Phillies Face Reality, Re-Sign Realmuto

On Tuesday afternoon, the Phillies answered one of the biggest questions of their offseason in decidedly positive fashion, reportedly coming to terms with J.T. Realmuto on a five-year, $115.5 million contract. A physical is still pending, but the contract will keep Realmuto in Philly until the end of the 2025 season assuming all goes well. The number-one free agent in our offseason top 50, Realmuto’s signing removes the best option for anyone looking to make a race-changing upgrade at catcher.

It’s hard to overstate Realmuto’s importance to the Phillies. Indeed, his presence is so crucial that if Philadelphia were for some reason only able to retain one of him or Bryce Harper, I’d have to choose Realmuto, a two-time All-Star who has led the team in WAR over the last two seasons. Harper’s a very fine player and will likely still be in baseball years after Realmuto retires, but the short-term alternatives behind the plate looked bleak if the organization had had to scramble for a Plan B. There’s no combination of Andrew Knapp, Rafael Marchan, and non-roster invitee Christian Bethancourt that would have given the Phillies a fighting chance to avoid being near the bottom of the league at the position. Nor would the free agent options have provided a panacea; James McCann, Jason Castro, and Kurt Suzuki are already gone, and Yadier Molina is ancient.

Catchers by WAR, 2016-2020
Name G AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Yasmani Grandal 594 .240 .347 .463 118 21.5
J.T. Realmuto 595 .282 .336 .466 114 18.9
Buster Posey 505 .289 .363 .416 110 15.5
Tyler Flowers 371 .251 .349 .408 102 11.9
Gary Sánchez 419 .237 .321 .503 117 11.3
Yadier Molina 561 .278 .324 .421 99 10.0
Willson Contreras 493 .265 .351 .463 116 10.0
Mike Zunino 410 .206 .283 .425 92 8.6
Christian Vázquez 421 .262 .309 .402 84 8.4
Russell Martin 401 .218 .338 .367 96 8.0
Martín Maldonado 485 .217 .296 .365 78 7.9
Wilson Ramos 492 .290 .341 .456 113 7.7
Jason Castro 348 .220 .317 .385 91 7.0
Francisco Cervelli 350 .252 .359 .375 103 6.0
Roberto Pérez 347 .205 .293 .357 71 5.9
Travis d’Arnaud 338 .258 .315 .426 98 5.6
Brian McCann 375 .239 .324 .408 96 5.5
Austin Hedges 356 .202 .260 .370 65 5.1
Omar Narváez 393 .267 .355 .398 108 4.9
Manny Piña 329 .257 .319 .409 92 4.9

Since Realmuto’s .303/.343/.428 breakout in 2016, only Yasmani Grandal ranks higher in WAR. WAR isn’t perfect, of course, but only Buster Posey is within shouting distance. Given that Posey is four years older and already showing signs of significant decline, I doubt many would dispute that Realmuto is a top-two catcher league-wide going into this season.

ZiPS Projection – J.T. Realmuto
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2021 .272 .333 .490 518 84 141 29 3 26 98 40 125 8 114 4 4.1
2022 .270 .332 .490 482 77 130 28 3 24 90 38 116 7 114 3 3.7
2023 .266 .327 .475 463 72 123 25 3 22 84 36 111 7 109 2 3.2
2024 .262 .322 .457 442 67 116 23 3 19 76 33 103 6 103 1 2.6
2025 .256 .316 .433 418 60 107 20 3 16 67 30 93 5 96 0 1.9

ZiPS 2021 Percentiles – J.T. Realmuto
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ WAR
90% .290 .359 .586 510 91 148 33 5 36 118 48 102 15 144 6.3
80% .285 .350 .548 513 89 146 31 4 32 110 45 110 11 133 5.5
70% .282 .345 .526 515 87 145 30 3 30 107 43 115 10 126 5.0
60% .277 .338 .513 517 86 143 29 3 29 103 41 120 9 121 4.6
50% .272 .333 .490 518 84 141 29 3 26 98 40 125 8 114 4.1
40% .268 .327 .478 519 83 139 28 3 25 96 39 129 7 110 3.9
30% .265 .324 .456 520 81 138 26 2 23 92 38 134 6 103 3.4
20% .262 .319 .439 522 80 137 25 2 21 87 36 140 6 98 3.0
10% .258 .312 .418 524 78 135 23 2 19 84 34 150 3 91 2.5

I have been using $7 million per win in my projections this offseason, a decline from previous estimations given the financial uncertainty facing baseball, with 4% yearly growth. With this assumption, ZiPS would project Realmuto to receive a $116.2 million contract, within a million bucks of the actual $115.5 number.

The contract appears to be mostly straight-up meat-and-potatoes, with no buyouts, team options, incentives, or opt-out seasons. The only bits of garnish are the assignment fee, intended as a minor speed bump if the Phillies want to trade Realmuto, and the deferred 2021 salary. The deferred money reduces the present value of the contract by about $1.5 million, as a back-of-envelope calculation, and has the additional benefit, for the Phillies, of shifting costs to a season that (hopefully) will take place in a normal world with people able to attend games in person.

Yes, Realmuto’s new deal is for considerably more than Grandal received (four years, $73 million), but there are a couple caveats involved. Grandal was a year older when he signed, though that year is a bigger deal than it might initially sound; Realmuto’s projected five-year deal goes from $116.2 million to $101.2 million if I tell ZiPS that he was born in 1990 instead of 1991. And when it comes down to it, Grandal was simply a great deal for the White Sox.

ZiPS Projection – Yasmani Grandal (Pre-2020)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2020 .241 .373 .477 449 69 108 20 1 28 83 94 130 3 133 8 4.7
2021 .239 .368 .471 431 64 103 20 1 26 78 87 123 3 131 7 4.3
2022 .237 .363 .461 414 59 98 19 1 24 72 81 114 3 127 6 3.8
2023 .233 .355 .439 399 54 93 17 1 21 65 74 106 3 118 5 3.1

When a team signs a long-term deal with a free agent who is never projected to drop much below league average, it’s hard to come out that poorly in the end. Deals like the Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera contracts, on the other hand, left their clubs projected to receive below-average play for the majority of their respective contracts.

If anything, one could argue that the teams are underrating just how durable catchers will be. A first base version of Grandal or Realmuto might get a six or a seven-year deal. ZiPS saw both as aging well in five years and historically, long-term catcher projections haven’t been any less accurate, either in terms of playing-time or quality, than projections at other positions.

The Phillies find themselves on dangerous ground, a contender that isn’t actually contending. 2020 was the third consecutive season the team hovered around .500.

With Realmuto back on the roster, let’s re-roll some NL East projections.

ZiPS 2021 Projected Standings – NL East
Team W L GB Pct Div WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Atlanta Braves 91 71 .562 45.1% 28.8% 73.9% 7.7%
New York Mets 90 72 1 .556 36.8% 30.8% 67.6% 6.5%
Washington Nationals 86 76 5 .531 15.5% 24.2% 39.7% 3.0%
Philadelphia Phillies 80 82 11 .494 2.4% 7.1% 9.5% 0.5%
Miami Marlins 73 89 18 .451 0.2% 0.8% 1.0% 0.0%

The projections outline the basic problem for the Phillies. Bringing back Realmuto doesn’t make them a top contender, it can only get them back to where they were with Realmuto in tow. A 90-win season isn’t completely out of the question — projections have a great deal of uncertainty — but the team still could use a better second baseman, another outfielder (two, really), another starting pitcher, and some additional relief help.

Bringing Realmuto back was absolutely necessary for the Philadelphia Phillies. There’s also a great deal more work to do if the team is ever going to match the promise they had three or four years ago. It’s going to take imagination, guts, and a willingness to use cash.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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tz
Member

As a baseball fan, it’s good to see a team like the Phillies keep their foot on the gas to build around their young core and veteran add-ons. Too easy these days to backtrack and rebuild again just because success didn’t come quickly like it did for the Cubs and Astros at the end of their “process”.

matt
Member
matt

Nothing they’ve done so far suggests they are putting their foot on the gas, they still have many needs to get close to ATL/NYM.

padraic
Member
padraic

Putting your fut on the gas and contending are different things. They’ve signed Harper, Wheeler, Cutch, Arrieta, and J. T. to big contracts the last few years – obviously not all good signings, but it’s a lot of money. Phils problem is the draft and player development, not refusing to spend.

bosoxforlife
Member
Member
bosoxforlife

The draft has been a catastrophe for the Phillies. Since 2003 only Aaron Nola has provided more than 1.0 bWAR for the Phillies from all the 1st round picks that the team has made. I have not made a study but I can’t imagine that any other team has such an abysmal record. The list of complete busts is difficult to comprehend but it is not difficult to comprehend why the Phillies haven’t had a season above .500 since 2011.

schmenkman
Member
schmenkman

Here’s that study but for total WAR produced (fWAR in that case):

https://www.thegoodphight.com/2020/1/20/20929115/phillies-drafts-boom-bust-and-bohm

The 123 WAR that their picks since 2003 have produced is dead last (see halfway down the page).

More recently Nola (and Hoskins) have made them look better, e.g. 4th best in WAR produced so far by their picks since 2013. Still early there of course.

That’s with production through 2019, and will be updated through 2020 as we get closer to this year’s draft.

carter
Member
Member
carter

I for one thing think Harper turned a corner last year. He isn’t one who frequently underperforms his expected stats, and his expected stats were 3rd best in baseball. If you’ve watched him he came in the league you would realize that he has always had an impossibly steep bat plane. Years ago there was an article here about how he will be more prone to slumps, and quoted Harper saying he likes to chop down at the ball, like an axe. Obviously that is extremely bad, and I always wondered if someone could get to him and “fix” him. I know that sounds crazy, as Harper is on a HOF pace and has a career 138 wRC+…but I’ve always thought there was something more there. Last year Harper put up a 151 wRC+ and expected stats had him in the 190+ range. I watched all of his at bats, and he certainly has a different swing plane, and cut his K rate from 26.1 to 17.6 while also increasing EV and basically every single meaningful thing, except luck. Do not really know where I’m going with this, but just that Phillies could end up getting a lot more out of Harper imo.