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J.T. Realmuto loses arbitration

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He’ll be paid $10M this season. And now, extension talks begin in earnest.

Heather Barry

The long-awaited decision has finally been handed down: Following Wednesday’s hearing and ruling by an independent arbitrator, Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto has been awarded a $10 million salary for the 2020 season. Realmuto was one of two remaining arb-eligible players for the Phils, who are set to head to a hearing with reliever Hector Neris later this week.

The $10 million is a new record for an arbitration-eligible catcher, topping Matt Wieters’s $8.275M figure with Baltimore in 2015.

The decision sets the wheels of long-term extension talks in motion, now that J.T. has an established baseline on the cusp of free agency. It also further crystallizes the Phils’ Opening Day payroll situation: With Neris’s case still pending, the current team total now sits at approximately $204 million, according to RosterResource.

Arbitration hearings come with a reputation of being acrimonious, with both sides digging and clawing for every bit of information and justification that could be used to support their proposed salary figure, or discredit the other’s submission. The details of these hearings are almost never made public in any way. For his part, though. Realmuto has been saying all the right things leading up to this day, and the hope is that whatever went down in this hearing doesn’t adversely affect his desire to stick around. Last month, he had this to say:

“I have a pretty good understanding of the process and I know it’s not the Phillies trying to slight me at all. It’s more the system. There’s no hard feelings there.”
...
“Anybody who knows much about the arbitration process knows that it’s business. It’s not necessarily me against the Phillies right now. There’s definitely not any hard feelings there. So, I feel like we’re in the same place we were two or three months ago with the contract extension.”

The Phillies have not typically been a “file-and-trial” team when it comes to their arbitration-eligible players, but in Realmuto’s case this outcome seemed likely from the jump once salary figures were exchanged. Realmuto rather altruistically views this year’s pay and his extension talks as a benchmark to be set for future catchers, and theoretically risked bypassing agreeing on a midpoint salary of $11.2 million in order to maximize those future earnings. What that eventual deal will look like is still anyone’s guess, but it could approach five or six years in length with a total value up to or exceeding $100 million.

It’s widely anticipated that, should the Phillies and Realmuto agree on a new deal, the next contract will take effect starting in 2021 in order to play hopscotch with the Competitive Balance Tax, which the team still insists it will exceed this year under the right circumstances. How the current team plays through July will have a lot to do with that.