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J.T. Realmuto will have another bargaining chip to bring to contract negotiations as an offseason that could lead to him being baseball’s highest-paid catcher began Sunday night with Realmuto becoming the first Phillies player since 2012 to win a Gold Glove award.
Realmuto won his first Gold Glove, besting San Diego’s Austin Hedges and St. Louis’ Yadier Molina to be named the National League’s top defensive catcher. He joins Bob Boone and Mike Lieberthal as the only Phillies catchers to win a Gold Glove. Bryce Harper (right field) and Aaron Nola (pitcher) did not win after being finalists at their positions. Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers beat out Harper while Zack Greinke, who started the season with Arizona before being traded to the American League’s Astros, topped Nola.
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Realmuto, according to metrics compiled by FanGraphs, was the most valuable defensive player this season at any position. He threw out a career-high 37 would-be base stealers, 15 more than any catcher and the most in franchise history since Darren Daulton threw out 40 in 1993. He had the fastest pop-time — the time it takes for a catcher to get the ball to second base — in the majors, and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the fourth-best pitch framer among all catchers.
The Phillies parted with Sixto Sanchez, then their top pitching prospect, to land Realmuto before the season. And now they’ll have to pay him. Realmuto, who turns 29 during spring training, is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season. General manager Matt Klentak said during the final month of the season that one of the team’s offseason goals was to “address his contract situation.” It will come down to finding the right number.
“I’m certainly not opposed to staying here,” Realmuto said after the season’s final game. “I love playing here in Philadelphia. I love the crowd. I love the fans. I love my team. So we’ll see how that goes in the offseason.”
Molina’s $20 million-per-year deal in St. Louis gives him the highest average-annual value for a catcher, while Buster Posey’s $167 million contract over nine years makes him the richest. Realmuto should be able to clear Molina’s $20 million, but surpassing Posey seems difficult. Posey was three years younger than Realmuto when he signed his deal. A possible deal could be about $110 million for five years.
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Realmuto started 130 games last season, which was the most by a Phillies catcher in 20 years, and led all catchers this season in innings caught, catching 44 more innings than the next-closest catcher. But that heavy usage may have come at a cost as Realmuto missed the final week of the season with a knee injury that required surgery. Realmuto’s production, insistence to play every day, and the struggles of backup Andrew Knapp made it difficult to find Realmuto rest in 2019. The Phillies will likely try to upgrade their second catcher this winter and new manager Joe Girardi plans to find Realmuto additional rest in 2020.
“I want him healthy in October,” Girardi said. “I think you can overuse any player. Days off are important for all players. You look at the player and some guys with the day off can play the next day, some guys are really good if you give them a day off before a day off and they get two days off and they’re really good. Now, some guys aren’t good at … two days in a row off. Those are things we need to evaluate and need to judge.
“But 120 games, that’s catching three out of every four games. That’s a lot of games. Maybe you have a guy who is uncanny and can do a little bit more, but I want the guy healthy in October because that’s where the prize is.”
And if Realmuto needs an additional bargaining chip, he could receive one on Thursday when the Silver Slugger Awards are announced. Realmuto, who won the National League’s Silver Slugger for catchers last season, joined Johnny Bench and Jorge Posada as the only catchers in history with 90 runs, 35 doubles, and 25 homers in a season. Realmuto ranked first among NL catchers in RBIs (83), runs scored (92), ranked second in batting average (.275), weighted-runs created (85), slugging percentage (.493), and homers (25).
The Phillies have not won a Silver Slugger since Chase Utley in 2009. Realmuto could end that drought. If so, it would just give him some more momentum in an offseason that seems destined to end with him cashing in.