When the Phillies made J.T. Realmuto the highest-paid catcher in baseball history last month, they did so because of what they knew he brought to the team: a power bat, a premier defender, and a clubhouse leader.
But they were reminded again earlier this month about who Realmuto can bring to the team.
Chase Anderson, just like Zack Wheeler last winter, credited Realmuto’s presence for swaying his decision to sign with the Phillies. For the second straight offseason, the thought of throwing to baseball’s best catcher helped convince a pitcher to join the Phillies.
Wheeler said last offseason that he didn’t need the Phillies to sell him on Realmuto. He already knew how good he was. Anderson knew, too. But an hourlong phone call from Realmuto didn’t hurt.
“He didn’t give me a big sales pitch, but said, ‘Hey, if you want to win, this is a good spot to be in,’” Anderson said. “You look at the numbers on both sides of the ball — offensively and defensively — and he’s the best catcher in the major leagues. I threw to Yasmani Grandal in 2019 with Milwaukee and that was a treat. Throwing to veteran catchers in my career and guys who are really good with the glove and calling a game, I’ve succeeded with those kind of guys. For me, I think it’s going to be huge.”
Shortly before he called Anderson, Realmuto re-signed with the Phillies for $115.5 million over five years. The contract’s $23.1 million average annual value is the richest for a catcher. And it was well deserved.
He leads all catchers over the last four seasons in wins above replacement, innings caught, and thrown out runners. In two seasons with the Phillies, Realmuto is tied for the second-highest home run total among NL catchers and has the second-highest WAR on the team.
Perhaps what wasn’t built into that contract was the way Realmuto can attract talent. The Phillies had Joe Girardi call Anderson last month to sell him on the team. That was impressive, Anderson said. The pitcher said he was eager to work with pitching coach Caleb Cotham as Anderson had his best season in Milwaukee working with Cotham’s mentor, Derek Johnson.
But none of those sales pitches, Girardi said, can top a phone call from Realmuto.
“I think players can be the best recruiters, more than management, a manager, coaches,” Girardi said. “I think the players can be the best recruiters and I think it’s really important that they do that. Great players want to play with great players. I love that he’s doing that.”
After talking to Realmuto, Anderson signed with the Phillies for $4 million. A week earlier, the Phillies signed 31-year-old lefthander Matt Moore for $3 million. Both pitchers will compete in spring training with Vince Velasquez and Spencer Howard for the final two spots in the team’s rotation.
The Phillies will begin the season with five starters, but they know they’ll need more than five to navigate a 162-game schedule after playing just 60 games in 2020. So they focused this winter on building rotation depth. Ivan Nova, who averaged 31 starts per season from 2017-19, is in camp on a minor-league deal.
The Phillies, for less than $10 million, added three veteran starters to provide some stability in what could be a challenging season as they account for playing 101 more games.
“I think I threw only 30-something innings last year,” said Anderson, who threw 33⅔ with Toronto. “But knowing my track record and how my body works, I think I’m primed to throw 150 innings for sure. That’s just the way I feel right now and I prepared for that this offseason. As the season goes on, time will tell about how you bounce back and recover from different outings and how the body responds.”
Anderson has pitched six of his seven big-league seasons in the National League, making him more than familiar with Realmuto. He marveled about how the catcher played, from how flexible and mobile he moved behind the plate to the subtle way he frames a pitch. Anderson understood why the Phillies were motivated to invest a record-setting contract in Realmuto. For the second straight year, the Phillies have seen a pitcher motivated to play with their $115.5 million catcher.
“Throwing to the best catcher in the major leagues in Realmuto was an easy one,” Anderson said. “That was probably the No. 1 thing.”