The Phillies are planning to begin spring training in Florida in less than five weeks, as the team’s pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout Feb. 17 in Clearwater, Fla.
The plan, as of now, is for all teams to start spring training as normal at their usual sites in Florida and Arizona and begin the regular season on time. The Phillies are scheduled to play 32 Grapefruit League games beginning Feb. 27 before opening the season April 1 at home against Atlanta.
But those plans could shift in the next five weeks, depending on the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic.
The date of the first workout gives the team a deadline to sign J.T. Realmuto, provided they want the catcher to be present for the start of camp. The Phillies remain focused on bringing back Realmuto, who will likely earn a contract worth more than $23 million per year, the record for a catcher set in 2010 by Joe Mauer.
The free-agent market continues to crawl this winter as baseball’s top six free agents, as ranked by ESPN, remain unsigned. Realmuto, outfielder George Springer, starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, and infielder DJ LeMahieu are without teams as clubs have moved even more slowly than normal this offseason. The Phillies have yet to sign a major-league free agent but have added players this offseason through waiver claims, small trades, and minor-league contracts.
But the market might finally be thawing as teams can now prepare for spring training with a starting date and a 2021 season becomes more certain. Evidence of that seemed to come earlier this week when Liam Hendriks, the top free-agent reliever, signed a $54 million contract with the White Sox. Realmuto could be next.
The Phillies — from John Middleton to Andy MacPhail to Dave Dombrowski to Joe Girardi to Bryce Harper — have not been shy about their desire to keep Realmuto. It’s hard to see a path to the playoffs, especially in a bulked-up division, without Realmuto on the roster. The Phillies have five weeks to make it happen if they want to keep him on schedule.
“We need a catcher,” Dombrowski said last week on MLB Network Radio. “We’re in a spot where we basically have one in Andrew Knapp on our roster at this point. J.T. is still out there. He’s somebody we would love to have as part of our organization, but we’ll see what ends up happening in that regard.”
It was thought that baseball owners would want to delay the season in hopes of playing more games in front of fans after vaccines are distributed. But the players would likely oppose playing a shortened season after playing just 60 games in 2020. For now, they’ll prepare for spring training.