With McCann off market, can Phils land JT?

December 13th, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies provided fans some encouraging news Friday when they announced Dave Dombrowski as their new president of baseball operations.

Did the Mets provide a little more on Saturday?

Sources told MLB.com that the Mets and free-agent catcher James McCann have agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract. The deal could be considered encouraging for the Phillies, because the Mets had been considered a favorite for free agent , who is looking to sign a record-setting contract for a catcher. It does not mean Realmuto is headed back to Philadelphia. Not by a longshot. But anytime a top competitor falls off the board, it helps.

The Phillies have stated publicly that re-signing Realmuto is a priority this offseason. They also have sounded pessimistic about their chances, both publicly and privately.

At one point, Realmuto had been seeking a contract in excess of $200 million, according to sources. But negotiations always start somewhere, so it is unlikely that Realmuto’s camp will not budge from that number.

But the Phillies still find themselves in an interesting spot, even without the Mets in the picture.

First, there are other teams looking for a catcher. The Blue Jays and Nationals immediately come to mind. So, it isn’t like the Phillies and Mets were Realmuto’s only two options. He is arguably the best catcher in baseball, after all.

Second, the Phils are reducing payroll in 2021. They were close to the $208 million luxury tax threshold in 2020, but a projected $150 million in losses from the pandemic will make that number lower next year. How much lower? It remains to be seen. But the Phillies will not have the financial flexibility they expected or discussed moving forward when they signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract in February 2019.

“I know [owner] John [Middleton] wants to win,” Dombrowski said Friday. “We have flexibility of finances, but when I say that, I don’t think it’s an unlimited amount of funds. You always realize there is some type of budget attached to that. We will work within that."

Third, the Phillies need more than just Realmuto to win in 2021. If they bring back Realmuto, will they have enough remaining to fill the other holes? They need a shortstop. They need relievers. They need a No. 4 or 5 starter, unless they plan to roll the dice with Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez. They could use another outfielder, unless they plan on bringing back Odúbel Herrera in center field, which would allow them to play Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn as reserves.

“I don’t look at this as a situation as we are one player away from winning,” Dombrowski said. “I think we need to do a few things with this team.”

Is there a way to both sign Realmuto and find quality complementary pieces at bargain prices to fill out the rest of the roster?

“I don’t know that, because I really haven’t gotten into specifics,” Dombrowski said. “I do know the first part: Everybody in the organization loves J.T. I mean, that’s anybody I’ve talked to. So I think there’s a unanimous feeling they’d like to bring him back. Now, those things are never easy, a lot of us have dealt with free-agent markets in the past, but that feeling is mutual from John on down through the rest of the staff, so there is some flexibility to make moves there. But again, can you get something like that done? I’m not really sure.”