Season or no season, J.T. Realmuto will still be able to test the free-agent market next winter, a scenario that seems increasingly likely for the Phillies’ All-Star catcher.
Under terms of a deal between Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association that was agreed upon Thursday night and ratified Friday, players will be granted service time based on a full year regardless of how few games are played in a 2020 season that is being indefinitely delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Specifics about a revised schedule weren’t resolved because it’s not yet clear when (or even if) it will be safe for baseball to resume. The owners and players will continue to take their cues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and other medical experts.
Other stipulations reportedly were made to delay the draft until July and possibly shorten it to five rounds and to push back the international signing period to next January. By settling their myriad issues now, MLB and the players avoided the appearance of squabbling during a time of global hardship.
For the Phillies, though, the biggest consequence of the agreement relates to Realmuto. The club has been hoping to negotiate a multiyear contract extension with him before the season. Now, everything is on hold even though free agency is still beckoning for the catcher, who turned 29 earlier this month.
As part of the MLB/MLBPA deal, a freeze will be imposed on all transactions, from optioning players to the minor leagues to trades and signings. It’s not yet clear whether the Phillies will be permitted to even keep talking with Realmuto’s camp about a future deal.
If negotiations are allowed to continue, there’s no telling how baseball’s economy will be impacted by the shutdown, which will last until at least mid-May and quite likely well beyond. Even a $10.7 billion industry would be adversely affected if the entire season is canceled and teams lose revenue from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, and other usual streams.
Will the free-agent market be more depressed than usual? If so, how would it affect top-of-the-market players such Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer, New York Yankees lefty James Paxton, and Realmuto?
Before the suspension of spring training, industry insiders believed Realmuto’s camp wanted to surpass Joe Mauer’s record average annual salary for a catcher ($23 million from 2011-18), with agent Jeff Berry eyeing an extension that would fall more closely in line with the five-year, $130 million contract signed last year by St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
As much as the Phillies want to retain Realmuto (they didn’t trade top prospect Sixto Sanchez and young catcher Jorge Alfaro to the Miami Marlins to control Realmuto for only two years), it’s possible that they could allow him to reach free agency, extend him a qualifying offer of about $18 million, and assess the post-virus market conditions before making their best bid.