The biggest offseason move that the Phillies need to worry about is whether or not they are are going to re-sign J.T. Realmuto.
Now before we panic - yes, it’s early to be thinking about the offseason. After all, we just recently got baseball back and we’re already going to think about November? Well, no, not necessarily. You see today, at noon, the moratorium that was placed on teams with regards to transactions will be lifted and players will be able to be traded, extended, released, all the fun stuff that we as fans debate in comments sections around the interwebs. The biggest issue facing the Phillies and their plight beyond this year is their backstop, so the fact that they will again be able to talk to him about extending his stay is a big deal, both in 2020 and beyond.
On Thursday, Jim Salisbury spoke at length about how the Phillies and Realmuto are able to engage in talks again beginning today and made a point about several things. From the article:
Prior to the talks shutting down, Realmuto and his agent, Jeff Berry, had made it no secret that the player was looking to raise the bar on catchers’ salaries, both in arbitration and free agency...Realmuto lost in arbitration but he’s still looking to ride either his pending free-agent status or free agency itself to a win.
It wasn’t a closely guarded thing that they were talking, but the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent season shutdown scuttled those talks. Now, they’re more than likely going to begin them again in earnest, assuming they haven’t had any “talks” during this outbreak.
The only thing is: the Phillies’ position in these negotiations has just, at least from the outside, gotten a whole lot better.
While the owners and players were...ahem...”discussing”...how best to come back during the continuing coronavirus pandemic, one of the common refrains we heard from owners is that without fans being allowed back into stadiums, the revenue that was once continuing to skyrocket in the game would not be there in 2020 and beyond. Even with the impending playoff schedule that will line the pockets of ownership groups, as well as the newly announced TBS television rights deal that will also toss a few shekels their way, the owners will continue to say how much of a loss this season will be for their bank accounts. Salisbury also points this out in his piece:
Ah, but there is no guarantee that there will be a bigger score on the free-agent market. A shortened season with no fans in the stands will hurt the game’s overall revenues and that could soften next winter’s market.
Even if you reside on the side of players in the argument, this is undeniable: the owners aren’t going to make as much money in 2020 as they have in the past.
And just where do you think that they will try and make those savings up? If you guessed in the free agent market - DING DING DING!
It has to be rightly assumed that without the ability to generate money this season, the owners will more than likely be more skittish than usual to spend money this coming offseason on free agents-to-be. Sure, the top of the market names (Realmuto, Mookie Betts) will probably still get theirs, but the mid-tier and below guys are about to see their chances of scoring a payday virtually vanish.
This can only help the Phillies in their negotiations with Realmuto. Even if there were some big spenders out their still to come, this breakout of COVID-19 is more than likely to make them reconsider how much they’d spend on a soon-to-be 29 year old catcher.
And that’s just the ownership half of the equation.
Suppose Realmuto gets an offer from the Phillies between now and the end of the season that puts him on par or better than what Joe Mauer received in his contract. Salisbury is there to remind you of what that number actually is:
In terms of average annual value, former Minnesota Twin Joe Mauer, who played his last game in 2018, remains the king of catcher salaries at $23 million per season.
If the Phillies are willing to give him something that puts him near or above that number, does Realmuto want to risk saying no and entering a market for his services that may or may not even exist? Looking around the league at teams that have traditionally flexed their financial muscle and it’s pretty difficult to see those teams continuing to spend again in the post-COVID world. Even one of Realmuto’s expected suitors, the Mets, are looking at the possibility of being sold to a new ownership group. That could throw their potential run at Realmuto into flux as we wouldn’t be able to be sure whether that team would want to rebuild or use their market to attract a big name to the team. There is just so many factors out their this coming offseason that would affect the free agent market that could cause any player, Realmuto included, to pause and take their time to analyze any extension offer that came their way.
The Phillies, without being able to look exactly at their books and projected budget of course, will also have the luxury of lopping off quite a bit of money this year as they’ll watch the salaries of Jake Arrieta, David Robertson and Didi Gregorius come off of the books once options are declined and payouts are dispersed. That number could be somewhere in the neighborhood of $30-35 million of freed up payroll that can be given to Realmuto.
But again, let’s look at it from Realmuto’s point of view. Again, from Salisbury:
With almost two-thirds of the season already wiped away, Realmuto is a lot closer to free agency than he was back in spring training, when the scheduled March 26 season opener loomed as a soft deadline for both sides. Maybe the shortened schedule will lead Realmuto to gamble that good health and top performance in a sprint of a season will lead to a bigger score on the open market.
As we know, baseball players see free agency as their first big chance to score that contract that will set them up for life. It’s what they’ve worked for since they first signed a professional contract. As they get closer and closer, it’s very difficult to pass up the opportunity to have teams court you, to try and convince you to join their team and their vision for future contention. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Realmuto, with his stated desire to set up his fellow catchers for larger paydays in the future, were to test free agency as a way to set a benchmark for future backstops of their trips through the free agent process. We can’t blame him at all for this.
However, it’s hard to see how the Phillies’ position in this whole game hasn’t emerged from the pandemic-forced hibernation in a better spot than it was in March. It would have taken a massive deal for Realmuto to pass up free agency. With the uncertainty that lies ahead for the game and for the player himself, the Phillies know what they can spend and can use that knowledge to make Realmuto a fair, market value offer that guarantees him the money he deserves and keeps him from the teams lurking in the waters of free agency. With their new advantage, let’s hope the team uses it wisely.