One of the biggest MLB free agents out there is no longer on the market. Catcher J.T. Realmuto (#2 on MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 list from November) has opted to stick with the Philadelphia Phillies after all, signing a five-year, $115.5 million deal. Craig Mish of SportsGrid first reported that, with ESPN’s Jeff Passan confirming later and discussing the context of the deal:
The Philadelphia Phillies and JT Realmuto are in agreement on a 5 year $115.5 million dollar contract. Pending physical. Per source.
— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) January 26, 2021
In the end, J.T. Realmuto was fighting a narrative that's almost unwinnable: catchers age quickly. Even if he didn't have the mileage of others, it clung to him. The compromise: Philadelphia gave him record-setting per-year $ for catchers but committed only through age-34 season.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 26, 2021
Realmuto (seen above in spring training in February 2020) hit .266/.349/.491 last season and was worth 1.7 wins above replacement as per Fangraphs, 1.4 as per Baseball Reference. In 2019, MLB’s last full season (and his first year with the Phillies following a February 2019 trade), he hit .275/.328/.493 and was worth 5.7 WAR by Fangraphs, 4.5 by Baseball Reference. He’s been one of the best-hitting catchers out there for the last several years and has also provided value in the field. Here’s some of what MLBTR’s Tim Dierks, Steve Adams and Connor Byrne wrote about him in that November Top 50 list:
Realmuto took over the mantle as the best catcher in baseball in 2018, and hasn’t let the title go since. Thirty years old in March, Realmuto has a 114 wRC+, including a 125 mark this year. Given that the typical catcher checks in at 90, Realmuto is a major asset with the bat. He’s also adept at controlling the running game, ranking first in MLB since 2018 with a 41.3% caught-stealing rate (minimum 1,200 innings caught). Statcast rates Realmuto as a 95th percentile pitch framer as well. Realmuto is the fastest-running catcher in baseball too, a point in his favor for teams worried about his aging curve. Realmuto’s offense and speed are above average for any player, so as a catcher with high-end defensive skills, he really stands out.
That post’s projection was for Realmuto to join the Mets on a five-year, $125 million deal, which is more than he wound up getting. However, this has been a very quiet free agent market, with only a few teams signing big deals, and lots of talk of teams trying to save money. And this deal Realmuto wound up with is a further indication of that; yes, it’s a lot of money, but it’s not for a giant term, and it’s for less than many figured he might land.
[Craig Mish on Twitter]