The T-shirt -- white with J.T. Realmuto’s name on the back -- caused a stir on social media Wednesday when Bryce Harper wore it for his first day of work this year at Citizens Bank Park. A day later, the shirt returned for Harper’s first session of batting practice.
And Friday, Harper wore it for a third straight day as the Phillies held their first official workout of summer camp, perhaps sending a message to the front office to re-sign Realmuto, who is a free agent after the season.
“No message,” Harper said. “But I think J.T. is a great player. If the Phillies don’t end up signing him back, which would be terrible and sad, I think there’s a lot of other teams out there that are going to want to sign the guy. He’s a Gold Glove-caliber catcher every year, he’s a great person, a great player. I mean everybody in this organization from the top down wants to see him in red pinstripes for the rest of his career, and hopefully we can make that happen.”
The Phillies were allowed to restart negotiations with Realmuto last week as teams were forbidden to discuss contracts during the three-month shutdown. But general manager Matt Klentak said Monday that the team had yet to make contact with Realmuto’s agent.
Realmuto would like to become baseball’s highest-paid catcher, moving the bar for the position the way he tried to do in the arbitration case that he lost to the Phillies.
But the Phillies might be tentative to sign Realmuto to a contract that would beat Joe Mauer’s record-setting $23 million-per-year deal, knowing that there might be fewer suitors this winter, as the loss of revenue from the coronavirus will likely lead to teams spending less in free agency. The Phillies might decide to wait until the winter and see what they’re bidding against.
Klentak said the Phillies “still love the player” and “would love to have him in red pinstripes for the long haul.” If he needed any extra motivation, Klentak could just look this week at the field at Citizens Bank Park.
“As far as his contract status, I think J.T. will handle it professionally and I think he’ll play hard,” manager Joe Girardi said. “In the short time I’ve been around him I would say it won’t affect him, but I can’t really tell you until we get into the season.”
Harper’s Realmuto shirt was a ballpark giveaway last August and he wore a cut-off version under his uniform during last season’s second half. Realmuto, Harper said last season, is his favorite player. They were division rivals before joining the Phillies in the same offseason, their lockers were stationed next to each other last season, and their wives became fast friends.
Harper’s voice - and attire - carries weight in the organization. His desire for the team to extend Realmuto past this season will just be added motivation to strike a deal. It also helps that managing partner John Middleton, who has the last word on payroll, is a huge fan of Realmuto’s.
Harper’s shirt caused some buzz this week and may have sent a message, even if it was not intended. But the shirt, he said, is just a shirt.
“It was very comfortable underneath my jersey and I think it gave me a little bit of good luck,” Harper said.
Major League Baseball said it recorded 38 positive tests of COVID-19 among 3,185 total samples. Of the 38 positives, 31 were players and seven were staff members. Nineteen teams had one or more individual test positive during intake testing, which occurred this week at each team’s ballpark.
If a player tests positive, he will be placed on the COVID-19 Related Injured List and quarantine for two weeks. He cannot return until he tests negative twice. A player can also be placed on the list if he shows symptoms or comes in contact with an infected person. The Phillies have placed four players on the list: Scott Kingery, Tommy Hunter, Hector Neris, and Ranger Suarez.