Will catcher J.T. Realmuto ever play again with the Phillies?
The past week has been deflating, to say the least. After waiting four months for Philadelphia Phillies baseball, seeing meaningful games on the baseball diamond against the Miami Marlins last week surely was something special.
But, it was the Marlins’ actions off the diamond during their prior Atlanta trip that leads us to where we are today — no Phillies games since last Sunday, and the Major League Baseball season in doubt.
On Friday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told MLBPA executive director Tony Clark that Major League Baseball could shut down for the 2020 season if the COVID-19 outbreaks are not better managed. MLB has also reportedly warned its TV outlets to prepare for alternate programming as soon as Monday.
As The Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond notes, through Friday, 15 MLB games have already been postponed for COVID-19 related reasons that involve six teams, in addition to the Marlins and Phillies: Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Yankees.
So far, members from the Marlins, Phillies, and Cardinals have tested positive for COVID-19; unlike the Marlins and Cardinals, however, the Phillies have not yet had a player test positive since the season began.
Latest developments beg the question — will soon-to-be free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto ever play in red pinstripes again?
Realmuto is a two-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and one-time Gold Glove Award winner. The Phillies gave up a lot to acquire who many call the “best catcher in baseball.”
In early February 2019, general manager Matt Klentak dealt starting catcher Jorge Alfaro, high-ranking pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, southpaw pitching prospect Will Stewart, and international bonus slot money for Realmuto.
Last season, his first since being dealt to Philadelphia, Realmuto slashed .275/.328/.493 at the plate with 36 doubles, 25 home runs and 83 RBI across 145 games. In his three games played in 2020, the 29-year-old slugged a three-run home run and struck out four times across 13 plate appearances.
Behind the plate, Realmuto has committed just nine errors across 1,166 1/3 innings and exactly 1,200 chances in red pinstripes from 2019-20. His 46.7 caught stealing percentage in 2019 ranked best in baseball, with Roberto Perez (Cleveland Indians) following with a 40.8 percentage.
Realmuto now reportedly seeks a record contract for catchers. The Phillies may or may not want to budge. Another team looking to significantly upgrade at the position could.
Replacing Realmuto would not be easy. In fact, it would be impossible to find someone that can replicate his contributions both in the field and at the plate; Andrew Knapp and Deivy Grullon would be far drop-offs. There is also No. 7-ranked prospect Rafael Marchan, who impressed in exhibition games prior to Opening Day, but MLB.com does not project him to debut until the 2022 season.
No one could have predicted the pandemic, especially a healthy Realmuto only playing 148 games across his first two seasons as a Phillie — the would-be worst-case scenario if the season is canceled. For the Phillies’ and fans’ sake, hopefully, that scenario does not come to fruition.