Now, it’s officially official.
The Philadelphia Phillies re-introduced All-Star catcher JT Realmuto after re-signing him to a five-year, $115.5 million deal last week — ensuring the top catcher in baseball remains in the City of Brotherly Love.
And while speculation flew that the 29-year-old might be playing elsewhere — whether it was because of financial uncertainties from the organization or the slow market — there was never much doubt that he wouldn’t be coming back for 2021 and beyond.
“It was definitely a bit of a slow offseason across baseball,” Realmuto said. “I was pretty aware that that would be the case. There was never a time that coming back to the Phillies wasn’t going to work itself out… I’m glad that it worked out the way that it did.
“They brought me in like I was one of their own right away. The fans embraced me right away, they treated my family great… We haven’t been shy about how much we love playing for the Phillies.”
Retaining Realmuto throttled Philadelphia’s offseason back to life after the club lost $145 million due to the pandemic, which had many speculating that the Phillies would not be able to afford to pay him. But the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations realigned the Phillies’ outlook this winter.
“We never wanted to be in a position where we would lose JT,” Dombrowski said. “From the first day I got on board, it was ‘Man, we’d really love to keep JT.’ …Everybody was unanimous in that support.”
That view matched up with Realmuto’s teammates, most notably All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper, who constantly championed the club to bring back the backstop.
“[He texted] ‘Let’s Go’ with a lot of exclamation points,” Realmuto said of Harper found out that he’d be returning. “Well, the first thing he said was ‘Are the rumors true?’ and I said ‘Yeah, we’re getting close.’ And when it was official, he was pretty excited.”
Realmuto’s deal isn’t in the same stratosphere as Harper’s mega-deal, but it did set an MLB record for average annual salary for a catcher at $23.1 million — narrowly edging Joe Mauer’s previous record of $23 million.
It’s a much smaller number than what Realmuto’s camp might have been looking for originally, especially before the pandemic, as he looked to change the narrative around aging catchers.
“To be honest, moving the market in that sense wasn’t always the most important thing to me,” he said. “In my opinion, catchers are a little devalued in baseball because long-term contracts haven’t panned out or in theory — we age faster. Whatever that may be, it’s a little tougher for catchers when they get up in age.
“For whatever reason that is, I was happy to not let that [number] go backward. I know it’s been a long time since Mauer got his deal… but post-pandemic, we’re pretty happy with the deal that we got. ”
Naturally, as Realmuto alluded to, there are concerns with giving a nearly-30-year-old catcher a five-year deal when he plays a position that is so taxing on his body.
However, Realmuto and the Phillies voiced their full confidence that he’ll be able to perform at a top level for the life of that deal. After all, there haven’t many catchers that blend offensive prowess, speed, and defensive stability like Realmuto does.
“I’ve worked with certain doctors and trainers to keep my body in the best shape that I can to perform as long as I can,” Realmuto said. “I think my athleticism will take me a long way… Athletically, I’m a little more advanced than most catchers.”
“That’s not a hunch, that’s based on what we see on a daily basis,” Phillies general manager Sam Fuld said. “What you see outside the lines is just as impressive. He’s committed to being as good as he can for as long as he can.
“Those kinds of players and teammates, they don’t grow on trees and that makes us extra confident that he’ll be really good for a long time.”
Now comes the easy part for the Phillies, particularly manager Joe Girardi, for what they hope will last for a full five years.
“The greatest compliment you can give a player from a manager’s standpoint is I can pencil JT in and I’ll never have to worry about him,” Girardi said. “JT is a little bit of a freak of nature because he’s a great athlete, and you don’t necessarily see great athletes there. He’s a special commodity that we have… it’s fun to watch.”