July 09, 2020
The elephant in the room was let out early, as Phillies All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto addressed the media for the first time since baseball shut down back in March.
"If you guys don't mind, I would appreciate it if we could keep the discussion away from the contract negotiations," Realmuto said, admitting that the contract talks were in preliminary stages back in March and are just starting back up again.
Reporters, who haven't had much Realmuto news to report since he lost his arbitration case and learned he'd be paid $10 million this season, found a way around the prohibition. They asked about Bryce Harper's campaigning for Realmuto to get a new contract.
"I hope he owns the team one day, honestly," the catcher said with a smile. "I might be able to catch until I'm 60 if he owns the team. I know it's all in good fun. I obviously appreciate the support by him and the feeling is mutual. He likes to have a lot of fun."
Harper, who has been seen sporting Realmuto swag all week, has not relented in trying to get his slugging buddy paid.
"I think the guy has been in the spotlight since he was 14-years-old and he's probably grown into having to be a lot more standoffish than most players and keeping to himself a little more, so I wasn't sure what to expect," Realmuto admitted. "I knew playing against him he was a good guy but I didn't know what he would be like in the clubhouse. I am very pleased... You wouldn't know he is a guy who has 300 million [dollars] coming his way — he plays hard."
According to manager Joe Girardi, Realmuto is his usual self with a "happy to be here mentality" despite the lingering contract uncertainty. Just Wednesday, in an intra-squad game, he blasted a two-run homer, prompting teammate Bryce Harper to (reportedly) shout, "Sign him!"
"If you could hear half the stuff said during these intra-squad scrimmages it would blow your mind," he said. "We are playing in front of an empty stadium."
Bryce Harper really yelled "sign him" after J.T. Realmuto hit a two-run homer in summer camp. pic.twitter.com/Vp9FGfpyYg— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) July 8, 2020
Wanting to stay fresh for the season, the soon-to-be free agent didn't run the bases in the practice game. With an impressive amount of earning potential ahead of him, we don't blame him one bit.
"I don't see why I can't start every game," Realmuto said. "I can easily see myself catching 50-55 games. I don't know if Joe will let me do that but with the DH, I can also slide into first base. The DH gives us a lot of flexibility I will be able to keep my bat in the lineup."
And, the more he plays (and plays well) the more valuable he becomes.
Realmuto, 29, will get paid like the best catcher in baseball because, well, that's pretty much what he is.
Here's what we wrote way back in the pre-COVID era when previewing the catcher position for the Phillies in 2020:
In 2019, he set career highs in games played, home runs, RBI, walks and slugging percentage. He threw out 43 base runners, a 46.7 percent clip, the best in the majors. He was an All-Star and the catcher selected as both the NL Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner.
Realmuto is the best at his position, and after his arbitration hearing awarded him just $10 million (a record for a catcher, but less than the $12.4 million he asked for), he is incredibly underpaid. The Phillies will be doing everything in their power to ink him to a longterm deal before spring training ends.
How will the shortened season, with no fans, less revenue and an uncertain future impact the contract negotiations and the free agent market to come in the winter?
"It definitely concerns me," he said. "Not necessarily for myself, but it does concern me for the free agent class as a whole. The top guys usually find a way to get their dollars... I think it could affect free agency as a whole, but as for myself, I am not too worried about it."
Phillies fans will have to be comfortable with the unknown (well, with more unknown) as the season is slated to kick off in two weeks. Hopefully they won't be the last 50-55 games Realmuto catches in Philly.
"I love this organization... from top to bottom, they’re just good people who care about baseball," he said.
Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports