Not only is the baseball season delayed, but so are contract negotiations for J.T. Realmuto and a key elbow evaluation for Seranthony Dominguez as the coronavirus pandemic forced the Phillies to table two crucial developments that will affect the futures of both players.
Realmuto and the Phillies are barred from negotiating an extension since Major League Baseball installed a roster freeze last week during the pandemic. Even if no games are played in 2020, Realmuto will become a free agent this winter. For now, there’s nothing the Phillies can do to prevent him from hitting the open market.
“The best course of action, really the only course of action for us right now, is to press pause on those discussions,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday. “Whenever we resume, we’ll see what the circumstances are and reengage. But no one can really predict what the parameters will be at that point. At this point, we just have to press pause and see what happens.”
A team doctor advised Dominguez in March to undergo Tommy John surgery, which the pitcher narrowly avoided last summer. But the Phillies wanted Dominguez to receive a second opinion on his sore elbow. That second opinion was scheduled for March 16, the same day the Dominican Republic issued travel restrictions. Dominguez rushed home, forwent the second opinion, and is waiting for a chance to return to the . United States to receive it.
“Medicine is not always black and white. There’s a possibility we may head down that road. But until we have a second opinion, we don’t want to make any firm declarations yet,” Klentak said. “For a lot of players, surgery is the last option they want to consider.
"If there’s a way to rehab something without going under the knife, a lot of players prefer that, particularly when it’s a surgery that could keep you out as long as Tommy John surgery could. Before we go down that road we just want to make sure that everybody’s in agreement that that’s the right course of action.”
The coronavirus not only complicates Dominguez’s ability to receive a second opinion, but it could also prevent him from having the surgery until the pandemic clears. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedist who instructed Dominguez last summer to avoid surgery, has temporarily suspended performing Tommy John surgery at his Florida medical facility as the operation is considered an elective procedure.
But Los Angeles doctor Neal ElAttrache, who has operated in the past on Phillies players, performed Tommy John surgery last week on Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that the operation was essential because the player’s career was at stake.
If Dominguez is advised to undergo surgery, the Phillies could find themselves in a moral dilemma. The ban on elective procedures is intended to preserve personal protective equipment and ventilators during the pandemic. But Dominguez would be unable to continue his career without the surgery.
Also, the surgery is followed by a roughly 18-month rehabilitation process. The longer he waits for surgery, the longer he will wait to pitch again. The Phillies could have a decision to make.
“I certainly respect that a lot of people will have different opinions on that matter. I’ve read a few stories that have come out about some of the players throughout the league that have had surgeries, and I understand both sides of it,” Klentak said.
“If and when that time comes, we’ll work to make the best collaborative decision that we can make in that moment. But for now, I don’t think there’s any real sense in us spending time on it because right now it’s not an option to be considered.”
The Phillies closed their facility in Clearwater last month, allowing only rehabbing players to continue to train at the Florida complex. Dominguez is home in the Dominican, waiting to learn about his future.
Realmuto elected to stay in Florida, riding out the pandemic with his family.
The thought of playing through a full season may have motivated Realmuto to sign a long-term contract, ensuring that he secured his deal in case he suffered an injury this season. But his chances of injury have diminished as baseball is eyeing a shortened schedule in 2020 if it is able to return.
If the season begins, Realmuto could decide to let the schedule play out and compare the Phillies’ offer in the winter with what he receives elsewhere. For now, Realmuto - just like Dominguez - will wait. There’s nothing else to do.
“I think you all know that we love J.T., and he’s a player that we would love to have with us for the long haul,” Klentak said. “Once we got through his salary arbitration hearing in February, the next item on the agenda so to speak was to resume talks on a longer-term deal. This had to halt those discussions.”