The World Series is over. The Los Angeles Dodgers capitalized on Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash's robotic, paint-by-numbers strategy — he lifted dominant starter Blake Snell with one out in the sixth inning and the Dodgers quickly applied a stun gun to the Rays bullpen — and won it all for the first time since 1988 with a 3-1 victory in Game 6 Tuesday night.
The end of the World Series signals the start of baseball's free-agent season.
Dozens of players officially became free agents this morning at 9 a.m. The list includes nine Phillies and is led by All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.
In addition to Realmuto, pitchers Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Jose Alvarez, David Robertson and Brandon Workman are all free agents. David Phelps will become a free agent if the Phillies don't exercise his contract option for 2021 in the coming days.
On the position-player side, outfielder Jay Bruce and shortstop Didi Gregorius join Realmuto as free agents.
Realmuto is one of the top players on the market, along with outfielder George Springer and starting pitcher Trevor Bauer.
The Phillies were in contract discussions with Realmuto when the game shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. John Middleton, the Phillies managing partner, has not ruled out re-signing Realmuto. He, in fact, has said that retaining Realmuto was a priority. However, Middleton has also cautioned that lost revenues and the possibility of more in 2021 could impact the team's ability to retain Realmuto, who is looking to significantly raise the bar on catcher salaries.
"Can you tell me what the governor and the mayor of Philadelphia are going to allow us to have next year in the way of fans?" Middleton said earlier this month. "Because if you do, you know something that I don't. So I have no idea what we're going to be allowed. Obviously, that will determine our revenues, and revenues determine what you can do and what you can't do."
Joe Mauer's eight-year, $184 million contract with the Minnesota Twins carried an average annual value of $23 million and is the record deal for a catcher.
With Major League Baseball claiming up to $3 billion in operational losses this season, Realmuto, who turns 30 in March, is not hitting the free-agent market at an optimal time. However, he is widely considered the best all-around catcher in the game and that could prompt an owner to write the check Realmuto desires.
In addition to the Phillies, Realmuto is expected to draw interest from both New York clubs. The Yankees have prioritized re-signing infielder DJ LeMahieu so that could impact their potential pursuit Realmuto. The Mets, with Steve Cohen about to be approved as their new owner, also have a big need at catcher. Once approved, Cohen will become baseball's richest owner and it's not difficult to envision him making a big play for Realmuto.
According to a person close to Realmuto, the catcher, an Oklahoma native, would like to remain in Philadelphia and is not particularly keen on playing in New York. However, if that's where the record-setting money is, Realmuto will eat heroes instead of hoagies.
All teams have five days following the World Series to decide whether to make a qualifying offer to their own free-agent players. This year's qualifying offer is $18.9 million. The player has 10 days to accept or reject the offer. If a player accepts it, he immediately becomes signed for 2021. Realmuto will definitely get a qualifying offer and in this uncertain market may have to at least think about it. If he rejects it, the Phillies can still attempt to sign him throughout the offseason. If he signs elsewhere, the Phils would get a draft pick as compensation for losing him.
Gregorius is the only other player that the Phils would consider giving a qualifying offer and that's far from a slam dunk given the team's tight budget.
Free agents can begin signing with new clubs five days after the World Series at 5 p.m.
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