What a J.T. Realmuto extension could look like as Phillies reportedly try to lock up their catcher
Realmuto is scheduled to become a free agent next offseason
Last offseason the Philadelphia Phillies traded three young players, including top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, to acquire All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins. Realmuto turned in yet another strong season in 2019, hitting .275/.328/.493 with a career-high 25 home runs. He also had MLB's best caught stealing rate (47 percent) and was among the leaders in pitch-framing.
Realmuto gave the Phillies their money's worth and then some in 2019, and now the team wants to keep him in its uniform as long as possible. According to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Phillies are "quietly trying" to sign Realmuto to a long-term contract extension this offseason. He is currently scheduled to become a free agent after next season.
"Everything I've experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome so I wouldn't be opposed to spending the rest of my career there," Realmuto told reporters in July.
Realmuto, 29 in March, is the game's best all-around catcher and a cornerstone player for a Philadelphia team that should be up-and-coming, but has instead floundered around .500 the last two years. The Phillies brought in manager Joe Girardi last month, the surest sign they want to win now, as if giving Bryce Harper a 13-year contract last offseason wasn't evidence enough.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Realmuto to make $10.3 million through arbitration in 2020. Historically, players who sign extensions one year away from free agency get free agent dollars. There is no discount, as there often is with players who sign long-term deals earlier in their career. :
- 3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: 8 years, $260 million.
- LHP Chris Sale, Red Sox: 5 years, $145 million.
- 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals: 5 years, $130 million.
- SS Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: 6 years, $120 million plus one club option.
Those contracts are right in line with what each player could've expected in free agency this winter. Maybe Bogaerts gave the Red Sox a discount, but remember, he signed that extension before putting together a monster 2019 season that saw him finish fifth in the MVP voting. Those are market rate contracts. No discounts to be found there.
Catcher is a unique position for many reasons, including the steep aging curve. Catchers take a beating behind the plate and they can begin to decline as early as 30 or 31. There are always exceptions -- Yadier Molina is 37 and still going strong as ever -- but they are few and far between. Buster Posey, arguably the best catcher of his generation, had his last truly great year at age 30.
Because of that, catcher salaries have not caught up to other positions. Teams fear the injury risk and inherent wear and tear. Only five catchers (six instances) have signed a multi-year contract that guaranteed them at least $15 million per season:
- Joe Mauer, Twins: $23 million (2011-18)
- Yadier Molina, Cardinals: $20 million (2018-20)
- Buster Posey, Giants: $18.6 million (2013-21)
- Brian McCann, Yankees: $17 million (2014-18)
- Russell Martin, Blue Jays: $16.4 million (2015-19)
- Yadier Molina, Cardinals: $15 million (2013-17)
Mauer and Posey had won MVPs and were on the Hall of Fame track at the time of their extensions. McCann and Martin had long track records of well-above-average two-way play. Yadi is Yadi. Also, it should be noted Yasmani Grandal signed a one-year deal with the Brewers last offseason that paid him $18.25 million, so he's over $15 million, but not on a multi-year contract.
Realmuto's representatives figure to play close attention to Grandal this offseason. Grandal is in line to secure a nice multi-year contract and he will be 31 on Opening Day. Realmuto will be 29. He is two years younger and these are the two best all-around catchers in baseball today. Given his age, Realmuto's camp can point to Grandal's upcoming contract and justifiably demand more.
Here are some free agent contract projections for Grandal:
- MLB Trade Rumors: 4 years and $68 million ($17 million annually)
- FanGraphs crowdsourcing: 3 years and $48 million ($16 million annually)
- Jim Bowden at The Athletic: 3 years and $57 million ($19 million annually)
Three or four years at $16 million to $19 million is quite a spread. One thing to keep in mind: FanGraphs crowdsourcing results are the average of many inputs, but, in reality, the high contract wins out, not the average contract. The guess here is the team that offers the fourth guaranteed year gets Grandal. Let's average out the projected salaries and call it $17.5 million per year.
Should Grandal get four years and $17.5 million annually, or $70 million total, Realmuto's camp could push for a four-year deal at $80 million total -- add in his projected $10.3 million arbitration salary for 2020 and we're at five years and $90 million or so -- or even a guaranteed fifth year. Five years on top of 2020 is a six-year commitment spanning Realmuto's age 29-34 seasons. A four-year deal for Grandal would take him through age 34.
Assuming Realmuto trades a little average annual value for that fifth guaranteed year -- trading some salary for the extra guaranteed year is fairly common throughout baseball -- our hypothetical six-year contract could break down like so:
- 2020: $10 million plus $3 million signing bonus
- 2021: $19 million
- 2022: $10 million (strike insurance*)
- 2023: $19 million
- 2024: $19 million
- 2025: $20 million
- 2026: $20 million club option with $5 million buyout
* The current collective bargaining agreement expires in Dec. 2021 and players do not get paid during strikes or lockouts. Don't be surprised to see agents push for multi-year contracts structured with lower 2022 salaries going forward. That way the player doesn't lose as much in the event of a work stoppage.
Six years and $105 million guaranteed with that seventh year club option in case Realmuto ages gracefully like Molina and the Phillies decided he's worth a $20 million price tag in his age 35 season. The average annual value works out to $17.5 million, our hypothetical Grandal average annual value, but Realmuto gets two more guaranteed years. And he gets it now rather than dealing with the headache of free agency.
With that contract, Realmuto becomes the third catcher in history to land a $100 million deal, joining Mauer and Posey. He'd also be locked up through age 34 with the fourth highest average annual value ever given to a catcher. There is little chance Realmuto can break Mauer's catcher contract records for total value ($184 million) and average annual value ($23 million), but our proposed deal makes him the highest paid catcher in the game as soon as Molina retires.
February and March is typically when we see extensions for players in their arbitration years. Teams like to handle other offseason matters in November, December, and early January., they get down to business signing their arbitration guys long-term. That's the likely timetable for a Realmuto extension, February or March, which should give him enough time to see what Grandal gets, and react accordingly.
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