It’s pretty clear the war over free agency is scaring a number of superstar players out of those waters and into contract extensions that benefit their existing teams as much as it does them.
The St. Louis Cardinals announced they and Paul Goldschmidt have agreed to a five year, $130 million deal. The Astros have signed young star Alex Bregman to a five year, $100 million contract, the best third baseman in baseball, Nolan Arenado, earlier this off-season signed an eight year, $260 million deal with the Rockies, and of course, the greatest player in the game, Mike Trout, signed his shocking 10-year, $430 million extension with the Angels.
Could Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto be next?
When the Phils traded their top prospect, Sixto Sanchez, and a very talented young catcher in Jorge Alfaro to Miami for two years of Realmuto, they did so with the hope of trying to sign the 28-year-old to an extension. No one appears to be in any big hurry, as Realmuto is still under team control for another two years. But that hasn’t stopped other extensions from being consummated as of late.
In 2018, Realmuto finished with 4.8 fWAR, slightly behind Yasmani Grandal’s 4.9, and hit .277/.340/.484 with 21 HRs, 74 RBIs and 74 runs scored in 531 PAs. In addition to his offensive abilities, he’s also an above average defensive catcher with a strong arm, an ability to handle the pitching staff, and possesses leadership qualities that should help a young locker room stay on the right track.
Since his breakout season in 2016, only Grandal (14.9) and Buster Posey (13.7) have more fWAR among catchers than Realmuto (11.3). His 115 wRC+ is 5th among catchers over that span, he has the 3rd-best batting average (.386), the 5th-best OBP (.338) and the 8th-best slugging (.454), all while playing in the worst hitter’s park in the Majors.
It’s clear Realmuto has emerged as perhaps the best catcher in baseball, taking over the mantle from Posey, who suffered a down season ‘18 after playing in just 105 games and hitting five home runs last season. But at one time, Posey was the undisputed best backstop in the game, and, in March of 2013, received a nine-year, $167 million deal extension with the San Francisco Giants.
Posey was the reigning NL MVP the season before and batted a league-leading .336 with a .408 OBP, a .549 slugging percentage and a league best OPS+ of 171. He signed that deal after his third full season with the Giants, at 26 years old, and to that point in his first three seasons hit .317/.384/.509 with an .893 OPS, 46 home runs, 191 RBIs and 67 doubles in 1,238 PAs.
He was incredibly good, a better player at that stage of his career than Realmuto has shown thus far. However, Realmuto appears to be a player who is getting better with each passing year.
Last season was the first time he was selected to the All Star team, and he won the Silver Slugger award for his position. He batted .277/.340/.484 with an .825 OPS, 21 homers and 30 doubles, and in his first four seasons hit .280/.328/.443 with a .771 OPS, 59 HRs and 113 doubles in 2,122 PAs.
Realmuto is a year older than Posey was, and didn’t have the high impact seasons that Posey had, when Posey got his extension, but moving from Miami to hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park should improve his offensive numbers dramatically. ZiPS projects Realmuto to bat .276/.335/.503 with 25 HRs, 84 RBIs and 76 runs scored in 558 PAs for the Phillies this year.
Those numbers would be the best among all MLB catchers in almost every category.
So if we’re using Posey’s extension as a guide, what does that mean for J.T.?
Posey’s deal pays him $18.5 million AAV through his age-34 season (the Giants hold a team option for his age 35 season). A deal that would take Realmuto through his age-34 season would be a five-year extension added on to the two years remaining on his current deal, or a brand new seven-year deal.
Looking at some of the other extensions agreed to this spring, Arenado’s new deal pays him $32.5 million AAV, Goldschmidt’s deal with St. Louis pays him $26 million and Bregman’s nets him $20 million. We also know the type of deal Realmuto wouldn’t take, based on reports of previous offers made by the Marlins.
Sources: #Marlins offered J.T. Realmuto two separate contract extensions. 4 yrs 43 mil back in July and then 5 yrs 61 mil, w option for 6th yr (76 mil total). Realmuto’s camp did counter with an offer and then pulled it off the table and never returned.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) December 3, 2018
A deal that rips up the current two years of his deal that pays him about $18 million a season over the next seven years would equate to a $126 million offer. At $20 million a year, it would be $140 million.
That would be quite the raise from the $5.9 million he’s slated to earn in 2019 and feels like the sweet spot for a deal between him and the Phillies.