Maybe it means something. Maybe not. But since making contact is critical in baseball, a conversation this week between the Phillies and J.T. Realmuto’s agent is, at minimum, noteworthy.
Dave Dombrowski, the Phillies’ recently hired president of baseball operations, revealed that he received a call Monday from Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s representative at Creative Artists Agency. Dombrowski characterized it as “not a negotiation” and said he didn’t read anything into it other than a veteran agent welcoming a longtime executive back to a front office after a gap year.
It was, however, the first time Dombrowski and Berry spoke since the former was hired on Dec. 11.
“He welcomed me aboard and we talked about how my family was and we talked about how his family was and we said we could stay in contact,” Dombrowski said Tuesday. “I expressed to him how much we would love to have J.T. on board, and that’s where it really ended at that point.”
Fair enough. But it’s almost Christmas and the free-agent market has been cold, the largest contract signed so far being catcher James McCann’s four-year, $40.6 million deal with the New York Mets.
McCann’s agreement was also notable in that it took the Mets — and new owner Steve Cohen’s deep pockets — out of the Realmuto derby. As the best all-around catcher in baseball, Realmuto figures to still have a strong market, with the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays among the teams that could be interested. But with the Mets no longer in play, it might be more challenging for Berry to drive up the bidding.
Phillies managing partner John Middleton has said it’s a priority to re-sign Realmuto, who batted .273 with 36 homers and an .825 OPS over the last two seasons since being acquired in the trade that sent pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez to the Miami Marlins. But the Phillies reportedly lost $145 million in revenue in 2020, and Middleton has signaled a scaling back of the payroll after approaching the $208 million luxury-tax threshold.
Re-signing or replacing Realmuto isn’t the Phillies’ only need, either. They also must recast the worst bullpen in baseball, fill potential holes at shortstop and center field, and add starting-pitching depth. Dombrowski said he has spoken with agents for free-agent relievers but doesn’t think any deals are imminent.
“Could somebody call you back and say, ‘Hey, we want to join the Phillies?’ Maybe they will,” Dombrowski said. “I can’t say we’re close to anybody.”
Dombrowski also reiterated that the Phillies are “not just one player away” from World Series contention. It’s doubtful, then, that he will take an aggressive approach to trading prospects for big-league talent, as he did after taking over the Boston Red Sox’s baseball operations in 2015.
“We’ll fill as many holes as we possibly can,” Dombrowski said. “Our bullpen wasn’t very good last year, and there’s a lot of spots out there to fill, so some of them are going to have to come from an internal perspective. I’ve talked some to clubs, but I really haven’t had a lot of active trade conversations, either.”