LAKELAND, Fla. -- J.T. Realmuto and the Phillies have not yet begun to talk about a contract extension. But when they finally get around to it, one factor above all will determine whether they are able to make progress toward an agreement.
Will the Phillies’ offer be based solely on previous long-term deals for catchers? And if so, will it matter to Realmuto?
"A man that squats and catches for five-plus years at a Gold Glove level shouldn't get paid less for doing so," Jeff Berry, Realmuto's agent, said by phone Saturday. "It doesn't take an Ivy League degree or a judgeship to figure that out."
Realmuto lost his arbitration hearing against the Phillies on Wednesday, because he and Berry were trying to upend a long-established system that they believe discriminates against catchers.
Statistically, Realmuto compares favorably to All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon at the same point in his career. Rendon made $12.3 million in arbitration in 2018, so Realmuto filed a $12.4 million request. But the three-person panel of arbitrators ruled in favor of the Phillies’ $10 million offer, which fell more in line with Matt Wieters’ previous record salary for a third-year arbitration-eligible catcher ($8.3 million in 2015). It’s impossible to know for certain why the panel ruled as it did, because the arbitrators don’t provide an explanation.
"I think nonsensical decisions are much easier to continue when they're done in the dark rather than exposed to the light of day," Berry said. "I don't think anybody on the Phillies' side would argue anything other than, 'Well, that's how arbitration does it,' which is a really poor excuse. They will say that he was paid like [the best catcher in baseball] because he set a record. But that's not the point. The point is, you shouldn't get paid less to squat for a living."
It follows, then, that Realmuto will want more than to merely beat Joe Mauer’s $23 million average annual-value record for a catcher. Indeed, his camp might view Paul Goldschmidt as a more relevant comparison. Goldschmidt, a first baseman, signed a five-year, $130 million extension with the St. Louis Cardinals last spring, before what would’ve been his free-agent walk year.
Berry, a former minor-league catcher, wouldn’t handicap whether the sides will agree on an extension before opening day. But he dismissed the notion that Realmuto feels any greater urgency to sign a long-term deal because of the physical demands of his position.
"I don't think that comes into play at all," Berry said. "To apply generalities like that, you see some of the best catchers in the world have gone late into their careers. J.T.'s a world-class athlete."
Realmuto returned to Phillies camp on Thursday and had a long conversation with managing partner John Middleton after batting practice Friday. Middleton is known to have great admiration for Realmuto.
The Phillies also put Realmuto on the cover of the 2020 media guide to commemorate his Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.