J.T. Realmuto has the Phillies over a barrel

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Even though he lost his arbitration hearing, J.T. Realmuto will get the last laugh over the Philadelphia Phillies, one way or another.

Much has already been made about the “victory” that the Philadelphia Phillies scored in arbitration over catcher J.T. Realmuto. As a result, they’ll only be on the hook for $10 million instead of Realmuto’s requested $12.4 million for this season.

What a steal. But they’re gonna pay for it.

Even though everything about this was strictly “by the book”, it points to a larger issue in MLB’s arbitration process, which clearly failed Realmuto in this case.

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To be fair, the $10 million that he was awarded isn’t chump change, and he’s still in line for a hefty contract for 2021 and beyond. But Realmuto is such a unique beast in today’s game that it really is unfair to lump him in with the rest of the catchers when evaluating him. He is a complete outlier, with hitting tools that are more indicative of a solid corner infielder than a typical backstop. Throw in his high-end skills on defense, and you have a player at the very top of his game right now.

If I were him, I think I’d be mad about getting 20% less than what I asked for from my employer when I knew that I was giving them a service they couldn’t get anywhere else.

The Phillies, for their part, didn’t technically do anything wrong here either. But while Phillies management might have gotten in some kind of trouble with the rest of the league for breaking ranks and stepping around the arbitration process that all clubs have agreed to, they could have acquiesced to Realmuto or worked out some compromise prior to the arbitration hearing.

You’d like to think that other teams wouldn’t hold it against the Phillies in an exceptional case like this, but systems are in place for a reason. Maybe the Phillies were fine with paying the extra money but just chickened out in the end because they didn’t want to upset other teams by setting salary precedents on their own.

And so we now have an upset player, though Realmuto claims that he’s not angered at his organization, but rather at the process itself. He’s saying most of the right things, but it’s human nature to have a level of bitterness about it.

Still, he shouldn’t get too worked up. Payday is coming soon.

Based on what the Phillies surrendered to the Miami Marlins when they traded for Realmuto before last season, they absolutely have to do everything in their power to keep him beyond this year. You simply cannot let the best player in the game leave town when you are trying to sell your fans (and your other players, for that matter) on the idea that you are legitimate contenders.

Realmuto is here right now, an absolute stud that looks to have at least three or four more years of high-level play still in front of him. The Phillies have to open up the checkbook, luxury tax be damned if that’s what it comes to.

If they don’t, suitors will be lined up around the block to bring Realmuto aboard. Other National League teams (the Phils’ direct competition) may even be more invested than they would normally, gambling that the league will gain the designated hitter in the next couple seasons, which would allow Realmuto to stay in the lineup even as he needs more days off from behind the plate.

Ultimately, J.T. Realmuto will do just fine in 2021 and for years to come, no matter where he lands. To that end, he has all of the power over the Phillies. They shouldn’t be celebrating their $2.4 million savings from arbitration too much, because it will cost them many times over if they hope to keep the best catcher in baseball beyond this season. Barring some star turn by Deivy Grullon this year, they have nothing that can come close to giving them what Realmuto can for the foreseeable future. And this guy can’t even do anything.

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So let’s enjoy Realmuto right now, because we don’t know what might happen. The Phillies had better show him that they are serious about winning, in addition to giving him what he wants, or they’ll look like complete dopes when they lose him.