Predicting the magic number it will take Phillies to extend J.T. Realmuto


NEW YORK — There was a point this season when, on our "At the Yard" podcast, I asked Jim Salisbury if he thought J.T. Realmuto's (at that point) solid but unspectacular offensive season might lower the cost of his next contract.

We might as well forget that conversation ever took place.

Realmuto has been unreal in this second half. He has been one of the best hitters in baseball since the All-Star break, but his surge began a few weeks before that. Dating back to June 29, Realmuto has hit .312 with a .949 OPS, 19 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs and 43 RBI in 244 plate appearances.

Defensively, Realmuto is not only elite but unmatched. No catcher in 2019 possesses as many defensive tools as Realmuto does, combining the majors' best pop time and throwing arm with top-notch ability to block behind the plate and frame pitches.

His baserunning has been superb in several ways. He's not just "a good baserunner." Realmuto is also legitimately fast and quick, especially for a catcher. He runs out every ground ball and that constant hustle has made a tangible difference in terms of beating out would-be double-play balls. Realmuto has stolen eight bases in nine attempts this season, the best success rate of his career.

Fangraphs has Realmuto as not only the best baserunning catcher in 2019 but also the 13th-most-valuable baserunner in the majors, sandwiched between Trevor Story and Ozzie Albies. Their grading system has Realmuto ahead of speedsters like Mookie Betts, Elvis Andrus and Brett Gardner.

Now comes the multi-million dollar question: How rich will Realmuto's next contract be? It's a multi-layered topic.

Little precedent

How do you gauge Realmuto's worth when he's so unique? Look around the league at his position. There are catchers like Gary Sanchez, Yasmani Grandal, Willson Contreras and Wilson Ramos who can make a major impact with their bats. But none of them are close to Realmuto defensively or on the basepaths.

There are catchers known for their defense like Austin Hedges, Christian Vazquez, Yadier Molina and Salvador Perez. But none of them have close to the offensive ability of Realmuto.

Relevant catcher contracts

The richest contract ever given to a catcher was Joe Mauer's eight-year, $184 million deal with the Twins. Mauer, of course, was a catcher for only the first three seasons of that contract, which ended up being regrettable because it was too much money for a first baseman.

Buster Posey, in 2013, signed a nine-year, $167 million extension with the Giants. But Posey was 26 years old and coming off an MVP season. Realmuto will be 28 when this season ends and hasn't had as storied a career as Posey had to that point.

Brian McCann, in 2014, signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees. 

Russell Martin is the owner of the richest active contract for a catcher. He signed a five-year, $82 million deal with the Blue Jays in 2015.

Realmuto's leverage

An important factor in all of this is that Realmuto has the Phillies over a barrel. They traded their top pitching prospect, Sixto Sanchez, along with young catcher Jorge Alfaro for him. A team doesn't make that sort of trade to control a player for only two years.

Everyone knows the Phillies want to extend Realmuto. They're not shy about saying so. It is an organizational priority, probably the highest organizational priority outside of adding pitching this winter.

In a negotiation like this, a low-ball offer probably won't even be made. The Phillies know they'll have to pay up to get Realmuto to forego free agency after the 2020 season. There is no reason for him to give the Phillies a hometown discount.

The context of the situation will increase the worth of his next contract.

Realmuto's personality

He is a very to-the-point athlete and he's as committed to his craft as any Phillie since Chase Utley. Realmuto prepares intensely before games, both physically and mentally. Afterward, one of the first things he often does is go back and watch video of that night's game. This doesn't make him extremely unique but it does make him dedicated, the sort of hard worker a team views as a wise investment.

He's a gamer, the kind of guy who wants to play every day. When Gabe Kapler approaches him about a potential off-day, Realmuto typically responds by reminding his manager he recently had an off-day. Entering Sunday's game, Realmuto had started 14 more games than any other catcher this season and caught 98 more innings.

This is obviously Realmuto's best chance at life-changing money that sets his family up for generations. But he just does not seem like the type who will hold out for every last dollar. He more so seems like a guy who will want to get the deal done for peace of mind and so that he can focus exclusively on baseball. Again, doesn't mean he and his agent will give the Phillies a discount, just that the process may not be as arduous as it would with other athletes.

So ... how expensive?

You can pretty much bank on Realmuto receiving no less than the $85 million McCann signed for six years ago. You can also bank on the deal not lasting nine years like Posey's.

Four years, $100 million? Five years, $125 million? 

Only two catchers ever — Mauer and Molina in his current three-year deal — were paid more than $20 million annually. That will likely be the number Realmuto's representatives try to beat. And they should.

The prediction here is five years, $112.5 million. It would make Realmuto the highest-paid catcher, per year, in baseball history at an average of $22.5 million. It would also make him only the third catcher ever to get a nine-figure contract.

He's worth it.

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