By this point, you already know many of the details that have trickled out from the agreement that has been reached by the union and MLB. Service time for the players in the event of a shortened, or even cancelled, season was what took priority for the players over other things that could have been given more credence. But with the deal mostly done (owners are supposed to ratify it shortly), we can look at ahead what it’ll mean to the Phillies and boy, Matt Klentak cannot be happy.
Extending J.T. Realmuto
Our own John Stolnis got into it a bit the other day when he brought you the news about the agreement. He got the main part clear:
The clear solution to the problem, from the Phillies’ perspective, is to never let Realmuto reach free agency and sign him to a long-term contract extension as soon as possible. However, one of the other items of note is a transaction freeze throughout baseball until further notice.
As we’ve learned now, extensions are not allowed to be discussed once the roster freeze begins. This means any talks between Realmuto and the Phillies that were happening have to be put to a halt.
But put yourself in Realmuto’s shoes for a moment. You’re probably the second best pending free agent once (if?) the World Series ends. And that clock just got started without his having to do a single thing. No squatting 150-200 times a game for at least April, maybe May. Those legs that are so valuable to his game will be without the wear and tear of the first two months, the season being truncated by this virus. If the season does eventually get started, it’ll probably be mid-June in the best case scenario, which means he’ll only be four months from free agency.
Why in the world would he want to come to an agreement on an extension when he is that much closer to being able to negotiate with the other 29 teams in the game?
Realmuto has worked very hard to get to this point as all players do. With the economics of the game changing rapidly where older players lose money, he is in the prime position of being young enough to get a longer than usual deal for a catcher, and good enough to ask for that deal to break any and all records for catcher contracts that have come before him. We’ve already heard hints from his agent that Realmuto will be looking for something that sets a new bar for catchers of his talent, just as he was when he entered into the arbitration process.
Sources indicated that negotiations are moving slowly. “There’s no update,” Realmuto said. “We’re talking, but we’ll leave it at that.”
When they decided that giving up their top prospect they were willing to pay in order to get Realmuto on the team, they also did so knowing they wanted to relationship to continue. When we look back at the trade, the question does pop up: could this have been avoided a long time ago by agreeing to an extension as part of the trade? Sure, they could have given him the extension when they first traded for him, but it looks like it was more the Phillies that were not ready to do the deal. As Klentak said at the time:
“I think it’s a good idea,” he said, “to date the person before you ask to marry them.”
That quote could quickly come back to haunt him. It’s all speculation, of course, and it would be irresponsible to not acknowledge the possibility that the team and player already have an agreement in place, but the longer the season goes without getting started and the longer the roster/transaction freeze continues to linger, the slimmer the chances of Realmuto getting re-signed seem to be. This would be a huge failure on the part of Klentak.
The main issues than baseball writers are having trouble coming to grips with is the apparent decimation of the amateur draft and what could be the beginning of the end for some minor league organizations. While that is taking the long view for sure, let’s focus on what we actually do know about the draft.
As Keith Law pointed out, the draft is about to change for the worse.
Thus Major League Baseball asked the union – which has a say over alterations to the draft because of the existence of draft pick compensation for free agents – for the flexibility to move the draft date forward or back, to reduce the number of rounds in the draft (something MLB has wanted previously anyway), and to defer some portion of player bonus payments for an additional year (whereas now all bonuses must be paid in the player’s draft year or the following year).
The team’s draft results under Klentak have been sketchy at best. It didn’t help that in his first draft, when he was “gifted” the first overall pick, he was not able to choose a consensus top overall pick along the lines of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. While Mickey Moniak was still a decent choice, we all know he has not done as well as the team would have liked.
Looking at the rest of his drafts, it’s hard to not be disappointed. If you look at every draft pick from 2016 on, these picks have only contributed 1.6 bWAR overall to the major league team. That seems dire, but it’s also not fair to judge many of these picks since most have yet to even get a sniff of the major leagues. However, scouring the prospect lists this offseason, there are really only three picks that Klentak has made - Alec Bohm, Spencer Howard and Bryson Stott - that project to have a real impact at the major league level. We can debate whether or not it is Klentak’s fault or the organization’s fault for these players not being as successful as we would have liked in the minor leagues, but the fact is that Klentak did select these players.
Realizing now that the draft will likely be significantly shortened in 2020 and in 2021, it becomes impossible for Klentak and his staff to find any sort of value in later rounds that turn into nice surprises for a team. Instead, they’ll be relying on nailing those picks that come in the first ten rounds of a draft and that is something they have yet to show that they can do. We’re pretty sure that Bohm and Howard will turn into something special, with Stott having the possibility of carving out a decent career, but other than that there are a lot of question marks. The track record of drafting so far does not suggest that the team will have any kind of success should the draft get shorter. This makes it that much harder for the team to re-stock the major league roster with cheap, team controlled talent, something they will desperately need soon. Not being able to find that talent means that if this current team is unable to win and another rebuild/retooling is necessary, the cupboard will be too bare to infuse the team with talent. It is a daunting task for Klentak and company.
The shortened season is going to be a difficult one for all teams around the league. While many of them are used to a marathon of a season, if 2020 does get started, it suddenly becomes a sprint. They’ll all have to decide pretty quickly whether or not they are a contender and act accordingly. Some teams, like the Orioles, already know where they are at. However with the Phillies, the agreement with the players makes their life more difficult with the big decisions they have to make. It’s something that could make or break Klentak’s tenure with the team.