CLEARWATER, Fla. — Three nights before the trade deadline last July, J.T. Realmuto delivered a bases-loaded single in the 10th inning to beat the Washington Nationals.
Bryce Harper’s reaction: “If that guy was on our side,” he told reporters after the game, “it wouldn’t have happened.”
But baseball isn’t the NBA, where star players routinely orchestrate moves to play together. Realmuto finished out the season with the Miami Marlins, just as Harper did with the Nationals.
Eight months later, though, there’s still a chance they could team up. And this time, after being traded to the Phillies last week, Realmuto could be the one to do the lobbying on Harper’s behalf.
“Anybody would love to have a guy like that on your team,” Realmuto said Tuesday upon being introduced by the Phillies in a news conference at Spectrum Field. “There’s a time and a place for that discussion. I haven’t quite been involved in those discussions because I haven’t been here very long, but I would definitely love to have a player like that on this team.”
As Realmuto spoke, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak sat to his right. Owner John Middleton popped into the room before the news conference. With one long-term, nine-figure offer from Middleton and one call from Klentak to agent Scott Boras, Harper-to-the-Phillies could become reality.
That neither Harper nor fellow marquee free agent Manny Machado has signed yet, even as pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training, has prompted all sorts of speculation, including the possibility that Harper doesn’t want to play in Philadelphia. Klentak has even gotten questions from Phillies players about what’s happening.
“I’ve been down here for 48 hours, not even, so when I see the guys in the clubhouse, sometimes that comes up,” Klentak said. “I think this acquisition [of Realmuto] doesn’t preclude us from playing the free-agent or trade markets. We know there are some pretty good free agents out there, and we’re going to continue to have those discussions. Because if there’s an opportunity that makes sense for us, we’d like to pursue it.”
Realmuto didn’t choose the Phillies, but if there was any doubt that he’s eager to play for them, consider this: upon learning of the trade last Thursday, he loaded his truck in Oklahoma City and drove 17 hours through the night to arrive in Clearwater by Friday.
It’s funny, Realmuto told his wife, how things work out. In November, he played in an All-Star series in Japan with Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Now, they’re teammates again.
“The whole Japan trip, he was talking to me about Philadelphia and how much fun I would have over here,” Realmuto said. “At the time, I wasn’t really thinking much about it. But looking back on it, he was right. I enjoyed my time playing with him in Japan, and I’m going to enjoy playing with him here.”
In time, maybe Realmuto will say similar things about Harper.