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If the Phillies don’t re-sign J.T. Realmuto, will they alienate Bryce Harper? | Extra Innings

Harper founded the Realmuto Appreciation Society long before they became BFFs and teammates and hasn’t been shy about lobbying the Phillies to spare no expense to re-sign the All-Star catcher.

Phillies star Bryce Harper often wore a J.T. Realmuto T-shirt during training camp in July at Citizens Bank Park.
Phillies star Bryce Harper often wore a J.T. Realmuto T-shirt during training camp in July at Citizens Bank Park.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

After recently bemoaning the Phillies' hundred-year problem of misevaluating talent, managing partner John Middleton defended (sort of) the first-overall selection of Mickey Moniak in 2016 by denigrating the entire first round of that draft.

“ ’16 was a pretty skim-milk year, if you look at it,” Middleton said. “There’s pretty much nobody who’s done anything with their No. 1 draft pick in that entire draft.”

If Middleton is watching the playoffs, he might want to revise that opinion.

The Braves are two wins from reaching the World Series in large part because of rookie right-hander Ian Anderson. The third overall pick in 2016 hasn’t allowed a run in 15 2/3 innings over three postseason starts, including four shutout innings in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

Meanwhile, Dodgers catcher Will Smith contributed to an 11-run first inning with an RBI single in yesterday’s 15-3 rout in Game 3. Smith was a supplemental first-rounder in 2016. Second baseman Gavin Lux, the 20th overall pick, was on the Dodgers' bench in the Division Series.

Oh, and then there’s Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis (11th overall), an American League Rookie of the Year candidate, and Cardinals right-hander Dakota Hudson (34th overall), who has a 3.17 ERA over the last three years.

But then Middleton’s original point was about misevaluating talent, wasn’t it?

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How will Bryce Harper react if J.T. Realmuto departs?

Say this for Bryce Harper: With 11 years left on his contract, he’s as invested in the Phillies as they are in him.

Case in point: Moments after the Phillies made their first-round pick in the June draft, as members of the front office celebrated from an appropriate social distance at Citizens Bank Park, Harper reached out to then-general manager Matt Klentak to ask for Mick Abel’s number, then promptly dialed up the Oregon high school pitcher for a congratulatory FaceTime.

It’s no surprise, then, that Harper has strong feelings about keeping J.T. Realmuto. Harper founded the Realmuto Appreciation Society long before they became BFFs and teammates and hasn’t been shy about lobbying the Phillies to spare no expense to prevent him from reaching free agency or to re-sign him once he does.

In training camp, Harper’s preferred batting practice T-shirt was a promotional giveaway with Realmuto’s name and number on the back. After Realmuto homered in an intrasquad scrimmage, Harper yelled, “Sign him!” When Realmuto went deep in the second game of the season, Harper greeted him at home plate by mimicking a signature on a contract.

And just in case management didn’t catch the symbolism, Harper said this after the season ended Sept. 27 at Tampa Bay: “J.T. Realmuto needs to be our catcher next year. Plain and simple. He’s the best catcher in baseball. He’s the best hitting catcher in baseball. Our guys love to throw to him. Anybody that’s the best at their position — hitting and fielding — needs to be signed, and that is J.T. Realmuto. I don’t think that should even be a question.”

But what if the Phillies don’t re-sign Realmuto? Are they at risk of not only losing a two-time All-Star catcher but also alienating their $330 million superstar?

The Phillies' top decision-makers, including Middleton, must be pondering that question. Realmuto is expected to file for free agency after the World Series concludes and won’t lack for suitors, even in a market that likely will be depressed by a steep reduction in revenues from a 60-game season that was played in fan-less ballparks.

When the Phillies acquired Realmuto 20 months ago in a trade for a package of players that included top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, they were in the midst of free-agent talks with Harper. And it wasn’t lost on club officials that dealing for Realmuto would likely help sway Harper to come to Philadelphia rather than going to San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Word is that Harper isn’t thrilled that the Phillies were unable to work out a contract extension with Realmuto. There were multiple explanations, some of which were by choice (a desire to stay under the luxury-tax threshold in 2020) and others out of their control (a world-altering pandemic).

Now, with Realmuto poised to test his value on the open market, it will come down to the best offer. The Phillies have the financial might to outbid the competition. They also have a budget.

Harper, of all people, knows how that works. But that doesn’t mean he will like it if Realmuto is playing in another uniform next season.

“There’s going to be two teams or three teams in the NL East who are going to go after that guy,” Harper said on Sept. 27. “And if that happens, I mean, that’s going to be tough to swallow for us.”

For Harper, in particular.

The rundown

Since the Phillies removed Klentak as general manager, the focus has shifted to team president Andy MacPhail. Many people within baseball are wondering about his role in reshaping the front office.

As Middleton mulls how to replace Klentak, Bob Brookover has a tip: Talk to Ed Wade and Ruben Amaro Jr., both of whom figure to have unique perspective on how the Phillies can improve.

Lefty reliever Adam Morgan, among the homegrown successes during the Phillies' rebuild, had elbow surgery last week, and his future with the team is in doubt, as Matt Breen writes.

Baseball mourned the death of yet another Hall of Famer, as Joe Morgan died this week. The Phillies family also lost Kim Batiste, hero of the 1993 NLCS triumph over the Braves.

Jim Jackson announced in a Tweet that he won’t be returning to the Phillies' radio broadcast team next year.

Important dates

Today: Rays try to finish off the Astros in Game 5 of ALCS, 5:07 p.m.

Tonight: Dodgers seek to square series with the Braves in Game 4 of NLCS, 8:08 p.m.

Tuesday: World Series opens in Arlington, Texas.

Five days after World Series concludes: Free agency begins.

Dec. 2: Deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.

Stat of the day

In case you missed it, MLB announced the order for the 2021 draft. The Phillies, by virtue of finishing with a 28-32 record, will make the 13th overall selection.

It will mark the ninth consecutive year that the Phillies have had a top-15 pick and the fourth time that they will get lucky No. 13. In 1980, they took high school catcher Henry Powell; in 1983, catcher John Russell from Oklahoma; in 1992, Creighton outfielder Chad McConnell. Only Russell played in the big leagues.

The all-time best 13th overall pick: Manny Ramirez to the Indians in 1991. Other notable No. 13s: Frank Tanana (Angels, 1971); Chris Sale (White Sox, 2010); Paul Konerko (Dodgers, 1994); Garry Templeton (Cardinals, 1974), and Trea Turner (Padres, 2014).

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Answer: Many thanks, John, for reading and for the question.

Your point is well-taken. Nobody knows how the pandemic free-agent market will look. But almost everyone I talk to within the game believes that the elite free agents — Realmuto, pitcher Trevor Bauer, and center fielder George Springer — will still get big-money, long-term offers. All it takes, after all, is one team.

A one-year proposal might appeal to middle-class free agents, so much so that some teams will be deterred from making the $18.9 million qualifying offer (for compensation purposes) out of concern that it might actually be accepted. I doubt, however, that it will work with Realmuto, who is all but certain to receive offers in excess of $20 million per year.