CLEARWATER, Fla. -- J.T. Realmuto is ready for his trial.
Realmuto will leave Phillies camp Tuesday and travel to Phoenix for a scheduled salary arbitration hearing Wednesday against the Phillies. A three-person panel will determine whether to give the All-Star catcher his desired 2020 salary of $12.4 million or the team’s $10 million offer.
Is Realmuto confident about his case?
“I don’t really want to take this flight,” he said, laughing at the annoyance of nearly five hours on a plane. “That’s about the only feeling I have about it.”
Regardless of the outcome, Realmuto will set a record for the highest compensation for a catcher in his third year of arbitration, surpassing Matt Wieters’ $8.275 million mark with the Baltimore Orioles in 2015. Realmuto’s camp is taking the case to a hearing in order to raise the salary bar as high as possible for future catchers.
The real intrigue will come after the arbitration verdict. The Phillies and Realmuto have mutual interest in a long-term contract extension, but it's unclear whether they will be able to reach an agreement before opening day.
It surely will take a record-setting pact to get Realmuto to forgo a shot at free agency. The highest average annual salary ever for a catcher was Joe Mauer’s $23 million from 2011 to 2018. But Realmuto’s agent may be seeking a deal on par with the five-year, $130 million extension agreed upon by St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt before what would have been his walk year.
The sides have not yet initiated extension talks, agreeing to wait until after the arbitration hearing. Realmuto, then, said he hasn't decided if he would be willing to continue to negotiate during the season, a potential distraction that many players prefer to avoid.
“It’s something I’ll sit down and talk with my agent about,” said Realmuto, who enjoyed his first season with the Phillies and has grown close with Bryce Harper, among other teammates. “We’ll communicate with [general manager] Matt [Klentak] and let him know how we feel.”
Other than the brief disruption in his workout schedule with the Phillies, Realmuto isn't sweating the arbitration hearing.
"I'll either make 10 or 12 million dollars, and I'll be happy either way," he said. "I'm blessed to get to do what I do for a living for a lot of money. One way or the other I'm going to be playing baseball here in Philly this year."
Hector Neris’ arbitration hearing is scheduled for Friday in Phoenix. The closer is seeking $5.2 million; the Phillies submitted a $4.25 million offer. ... Veteran reliever Tommy Hunter threw all fastballs in his first bullpen session. Hunter is recovering from surgery last summer on a torn flexor tendon in his right arm. ... Manager Joe Girardi ended baserunning drills by having players practice their home-run trot. “Just [to] have some fun,” he said. “And remember: make sure you run hard before you know it’s out.”