Major League Baseball will lift its moratorium on transactions, signings and negotiations at noon on Friday.
That makes it an important day in the Phillies’ corner of the universe because the team can resume its attempt to sign All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension that would prevent him from becoming a free agent after this season.
Back in February, the Phillies beat Realmuto at the salary arbitration table. He will make $3.7 million for this 60-game shortened season, the prorate of his $10 million salary.
Once the arbitration process was over, Realmuto and the Phillies quickly turned their attention to negotiating a long-term contract extension that would kick in for the start of the 2021 season – Realmuto’s age 30 season – and cover four, five, maybe even six seasons, depending on how the talks went.
Those talks had been underway when the game – and the business of the game – shut down on March 12 because of the coronavirus health crisis.
Prior to the talks shutting down, Realmuto and his agent, Jeff Berry, had made it no secret that the player was looking to raise the bar on catchers’ salaries, both in arbitration and free agency.
Realmuto lost in arbitration but he’s still looking to ride either his pending free-agent status or free agency itself to a win.
In terms of average annual value, former Minnesota Twin Joe Mauer, who played his last game in 2018, remains the king of catcher salaries at $23 million per season.
Realmuto is very aware of that number and so are the Phillies, who have indicated a willingness to be in that neighborhood to get a deal done.
But there are other applicable numbers.
Realmuto’s side is very aware of the $23.6 million average salary that newcomer Zack Wheeler landed with the Phillies in a five-year deal.
Bryce Harper’s $25.3 million average salary is probably also relevant because he’s the face of the franchise and that comes with certain prestige like, perhaps, getting the biggest paycheck every two weeks.
Beyond Harper, there are other relevant numbers. Realmuto’s camp has offered subtle clues that it considers Paul Goldschmidt’s five-year, $130 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals to be a nice comparable. That deal carries an AAV of $26 million.
Who knows how this thing is going to go?
All we do know is that the Phillies want Realmuto and are willing to pay a lot for him.
But the shortened 2020 season complicates things.
With almost two-thirds of the season already wiped away, Realmuto is a lot closer to free agency than he was back in spring training, when the scheduled March 26 season opener loomed as a soft deadline for both sides. Maybe the shortened schedule will lead Realmuto to gamble that good health and top performance in a sprint of a season will lead to a bigger score on the open market.
Ah, but there is no guarantee that there will be a bigger score on the free-agent market. A shortened season with no fans in the stands will hurt the game’s overall revenues and that could soften next winter’s market.
So, there’s a lot to think about. For both sides.
For now, it’s safe to say that opening day – it’ll be either July 23 or 24 – once again looms large for both sides. In that month’s time, we’ll learn a lot about where things stand between the Phillies and J.T. Realmuto.