When the Phillies traded for J.T. Realmuto 19 months ago, they knew the risk. They were giving up prized pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez for two years of control over an All-Star catcher without a guarantee of being able to extend his contract beyond 2020.
Given that caveat, then, general manager Matt Klentak said Sanchez’s terrific rookie season with the Miami Marlins doesn’t heighten the pressure on the Phillies to re-sign Realmuto.
“What I’ve said all along is we would love to have J.T. here,” Klentak said Monday before the Phillies opened a pivotal four-game series in Washington. “But when you make that trade, you’re trading for two years of control and you know that. Sixto looked really good against us. He’s looked good this year. But we’ve had two very productive years of J.T. as well.”
Realmuto wasn’t in the lineup Monday night, although the Phillies hope he will be able to return for Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Nationals. He hasn’t played since Sept. 12 because of a strained left hip flexor.
Manager Joe Girardi was optimistic last week that Realmuto would return sooner. Instead, the Phillies have been cautious not to rush him back from an injury that affects him when he runs, not when he’s behind the plate.
“We will remind him that he needs to have a [speed] governor on, like they do in NASCAR. You’ve got to be smart on how you run,” Girardi said. “J.T.'s an instinctual guy. J.T. plays as hard as anyone, so we took that into account. If he comes back too early and re-injures it, then he’s out for a while.”
Realmuto, who will be 30 next season, is batting .267 with 11 homers and an .883 OPS in 41 games this season. In 145 games overall since the trade, he’s hitting .273 with 36 homers, 113 RBI and an .834 OPS.
Whether he signs an extension with the Phillies or goes to free agency, Realmuto almost certainly will eclipse Joe Mauer’s $23 million record for the highest annual salary for a catcher. The question is by how much. Will he want $24 million per year? $25 million? More?
Before COVID-19 shut down Major League Baseball for three months, there was talk that Realmuto’s camp was aiming for St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt’s five-year, $130 million extension, which would be $26 million per year.
Trading for Realmuto signaled that the Phillies were ready to leap to playoff contention. Entering Monday night, they were 108-107 since the trade and had a half-game lead over three teams for a National League wild-card berth.