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Let’s talk about that J.T. Realmuto article

We’re gonna go Fire Joe Morgan-style up in here

Boston Red Sox v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

J.T. Realmuto was the best thing about the Phillies’ 2019 season. Let’s just get that out of the way. As the lone All-Star, the best all around catcher in the game and a model citizen, it’s a pretty simple statement to make. He’s a cornerstone of this franchise and someone that the team needs to get locked down as soon as possible.

So, why is it that the Phillies shouldn’t pay him what he’s worth?

Earlier on Wednesday, NBC Sports Philadelphia published an article where the author lays out his reasons for not paying Realmuto more than $100 million in an extension. This was written in response to a piece Corey Seidman wrote about what an extension for Realmuto theoretically looks like, which you can read here. Seidman eventually came up with this number:

The prediction here is five years, $112.5 million. It would make Realmuto the highest-paid catcher, per year, in baseball history at an average of $22.5 million. It would also make him only the third catcher ever to get a nine-figure contract.

Sensible, right? The entire piece is worth reading because it lays out the case for why Realmuto should be the highest paid catcher in history.

Well, apparently, that’s just not good enough. This author disagrees, then proceeds to lay out the reasons. Let’s look at these reasons and give some instant rebuttals, Fire Joe Morgan-style.

The Phillies have a lot of difficult decisions to make this offseason. A decision on a new manager needs to be finalized. Half of the starting infield is likely to be changed, not to mention the desire to upgrade at least 40 percent of the starting rotation....But is it a no-brainer if the terms are in the neighborhood of the five years and $112 million that Corey Seidman recently suggested? Let’s examine some of the key talking points.

Harmless enough. All true. We’re good so far.

That statement has been made plenty of times over the past year. It might be true. He’s certainly the most complete catcher. I’m not certain that Realmuto’s versatility makes him more valuable than Gary Sanchez and the sheer power he brings to the Yankees. Sanchez did have an awful postseason. But you do have to be there to be bad there. Regardless, it’s unquestionable that Realmuto is on the short list of top catchers in baseball. But should that conversation even matter?

The author here is referring to the statement that Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball. The train, though, has already come off of the tracks. What I can’t figure out is why he can’t acknowledge that “the most complete catcher” in baseball isn’t the same as “the best catcher in baseball”. How can someone say that Realmuto is the most complete catcher, but isn’t the best? If you want to make that argument, fine, but if Realmuto is not the best, who is and why? Is it Yasmani Grandal? His numbers in 2019 were a little better defensively, about even offensively and worse when running the bases. Does that make him the best or does it make the two even? Figure it out!

Then we get into the Sanchez comparison. Because Sanchez has more power than Realmuto, that makes him better? That’s certainly the implication being made. Probably not the best argument to make in the year when home runs were being at a record pace, thus devaluing the home run a bit.

Then, let me see if I get this last part straight.

Sanchez fails in postseason > in the postseason in the first place > Realmuto not in the postseason.

Did I get that right? That statement just makes no sense whatsoever. He’s better than Realmuto because his team is better? Let’s just move one before our brains melt even further.

If you look at Realmuto solely as a hitter, he’d probably fit in somewhere between the 65th and 80th best everyday batter this past season. His .820 OPS ranked 69th amongst qualifiers in MLB. Next on that list, 70th with an .819 OPS, is Rhys Hoskins. I don’t imagine many Phillies fans would be lining up right now to give Hoskins $22 million-plus per year.

This is something that people do that just doesn’t make any sense. They compare hitters to hitters, regardless of the position they play.

...ahem...

J.T. REALMUTO HAD AN .820 OPS WHILE CATCHING ALMOST EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE BASEBALL CALENDAR YEAR!!!!!

I mean, you can’t be that obtuse to not factor that into how you evaluate a player, can you?

Luckily for us, the author did.

This is where you point out Realmuto’s world-class defense at the diamond’s backbone position. There’s no doubt Realmuto is the best in baseball at controlling the run game. He’s topped 31 percent in the caught stealing department in each of the last four seasons, including a mind-boggling 47 percent this past season. Baseball Prospectus measured Realmuto as the fourth-best defensive catcher in 2019 when factoring throwing, blocking pitches and pitch-framing.

So what he just did was provide information on how Realmuto was the 69th best hitter via OPS (a stat that is misleading),say that’s good but not that good, then tell you how awesome he was behind the dish. I mean, come on man.

***side note: Sanchez was horrible in those same categories. Among those qualifiers in catching defense, he was 107th***

That invites the question: What did Realmuto’s great defense mean as far as overall run prevention for the Phillies this season? The short answer is not much. The Phillies ended up allowing 66 more runs in 2019 as opposed to the season before. While it would be a fool’s errand to blame Realmuto for the regression of the Phillies’ pitching staff, it’s worth pointing out that Realmuto’s defense, or any player’s defense for that matter, is not as valuable as is conventionally believed.

Ok.

First of all, this statement does not even demonstrate a basic knowledge of how baseball defense works. If the team allowed 66 more runs than the year before, you’d probably like to know why, right? Well, let’s look at some of the facts.

  • They ranked 6th in UZR/150 as a team, an improvement from 2018 when they were dead last
  • They ranked 8th in DRS as a team, an improvement from 2018 when they were dead last

The team defense improved dramatically to say the least and they still let in more runs. Gee, I wonder why? Could it be that the pitchers, for the most part, regressed horribly? So because of that, following the logic here, you can’t actually say that Realmuto was all that valuable on defense. That’s the kind of logic that should be making your head spin because it seems to have been pulled out of thin air.

Effective pitching prevents runs. Everything else is window dressing.

Just imagine this for 2019:

Andrew Knapp.

Behind the plate.

For 120 games.

Imagine that defensive nightmare.

In all actuality, Realmuto’s position should count as a reason for being cautious about signing him to a long-term, big-money deal. The physical rigors associated with catching are a reason to think Realmuto’s production will decline within the body of this deal, which would likely begin with his age-30 season in 2020. Not to mention that if the Phillies are able to work Realmuto down to the 110 starts in a season that Gabe Kapler mentioned as a desired target prior to his firing, that’s 45 to 50 starts Realmuto isn’t giving you that a position player theoretically could.

Welcome to the only portion of this article that makes any sense at all.

It’s common knowledge that Realmuto’s backup has to be better so that the dropoff from J.T. to him isn’t as steep as this past season. However, thinking that Realmuto will only catch 110 games next year is silly. He’ll still be out there for 120-130 games at least, with some DH spots mixed in. That bat will be in the lineup.

‘The Phillies can’t afford to lose Realmuto’

This argument basically revolves around two main points:

1. The Phillies traded their top pitching prospect and an everyday player for Realmuto. It would be foolish to lose him for nothing after that.

2. The Phillies currently don’t have enough good players to be World Series contenders. You cannot allow one already here to leave.

The first point is an easy one to counter. Past decisions should not dictate future ones. If signing Realmuto to a deal at a certain price point is not what’s best for the organization moving forward, it should not matter what it took to acquire him.

No, no, no.

This argument does not revolve around either of these two points. It revolved around the simple fact that if the Phillies are intent on winning a championship, they cannot let someone of Realmuto’s talent simply leave. They must sign him in order to keep the best team possible together on the field. The minor league system is not producing a catcher in his league any time soon, nor is there someone coming in from free agency (more on that in a second) that will generate as much production on the field as Realmuto. THAT is what the argument is revolving around.

As for the second point, signing Realmuto might preclude the Phillies from adding multiple good players in the future. Would the Phillies be better served utilizing a much smaller portion of the $112 million theoretically pegged for Realmuto to sign a middle tier catcher, a la Travis d’Arnaud, then trade Realmuto for another piece or two while contributing the rest of the financial savings toward an elite pitcher like Stephen Strasburg or an elite hitter like Anthony Rendon? I’d argue yes.

Ok.

Where to start...

The Phillies financial situation has been set up so that signing Realmuto to an expensive, long term extension does not preclude the team from actually spending money on a top tier free agent pitcher this offseason. According to RosterResource, the Phillies will enter 2020 roughly $10 million shy of the luxury tax threshold before factoring in trades, nontenders and releases. After 2020, that number drops under $80 million. In other words, this team is perfectly fine when it comes to player salaries. Adding an extension for Realmuto does minimal damage to the bottom line in regards to the luxury tax, even if the team were to spend ~$35 million on someone to lead the pitching staff.

NOW you have the cockamamie idea of signing...<rubs eyes>....TRAVIS *&%$^!@ D’ARNAUD AND TRADING J.T. REALMUTO. REALLY?????? Let’s just try and comprehend the drop in val....you know what, I can’t. Let’s just move on.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Realmuto would now be one year closer to free agency and his trade value is no longer worth the equivalent of what was paid.

I mean, why on earth would someone suggest getting weaker at a position of strength to try and get better on the mound when the financial wherewithal is still there? This represents a total lack of knowledge of the team, the financial structure of the game and how baseball works in general.

More simply put, the Phillies have a lot of holes to fill and spending major money on a good, not great hitter currently in his prime seasons that’s already in-house will not change your championship timeline.

<Spongebob voice> dOn’T sPeNd MoNeY oN gOoD pLaYeRs In ThEiR pRiMe!

By all accounts, Realmuto is a good clubhouse figure. He’s certainly an All-Star caliber talent. The Phillies should want to keep him. But there is a price where it make sense and a price where it does not. They have to be very careful about knowing that line.

It is highly doubtful the team is going to put out a crazy offer to Realmuto. We can pretty much rule out Harper money in its totality. But getting close to the AAV that Harper received isn’t actually all that difficult to envision.

Listen, this author probably really put some time and effort into writing this. Probably even spent like, what, 10 minutes on Fangraphs! I even see some subscription based research! Kudos! But it is simply lunacy to think that Realmuto is not worth $100+ million in an extension. Seidman was probably right in that the team will not be giving a deal that exceeds 6 years, which is fair. But those 5-6 years that Realmuto will get are going to cost the team.

Every night, when Realmuto walks onto the field, the Phillies can definitively say they have the best player at that position, no matter who they are playing. They should pay up to make that stay the same. Quickly.