The Phillies finally did the thing all of their fans (and many of their players) wanted them to do. Philadelphia locked up J.T. Realmuto for five years, paying him $115.5M over that span.
The Philadelphia Phillies and JT Realmuto are in agreement on a 5 year $115.5 million dollar contract. Pending physical. Per source.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) January 26, 2021
The overall structure of the contract is rather unique. It gives Realmuto the record average annual value for catchers he wanted, albeit barely. Realmuto just edges the previous record set by Joe Mauer ($23M) by about $100k. There is also some deferred money in the first year of the deal, which should help the Phillies fill more holes now while also regaining their previous level of profit before the pandemic.
J.T. Realmuto's 5-year, $115.5M contract breakdown:— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 26, 2021
2021: $10 million ($10 million deferred)
2022: $23.875 million
2023: $23.875 million
2024: $23.875 million
2025: $23.875 million
2026: $5 million (half of the deferred payment)
2027: $5 million (half of the deferred payment)
What does it mean?
The Phillies made the move they had to make. They faced a full on fan revolt and quite possibly a locker room mutiny if they did not bring back Realmuto. Philadelphia is a much better team with Realmuto than they are without him. He doesn’t make them the favorite in the division, but he does ensure they will be in the mix in what is shaping up to be a very competitive N.L. East. We can debate whether the Realmuto trade will ultimately end up being a good move in the first place, but the undeniable truth is that Realmuto is a 5-6 win improvement on whoever else the Phillies could currently or expect to have at catcher in the immediate future.
Credit where it is due, previous GM Matt Klentak correctly predicted Realmuto’s market when both sides engaged in early negotiations. The Phillies remained confident that they would have the best offer and did not bid against themselves. Yes it should have been done a long time ago. In the end, it was still done. Realmuto and his agent were reportedly thinking the bidding could break $200M. The Phillies recognized that wasn’t going to happen and still made the best offer.
In a non-pandemic free agent market, Realmuto probably cracks $125M. In a healthy free agent market where owners are willing to spend money, he quite possibly reaches $140M. Because of these factors being at play, Realmuto reuniting with the Phillies was always the most likely outcome, especially after the Mets opted for James McCann instead. The Phillies needed Realmuto and Realmuto needed the Phillies to get his record AAV.
The Phillies are not yet done with this offseason despite their biggest move being done. They still need a starting shortstop, a back-end of the rotation starter, and maybe another reliever or two. They could also use a center fielder but that seems destined to be some combination of Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery, and Roman Quinn.
The Phillies payroll is up to an estimated $179.5M after the J.T. contract. The non-salary cap that is being treated as a salary cap known as the competitive balance tax (or luxury tax) is set at $210M in 2021. That leaves the Phillies with roughly $30.5M of room to find a shortstop and some more pitching without paying the tax.
The team has been linked to Andrelton Simmons for their shortstop opening. Simmons would be a dramatic downgrade offensively from Didi Gregorious but a dramatic upgrade in defense. Phillies starters had the second highest ground ball rate in 2020. Their possible desire to have a strong up the middle defense makes sense. Perhaps Simmons could be had on a one year deal whereas Gregorious may not be. A one year deal would allow the team to go after the big fish free agent shortstops in 2022. Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Javier Baez are all set to be free agents after this season’s conclusion.
The Phillies also signed starter Ivan Nova to a minor league deal today. Nova has a career 4.38 ERA and started four games for the Tigers last season. He allowed 18 runs in 19 innings. Nova, who played under manager Joe Girardi from 2010 to 2016, figures to be starting depth and perhaps be in the mix for the fifth starter spot. They could still look to add a reliable option behind Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin in the rotation.