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Why the Phillies have already lost the J.T. Realmuto trade

Whether they sign Realmuto in free agency or not, the trade is a bust.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Any way you look at it, the Phillies’ decision to trade Sixto Sanchez for J.T. Realmuto is a complete and total bust.

During his Zoom news conference with reporters on Saturday, owner John Middleton made it clear he was not in favor of the Phils pulling the trigger on the deal unless they could sign Realmuto to a contract extension. Realmuto was still under team control for two more years.

“The fact of the matter is, at the time it was being considered, my position was, I’d be willing to trade Sixto as long as you extend J.T.,” Middleton said. “And if you don’t extend J.T., I wouldn’t trade Sixto. Because we weren’t at a point in the development of the team where the benefits that we were getting matched what we were giving up.”

Middleton went on to say his “baseball ops” people told him they thought they could get an extension done, but that obviously never happened. Now, Realmuto is set to hit the open market as the top free agent available this winter with three teams in the Phillies’ division — the Mets, Braves and Nationals — all likely suitors, as well as teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Astros. Middleton will have to outbid some other deep pocketed owners in order to retain his star catcher’s services.

But whether the Phillies sign him now or not makes no difference. The deal is already a dud.

One of two ways the trade made sense at the time was for the Phillies to use their exclusive negotiating window to get a deal done before he hit the open market, or for the team to make the playoffs in 2019 or ‘20. Former GM Matt Klentak felt the team was close enough to contention to sacrifice one of the brightest young pitching prospects in baseball for two years of Realmuto, a sentiment not shared by his owner or most fans.

“But at that point, when we traded for J.T., we weren’t the defending World Series champions. We were trying to get back to the playoffs. The point I made is, we need J.T. now but we really need J.T. in three, four, five, six years from now and if all we get for him is two years, that’s not the same thing as two years of Cliff Lee in 2009.

“And so, that was my position. He’s a great player but we gave up a great player. To me, we just needed to hold fast and be firm and not give up Sixto for just two years at that moment in our time. We were a little early in the development to make that kind of a play.”

In 2019, the team went 81-81, eight games out of the running for one of the NL’s two wild card spots. This year, in an expanded playoff format in which three additional teams went to the postseason, the Phils went 28-32 and missed the postseason by one game. Realmuto has played well in a Phillies uniform (.825 OPS+, 36 HRs, 115 RBIs and a Gold Glove in 192 games), but it wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s shortcomings in the starting rotation and bullpen the last two seasons.

Now that Realmuto has hit free agency, the Phillies have no advantage over any other team to sign him long-term. They could have never made the trade, still not made the playoffs, and had Sanchez in the fold as their own potential staff ace. Now, Sanchez is making postseason starts for their division rivals, the Marlins, and the Phils are left with virtually no impact pitching prospects in the organization. Only Spencer Howard remains, and his future is murky after a rocky first season which involved shoulder pain for the second time in two years.

Once COVID-19 hit and the transaction freeze went into effect in March, the Phillies essentially had to make the playoffs this year for the trade to have met its stated goals, and that didn’t happen. Now, Middleton speaks of a 2021 season with potentially no fans in the stands and a changed economic market. The payroll could actually be less that it was this seasons, with holes at shortstop, No. 3 starter and the bullpen still to be tackled as well.

But whether they sign him or not, the J.T. Realmuto trade was a failure and there’s nothing that can happen from this point on to change that.

On the latest episode of Hittin’ Seasons, Liz Roscher, Chris Jones and I discussed the dismissal of Matt Klentak as GM, John Middleton’s frustrating news conference and the future of Realmuto in Philadelphia. Check it out, rate and subscribe!