A case can be made that the Phillies were only able to trade for J.T. Realmuto in February 2019 because the New York Mets were unwilling to give up the players necessary to acquire him two months earlier.
So, no, Realmuto didn’t have to get in his usual crouch behind the plate for the Phillies on Friday night in the opener of a four-game Labor Day weekend series at Citi Field to remind the Mets that he’s the best all-around catcher in baseball.
Connect the dots, then, and you begin to see the faint outline of a scenario that should be so terrifying to the Phillies that even managing partner John Middleton wakes up in a cold sweat screaming, “Sign J.T.!”
If Realmuto reaches free agency in a couple of months – and if the Mets, by then, have a new, flush-with-cash owner who is looking to make a headline-grabbing move – well, just think of the bidding war that could ensue between the Phillies and their Big Apple rival.
Hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen is on the verge of buying the Mets for roughly $2.4 billion, according to multiple reports last week. Cohen outbid other prospective buyers, including a consortium led by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez. Once Cohen closes the deal with the Mets, he must be vetted by Major League Baseball and approved by a three-quarters majority of league owners.
The Mets haven’t behaved much like a big-market team in recent years, in part because owner Fred Wilpon lost money in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Bankrolled by Cohen, however, it figures to be a different story.
“There’s no question that the Mets would be in on Realmuto,” former Mets general manager Steve Phillips, now a host on Sirius XM MLB Network Radio, said recently by phone. “Especially if they get new ownership, they’re going to want to make a splash. The idea of getting the best player at a position and taking him away from a team in your division, it’s a double-win when you take him away from the Phillies. There’s no question if you’re the Mets that you want to get in on that.”
Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was once part of Realmuto’s representation at Creative Artists Agency. He tried to acquire him from the Miami Marlins in the winter of 2018-19, too, but the Mets reportedly were reluctant to put shortstop Amed Rosario and center fielder Brandon Nimmo in the deal.
This winter, all it would take is money.
The Phillies could still pull Realmuto off the market by negotiating a contract extension, although a deal gets less likely the closer to free agency that Realmuto gets.
Realmuto has declined to comment on the status of negotiations since the Phillies reconvened for training camp in July. The Phillies, in turn, aren’t discussing it either. General manager Matt Klentak has said only that the team has spoken to Realmuto’s agent, Jeff Berry, since training camp, but declined to say if an offer has been made.
Regardless, the Phillies almost certainly will have to sign Realmuto to a record-breaking contract for a catcher. Joe Mauer holds the mark with a $23 million annual salary from 2010-18.
It seems possible, even likely, that the Phillies are waiting to gauge Realmuto’s value in a free-agent market that figures to be depressed after a fan-less, 60-game season in which team revenues were substantially lower than usual. Then again, Mookie Betts’ 12-year, $365 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers might indicate that elite-level players will still get big-money contracts.
“I still think that the teams at the top of the market are going to be willing to spend money,” Realmuto said in July after Betts signed his extension. “Some teams are going to take advantage of the situation, where half or even three-quarters of the league might not be as interested in spending as much money. Other teams are really going to go for it and push for those players.”
All it takes, after all, is one team to drive up a free agent’s value. In Realmuto’s case, it could be the team that the Phillies are playing this weekend.