PHILADELPHIA -- J.T. Realmuto is a special player, and the Phillies distinguished him as one on Sunday.
Philadelphia extended Realmuto a one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer before Sunday's 5 p.m. ET deadline to do so. He is one of only six MLB players to receive a qualifying offer this year. The others were Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer, Giants right-hander Kevin Gausman, Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu, Astros outfielder George Springer and Mets right-hander Marcus Stroman.
The Phillies did not make a qualifying offer to shortstop Didi Gregorius or their seven other free agents.
Realmuto has 10 days to accept or reject the offer. If he accepts it, he is signed to a one-year contract through 2021. If he rejects it and signs with another team, Philadelphia will receive Draft pick compensation.
Realmuto, 29, is seeking a record-breaking contract for a catcher, perhaps in the $200 million range. It explains why the Phillies have been pessimistic about re-signing him for months, although president Andy MacPhail offered a sliver of optimism on Friday.
“There are two things we’ve got going for us,” MacPhail said. “The first is, I think he enjoyed his time here and obviously, we want him back, so I think those two things give you some measure of hope. In any offseason, there are an amazing amount of variables, and you can just multiply that exponentially this offseason. But, yeah, as long as the player enjoyed his time here and the team has a legitimate interest in bringing him back, there is that possibility.”
MacPhail might be more confident because he might believe Realmuto cannot find the contract he wants following a pandemic-shortened 2020 season with teams expected to cut spending. The Phillies have been betting on Realmuto not finding that contract since Spring Training, even before camp was suspended.
If Realmuto’s representation finds the free-agent market much cooler than expected, he could surprise people by accepting the qualifying offer from the Phillies and then trying free agency again next year. Of course, Realmuto will be another year older in 2021, which is always a consideration for teams signing catchers to multiyear deals.
The Phils almost certainly would do cartwheels if Realmuto accepted.
Plenty of Phillies fans did not understand why the team would not give Gregorius a qualifying offer. He hit .284 with 10 home runs, 40 RBIs, an .827 OPS and a 119 OPS+ this past season. But Philadelphia feels it can either re-sign Gregorius or sign another shortstop for less. (It could also move Jean Segura or Scott Kingery to shortstop.) Marcus Semien and Andrelton Simmons are two of the top shortstops on the free-agent market this winter.
But the focus this winter will remain on the Phillies’ pursuit of Realmuto. They traded right-hander Sixto Sánchez to the Marlins in February 2019 to get him. It would be tough to watch Realmuto sign elsewhere, then have to face Sánchez over the next several years.