The Philadelphia Phillies haven’t hid their desire to re-sign free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto this offseason. They can’t, however, guarantee that it will happen.
Friday evening, the club introduced new pitching coach Caleb Cotham, the fifth to man that position for the Phillies in as many years. With next-to-no stability at pitching coach, manager Joe Girardi was asked how important re-signing Realmuto is for the success of the pitching staff in 2021.
“I think all organizations – [including] the Phillies – that’s what we love,” Girardi said, referring to stability. “We love to know what we’re going to get out of players on a daily basis. That’s a manager’s dream when you know that you can pencil a guy’s name in and you know exactly what you’re going to get, and you trust that they’re going to be ready to play every day and be productive. And that’s J.T.”
Still, Girardi played for four different franchises over the course of his 15-year playing career. The Phillies are the third team that he’s managed. He knows the value of being able to hear offers from interested suitors and pick the spot you feel most comfortable in. So while the organization would love to have Realmuto back, he understands the reality of free agency, and will ultimately work with whatever is put in front of him.
“One of the things that players strive to do is earn free agency, to see what type of value they have. And it always takes two, right? It always takes two parties to make a deal. And one party may think that this place is better than the other. So, there are 30 teams that would love to have J.T., and we’re at the top of the list, because we love him.
“But I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen, because that’s not my job. My job is to make, I believe, suggestions about what we need and who we need…and where we have strengths and where we don’t have strengths. But then putting together the team is above me. And I need to manage the players that they give me.”
So what have the organizational decision makers said about Realmuto’s future?
Managing partner John Middleton said in October that it was a “priority” to retain Realmuto, but did so while suggesting that COVID-19 could affect how much the organization is willing to spend in 2021. He also was asked about Realmuto’s future in a press conference where the team announced that former general manager Matt Klentak had stepped down. A month-and-a-half later, Klentak hasn’t been replaced, nor has the team found a new president of baseball operations to work above the new general manager.
The current team president is Andy MacPhail. While MacPhail has expressed a willingness to step aside if it meant that the organization could hire the best candidate possible for that role, to this point, that hasn’t happened. Until there is a new front office in place, MacPhail, Middleton and interim general manager Ned Rice are seemingly at the forefront of building the offseason strategy. The biggest task facing the Phillies this offseason is how to proceed with Realmuto, a two-time All-Star catcher who will turn 30 before the 2021 season begins.
MacPhail – who has said he’ll leave his post when his contract expires after 2021 – gave his annual year-end address in late October. At that time, he said that while the Phillies and Realmuto’s representatives haven’t been able to find “anything approaching common ground” in past discussions, he remains cautiously optimistic about the chances of re-signing the catcher.
“Yeah, because there are two things that we’ve got going for us. The first is that I think he enjoyed his time here and obviously, we want him back. So I think those two things give you some measure of hope. In any offseason, there are just an amazing amount of variables, you can just multiply that exponentially this offseason. But yeah, as long as the player enjoyed his time here and the team has a legitimate interest in bringing him back, there’s that possibility.”
Clearly, Girardi would like for MacPhail’s hopefulness to become reality. But the 56-year-old has been around the sport long enough to know not to make any predictions on the future.
“I was around J.T. for 60 games, and I gotta tell you, I love having him. But so would everyone else, and that’s the difficult part for the Phillies, because he’s so coveted.”
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