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It’s OK for the Phillies to overpay for J.T. Realmuto

Bad contracts are bad, but only until they are.

Boston Red Sox v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

No one wants to be left holding the bag on a bad contract. No one wants to be the Los Angeles Angels reluctantly gripping the last six years of a truly onerous Albert Pujols deal, no one wants to be the Detroit Tigers, suffering through the end of the hideous Miguel Cabrera contract, and no one in Philadelphia wants to see a repeat of the Ryan Howard extension, which paid out $125 million for five years of the great slugger’s decline.

The Phillies have an interesting decision to make with regard to J.T. Realmuto. It’s clear he is the best catcher in baseball and, based on Wins Above Replacement, was the best player on the Phillies last season (4.5). Catchers with an OPS over .820 don’t grow on trees, neither do ones who throw out a league-high 47% of runners attempting to steal and are one of the best in the game at pitch-framing. He’s an athletic player, the fastest running catcher in the game and, despite some inconsistency at the plate, hit .275/.328/.493 last season with a career high 25 home runs.

Earlier this week, general manager Matt Klentak said, “the landscape had changed” when it came to extending their star catcher, and that is all too true. Back in March, it was hoped a deal could get done before the rigors of a 162-game season began. Despite not acquiescing to Realmuto’s arbitration number of $12 million, it seemed reasonable to assume both sides knew what it would take to get a deal done in free agency.

However, the 2020 season is just 60 games. The odds of Realmuto getting hurt during the season are far less. And sure, most teams around the league probably won’t spend much, if anything, in free agency this off-season, but it’s hard to believe one or two other big-money clubs won’t flash their wallets at the best catcher in baseball.

When Realmuto talked himself out of Miami because he knew the team would never win while he was there and would never pay him what he was worth, Klentak had to know that Realmuto was going to make sure he got every penny of what he felt his value was. There should never have been any illusions that it would take a big deal to keep him around long-term.

Realmuto not only wants to be the highest paid catcher in baseball, he wants to set a new benchmark for the position. Back in January, NBC Sports’ Jim Salisbury noted that Realmuto’s agent was looking for something more than just a lot of money.

“Realmuto is represented by Jeff Berry of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the same firm that represented Howard when he beat the Phils for $10 million in spring training 2008. Berry, a former minor league catcher, is known throughout the industry as a fighter and a passionate advocate for players. “Principled,” is how two people, one on the management side, one on the players’ side, described him in recent days...

..Clearly, Berry is not afraid to speak his mind and stand up for a cause. Catcher salaries might be his latest crusade and Realmuto is a well-equipped horse ready to ride for himself and others.”

Salisbury’s column was in relation to Realmuto’s arbitration case, but it likely applies to his long-term contract extension, too. Minnesota’s Joe Mauer set the standard with an 8-year, $184 million deal back in 2012, the longest and most expensive total value for a catcher’s contract in MLB history. As far as average annual value (AAV), San Francisco’s Buster Posey is on top, set to earn $22.17 million this year before the coronavirus shortened the season and wiped two-thirds of that salary away.

Nevertheless, if we’re talking about a 6-year deal at about $24-25 million, we’re looking at a total value of $144-150 million. I can understand why people are reluctant to add $24-25 million a year onto an already bloated payroll for a player who will be entering his age-30 season at the start of the contract.

I get it. I really do.

But here’s the thing. They have to do it. And it’s OK that they do it.

The Ryan Howard contract is not what killed the Phillies starting in 2012. The Pujols contract is not why the Angels aren’t good, and the Cabrera deal isn’t why the Tigers stink. Realmuto is a catcher who should age well and, if he only gives you four really good years instead of all six, that’s still a win. Free agent contracts almost never work out for the entirety of the deal, but there’s even less of a risk now with the designated hitter coming to the National League.

And what if the Phils don’t re-sign Realmuto after the 2020 season? What do they do at catcher? Do they go sign a mediocre player because he’s cheaper? What kind of message does that send to Bryce Harper (who, by the way, was wearing a Realmuto shirsey while fielding grounders on Wednesday)?

It’s OK for the Phillies to overpay for J.T. Realmuto. He’s a catcher who should age well, should be able to transition to another position as he gets older, and should be able to DH if worse comes to worse. I don’t like throwing good money after bad anymore than the next guy, but Realmuto is worth the dough.

On Episode 396 of Hittin’ Season, I talked about the Realmuto contract with KYW Newsradio Sports Anchor Dave Uram, and ran down a number of other top storylines as the Phillies begin training for the 2020 season. Check it out!


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