Upon the completion of the 2020 season, no matter how it shook out, the free agent market was going to be headlined by two marquee free agents.
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, widely regarded as the second-best player in baseball (behind Mike Trout, obviously) and catcher J.T. Realmuto, who you may have heard plays for your Philadelphia Phillies, were going to be the two upper-tier free agents in a few months’ time, but from the day the Phils traded for Realmuto prior to the 2019 season, the intent was to sign him to a contract extension that would keep him behind the dish at Citizens Bank Park through the prime of his career.
The idea was to never let him sniff free agency.
However, a contract extension has not happened, and it appears the two sides are far apart. Realmuto is reportedly looking to reset the market for catchers, while the Phillies believe the economics of a season played during a global pandemic will force Realmuto to lower his demands. The prevailing thought by most inside the game was that most general managers and owners would pull back in free agency this off-season, but Realmuto was banking on the money being there for the guys at the top of the market.
Who would be proven right?
Betts and the Dodgers appear to have answered that question. WEEI’s Lou Merloni was the first to report Betts was close to signing a contract extension with the Dodgers for another decade at $350-400 million. Jon Heyman later confirmed the details; a 12-year, $350 million contract that starts in 2021.
That’s a big money deal at a time when owners weren’t supposed to be willing to spend money.
So what does the Betts extension mean for the Phillies and Realmuto? For one, this doesn’t take the Dodgers out of the running for Realmuto’s service this off-season at all. Sure, they are well over the luxury tax this year, with a $221.4 million, non-prorated payroll ($79.3 million in actual money), but will shed a number of big-money contracts that will take them down to $120 million in 2021, according to Cot’s Contracts. The average annual value of Betts’ deal comes to just over $29 million a season, which would take them to around $150 million with Betts in the fold. They’d still have to pay Cody Bellinger’s increasing arbitration salary, but for a franchise that has never had a problem going over the tax, adding Realmuto would not overextend them.
The Betts extension also lends more credence to Realmuto’s belief that the top free agents on the market will get theirs this winter, and it puts more pressure on Klentak and the Phillies. With Betts no longer an option for teams, Realmuto would be the prize pig at this winter’s free agent fair. The Betts deal would seemingly prove that the upper echelon players will get paid the same as if this were any other off-season, and that the presumed coronavirus-discount parachute the Phillies were hoping for may not exist.
Realmuto is reportedly looking for a six-year contract, but some in Philadelphia worry signing him to the six-year deal he’s rumored to be seeking would be boneheaded, and there’s certainly a risk the last couple years of his extension could be less-than-stellar. But the options for the Phils at catcher if they let him go are pretty bad, and with Betts off the market, there isn’t a free agent at any other position that would replace the value lost if J.T. were to leave.
The bottom line is the Mookie Betts extension is great news for Realmuto’s camp and puts the Phils in a more difficult negotiating position.