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J.T. Realmuto should be the Phillies’ left fielder sooner or later | Marcus Hayes

The Phillies need a long-term answer in left field. They already have that answer, if they use a little initiative.

The Phillies might get more out of J.T. Realmuto offensively if he shifts to left field.
The Phillies might get more out of J.T. Realmuto offensively if he shifts to left field.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

The Phillies need a long-term answer in left field. Fortunately, the Phillies already have that answer, if they use a little initiative.

They should move All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto from behind the plate to left field, and they should do it before it’s too late.

Realmuto will be 31 in March. He keeps himself in superb condition, but since 2018, he’s been hindered by back, groin, hip, knee, thumb, and ankle injuries. Thirty-one-year-old catchers don’t get healthier with age. It is the nature of the position to suffer frequent, lingering injuries. So, change the position.

» READ MORE: What we learned from the GM meetings about the Phillies’ offseason plans

He’s an excellent catcher. He’d be an excellent outfielder. He was an All-State high school state champion quarterback. He won two state titles as a high school shortstop; he converted to catcher late in high school to increase his draft value.

Playing left field won’t be a challenge for Realmuto. It’ll be a vacation.

He’s earned one.

His batting average dropped each of the last five seasons. He needs a reset. In 2021, he hit .263 with a 17 homers and 73 RBIs in 134 games. Put him in that little left field at Citizens Bank Park and he’ll hit .285 with 28 bombs and 100 RBIs, and he’ll play 155 games. Bank it.

The Phillies made plain at the recent general managers meetings that they’re looking for a left fielder and a center fielder, and they made plain to me they have no plans to ask Realmuto to shed the tools of ignorance any time soon. That’s partly because Realmuto made plain to them last season that he’d rather catch than breathe.

“We talked to him about changing positions. He doesn’t want to,” Phillies president Dave Dombrowski told me last month. “He loves catching.”

Joel Embiid loves Chick-Fil-A.

What you love isn’t always what’s best for you.


You can’t blame Dombrowski for failing to be bold. He inherited a rotted franchise a year ago, the free-agent market stinks, and the only advanced catcher prospect in the organization is light-hitting Rafael Marchan. So and the last thing he wants to do is remove his unicorn — a two-time Silver Slugger with a Gold Glove Award who commands a challenging pitching staff in a demanding city.

Neither does Joe Girardi. He’s a former catcher, and he’d rather stop lifting weights than lose the luxury of Realmuto in the lineup two out of every three days.

“We signed him as a catcher,” Girardi said, recoiling as he stood on the dugout’s top step. “Now, if you’re asking me is he athletic enough to move around the diamond? Yeah, but we signed him to be a catcher.”

That’s great, except nothing lasts forever. The Phillies put him at first base 16 times and used him as the designated hitter three times to milk 134 appearances for his $22 million salary, which made him the highest-paid catcher in baseball. He’ll be No. 1 when he makes nearly $24 million in 2022, and he’ll earn that each of the next three seasons.

Those returns will diminish each season.

» READ MORE: How the Phillies plan to use the designated hitter, which seems headed for the National League

Maybe there’s a compromise. Realmuto, who hits right-handed, could platoon with a left-handed bat in left field for, say, 75 games, catch about 80 games, and raise his total number of games to 155.

Deja-vu all over again

This move has worked before.

Jayson Werth, the best outfielder on the 2008 World Series champion Phillies, was drafted in the first round as a catcher. Yogi Berra played outfield in almost half of the games in his last three All-Star seasons.

Realmuto has never played outfield, but it would be a snap. If you think the footwork in left field is complicated, try jumping up from a crouch wearing 25 pounds of protective gear and throwing a 90-mph bullet 130 feet to second base, semi-blindfolded.

It’s not that hard: Pat Burrell moved to left field, for Pete’s sake.

Girardi knows this:

“I think you could put J.T. at second base. Third base. Heck, shortstop. I think you could put him anywhere. He’s a spectacular athlete.”

Athletes get hurt. No one gets hurt as much as catchers. Girardi knows that, too:

“I think the riskiest position [for injury] any player plays is catcher or pitcher. But if you look at Yadier Molina, he’s been extremely productive for a long time. You look at Salvador Perez, and look how productive he’s been.”

Fair enough. Molina, 38, has earned five All-Star appearances and three Gold Gloves with the Cardinals since he turned 31. Salvador Perez turned 31 in May, and he led the major leagues with 48 home runs and 121 RBIs this season, nearly doubling his career highs in both.

» READ MORE: The Phillies need outfield help. It’s time to go shopping again.

Realmuto’s good, yes, but he’s not as good as they are -- nor as durable.

Girardi knows this, too:

“Strategic days off are important. But I think he can be extremely productive wherever you’re at. We think the DH rule is going to come along next year for the National League, and he’d get DH days, too.”

That’s what they’re counting on: DH days and first-base cameos along with a wing and a prayer.