J.T. Realmuto, in the span of four days in November, earned the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards as the National League’s best catcher defensively and offensively. December brought him a place on the first-ever All-MLB Team, and earlier this month ESPN ranked Realmuto as baseball’s best catcher.
And on Monday night, the award tour continued as the Phillies catcher was honored by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association as the athlete of the year.
“I can’t really put into words how exciting of an offseason it’s been so far,” Realmuto said before the association’s annual dinner at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill.
But there’s still one more offseason victory for Realmuto to claim: an arbitration win against the Phillies. Realmuto is seeking $12.4 million for 2020 while the Phillies are offering $10 million. Barring an early settlement, the sides will meet next month and argue their cases in front of an arbitrator who will decide Realmuto’s salary.
He was the team’s most valuable player last season in terms of wins above replacement and led NL catchers in hits and RBIs. He was second in batting average and slugging percentage, third in homers, and fourth in OPS.
The Phillies routinely referred to him as the best catcher in baseball. So did Realmuto feel slighted when they offered him a contract worth $2.4 million less than what he was seeking?
“No, no,” Realmuto said. “I have a pretty good understanding of the process and I know it's not the Phillies trying to slight me at all. It's more the system. There's no hard feelings there.”
Realmuto’s shrug at the arbitration process is good news for the Phillies, who hope to sign him to a long-term contract extension before he can become a free agent after this season. The Phillies parted with their best pitching prospect to land Realmuto last January, and it would be disappointing to spoil a relationship over $2.4 million. But Realmuto, who said throughout last season that he would like to stay in Philadelphia, said next month’s hearing has not changed his outlook.
“Not at all,” Realmuto said. “Anybody who knows much about the arbitration process knows that it’s business. It’s not necessarily me against the Phillies right now. There’s definitely not any hard feelings there. So, I feel like we’re in the same place we were two or three months ago with the contract extension.”
The hearing will not be Realmuto’s first arbitration experience: He lost his case with the Marlins before the 2018 season. He was seeking $3.55 million, but the judge sided with the team’s $2.9 million offer. Last year, he avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $5.9 million contract.
This time, Realmuto said he’s trying to win more than just his 2020 arbitration bid.
“It’s not because the Phillies didn’t give us a chance to come to an agreement. It’s because we feel like we’re fighting for a cause and fighting for the rest of the catchers,” he said. “Historically, catchers haven’t been treated very well in the arbitration process. So we feel like this is an opportunity for us to advance that for future catchers.”
It would be hard to find a better candidate to fight for catchers than Realmuto, who earned the hardware this offseason to prove that he is baseball’s best. Perhaps he could bring those awards with him to the hearing. It could be enough to get him one last offseason victory.