In a move that was not at all surprising, catcher J.T. Realmuto has reportedly refused the Phillies’ qualifying offer and will test free agency.
Realmuto is expected to easily better this year’s QO of $18.9 million for one year, and could see a multi-year deal that pays him more per year than any catcher in MLB history. San Francisco’s Buster Posey is the current record holder at $21.4 million in average annual value. He signed an eight-year, $168 million contract extension with the Giants in 2013. It’s unlikely Realmuto will better that deal in terms of years or total dollars, but should top the AAV with little problem, even as teams pull back their payrolls due to the pandemic.
Last season, Yasmani Grandal scored four-year, $73 million contract after his age-31 season for an AAV of $18.25 million per season. A five-year, $125 million contract isn’t out of the question for Realmuto, given he’s two years younger than Grandal was when Yasmani inked his contract with the Chicago White Sox.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Realmuto set a career high in OPS (.840) and had the second-highest OPS+ (123) of his career when he batted .266/.349/.491 with 11 HRs and 32 RBIs in 47 games. His athleticism and defense behind the plate and on the bases make him a rare commodity in baseball and are just some of the reasons Realmuto may not age as poorly as other catchers historically have. And his value runs larger than just his on-field exploits. He’s beloved by teammates, especially Bryce Harper, for his work ethic and leadership, and has often been compared to former Phils second baseman Chase Utley in his off-field demeanor.
The Phillies can still sign Realmuto to a free agent contract, but there will be other suitors attempting to snatch him away. The New York Mets are seen as the most likely landing spot, with new owner Steve Cohen acknowledging this week that upgrading at the catcher position will be of upmost importance. Should the Phils lose out on Realmuto, Andrew Knapp and Rafael Marchan would be the likeliest in-house candidates to take over, with free agents James McCann, Yadier Molina and Wilson Ramos also possibilities.
If the Phillies are unable to sign Realmuto, they would receive a compensatory draft pick in between the first and second rounds in return.