J.T. Realmuto says Phillies had him all the way and there's no reason to quibble now

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Jim Salisbury
·5 min read
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Realmuto says Phillies had him all the way and there's no reason to quibble now originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Over the course of this offseason, there was legitimate concern, from team ownership to the fan base, about whether the Phillies would retain J.T. Realmuto.

But judging from Realmuto's comments Monday, the Phils had him all the way.

"There wasn't ever really a time where I felt like being back with the Phillies wasn't going to work out," the All-Star catcher said during a videoconference to announce his re-signing with the club. "I knew the process would play itself out how it was supposed to and I'm really just glad that it worked out the way it did."

Bryce Harper was glad, too.

The Phillies' $330-million man spent the summer playfully but pointedly stumping for the team to re-sign his baseball BFF. And before heading home to Las Vegas for the winter, Harper not so playfully threw down the gauntlet, saying, "J.T. Realmuto needs to be our catcher next year — plain and simple."

When word of Realmuto's new five-year, $115.5 million contract began to spread last week, Harper texted his buddy.

Let's go, read the text.

"With a lot of exclamation points," Realmuto said with a laugh.

Realmuto's contract is the largest free-agent deal ever for a catcher, eclipsing Brian McCann's five-year, $85-million deal with the Yankees in 2013 by 36 percent.

It is not the largest package ever for a catcher. Back in 2010, Joe Mauer signed an eight-year, $184-million contract extension — key word extension — with the Twins.

The average annual value of Mauer's record contract was $23 million and it was an important number as it related to Realmuto's free agency.

For the better part of a year, as his free agency approached, Realmuto made it clear that he was looking to raise the bar on catcher salaries. A year ago, a deal with an AAV of $23 million seemed like the starting point as the best catcher in the game hit the free-agent market. According to sources, Realmuto initially sought a deal of more than $200 million, something that could carry an AAV of as much as $30 million. Then the pandemic hit and the "landscape," to use former Phillies general manager Matt Klentak's word, changed due to plummeting revenues in the game. The Mets, who had money and a need at catcher, went in a different direction and signed James McCann, and six weeks later Realmuto is back with the Phillies on a deal that carries a record AAV of $23.1 million, big money for the rest of us schlubs but only a modest, $100,000 move of the ball that Realmuto was carrying for all catchers.

Realmuto, a former high school football star in his home state of Oklahoma, is OK with that.

"To be honest, moving the market in that sense wasn't really always the most important thing to me," he said. "Obviously, in my opinion, catchers are a little devalued in baseball, whether it be because the long-term contracts really haven't panned out or because in theory, we age faster, whatever that may be. It's a little tougher for catchers when they get up in age and it's tougher to get those long-term deals. And, quite frankly, the average annual value is not as high as other top position players at their positions, for whatever reason that is.

"I was happy to not let that go backwards, you know? I know it's been a long time since Mauer had his deal. It's a little different scenario that baseball's in. But I think, post-pandemic, we're pretty happy with the deal that we got."

Realmuto declined to answer whether he received offers from other clubs, saying, "I'm going to leave that for someone else to speak about."

Dave Dombrowski, who joined the organization as president of baseball operations in December, two months after Klentak was reassigned within the organization, and his wife visited with Realmuto and his wife in Oklahoma two days before Christmas. The little bit of old school relationship building, the kind regularly practiced by Pat Gillick, resonated with Realmuto.

"It definitely helped," Realmuto said. "We walked away from that meeting, in the car on the way home, talking about how impressive Dave and his wife were. That was the first time we could walk away, in the offseason, and feel confident about what was going on. We felt like Philly was going to be a good place for us again. He just made a good impression on us. 

"He let us know the organization is in a place to try to win. He mentioned that (managing partner John Middleton) said he wanted this Phillies team to be one of the best teams ever. So that sunk in with me. That gave me the confidence that they want to go out there and get to the postseason."

Back at the start of the offseason, it looked as if the Phils were in for some serious belt-tightening. Ownership indicated as much. Now, in recent weeks, the team has made over $150 million in commitments to free agents Realmuto, Didi Gregorius, Archie Bradley and Matt Moore. And the team is still mining for a bargain or two on what's left of the pitching market.

"I think a lot of that can be attributed to John Middleton and the Buck family that have been willing to step up and do things for us to try to make us better as a ballclub," Dombrowski said. "They're trying to allow us to put the best club possible on the field and also provide entertainment for our fans. So I think it's really an ownership driven decision that they've made."

And the biggest decision was Realmuto.

Yo, Bryce, your boy is back.

"We never ever wanted to be in a position where we will lose J.T.," Dombrowski said. "And that was from ownership, to (manager) Joe Girardi to staff members. Everybody was unanimous in that support. And, of course, you pay attention to the fans, there's a passion there, which is great. Teammates wanted to have him on board.

"We always, from every end of it, wanted to bring J.T. back."

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