that mark because the average annual value of the deal counts against the number. The Phillies do not want that, so they will sign Realmuto to a one-year deal first, which will be a smaller number, then work on the extension.
Realmuto, regarded as the best catcher in baseball, will bring a strong argument to the hearing, which will happen next month in Florida if the parties do not reach an agreement first. He won his first Gold Glove Award and second consecutive Silver Slugger Award this offseason. He finished 14th in voting for the National League Most Valuable Player Award.
“It's the system we're trying to fight right now,” Realmuto said. “For me, I'm trying to go out there and set a precedent for the future catchers in our game. I feel like I had a season that is worthy of being that, so I'm going to fight for it.
“That’s why we're doing what we're doing. It's not because the Phillies didn't give us a chance to come to an agreement. It's because we feel like we're fighting for a cause and fighting for the rest of the catchers. Historically, catchers haven't been treated very well in the arbitration process, so we feel like this is an opportunity for us to advance that for future catchers.”
Realmuto is eager to get to Spring Training. He is healthy following surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee in September. He expressed optimism about the season, even if the Braves, Nationals and Mets might be more highly favored in the NL East. Those three teams finished above the Phillies in 2019.
The Phillies added right-hander Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius this offseason, but they otherwise have been quiet.
“Obviously, those two signings were huge for us,” Realmuto said. “They're going to help us a lot on the field. I feel like a sneaky way the Phillies have helped us this offseason is the coaches they've brought in. The manager they brought in. I feel like we have a lot of experience to work with now. I think it'll help us a lot behind the scenes.”
This offseason, the Phillies dismissed Gabe Kapler and hired Joe Girardi as manager. They parted ways with Chris Young and hired Bryan Price as pitching coach. They also have a new hitting coach in Joe Dillon. Realmuto believes in the impact that Price, who has a long resume and stellar reputation, can have on the pitching staff.
“I thought those guys had better stuff than what they were showing,” Realmuto said about some of the Phillies’ younger pitchers, like Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta. “I still feel the same way. I feel like Bryan Price is really going to help those guys a lot. A couple of conversations I have had with him, he has a lot of really good ideas for them that can help them be better pitchers. I feel like we have to tap into that potential somehow. I feel like he's the right guy to do it.”
Interestingly, Realmuto’s offseason started with a meeting with Phillies managing partner John Middleton, who visited his home in Oklahoma to discuss Kapler and the coaching staff. Realmuto’s offseason could end in the coming weeks with Middleton giving the green light on a contract extension.
“It meant a lot, obviously,” Realmuto said about the visit. “That's kind of unheard of, to be honest, in the game of baseball. So it's just knowing that he cares that much. He cares about what we all think and wants to make this organization first class in every aspect. He wants to win extremely bad. It's a lot for him to fly all the way out there.”