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A J.T. Realmuto Christmas Carol in July

As all Phillies fans push for the signing of J.T. Realmuto, I envision the dire warnings of the ghosts of J.T. Past, Present and Future.

J.T. Realmuto by Ian D'Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A J.T. Realmuto Christmas Carol in July


Estimated Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Sixto is gone, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. At least, that is how I am going to begin my A J.T. Realmuto Christmas Carol in July, now that it seems all but certain that the Phillies are not imminently planning to sign Realmuto to a contract extension. And, as it appears increasingly unlikely that it will happen any time this season, all Phillies fans of good heart are wringing their hands.

I mean, probably they’re screaming at their TVs, not wringing their hands. But “wringing their hands” feels like a far more Dickensian gesture.

The Betts Contract and J.T. Realmuto

That J.T. Realmuto seems unlikely to be signed soon is particularly dispiriting in a world in which the Los Angeles Dodgers are still happy to sign a super-star player to the largest contract extension in history, offering $365 million to Mookie Betts to stay with the team for 12 years. (Mike Trout‘s deal still exceeds Betts’ in total value.) The Dodgers, smartly, didn’t want to have traded away two of their top young prospects in Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs, only to turn around and lose the jewel of that trade in the offseason.

But the Phillies, it seems, are content to cry “decreased revenue.” Although the middle class of players may suffer from a 2020 season without fans in ballparks, the market will still be high for All-Star caliber players like Betts and Realmuto.

And Realmuto is now, arguably, the top free agent in baseball. Teams like the Mets, Yankees, and yes, the Dodgers, will likely court the catcher for his services. Realmuto has reportedly been seeking a contract above the $23 million in average annual value of Joe Mauer‘s contract, the highest for a catcher. But his team has also been using Paul Goldschmidt’s deal, with an AAV of $26 million, as a benchmark, citing Realmuto’s similar production at a premium position.

I grant that the future financial commitments of the Dodgers and Phillies were not comparable. But the Phillies should still have approximately $60 million coming off their books next season, losing the albatross of David Robertson, Jake Arrieta, and Didi Gregorius‘s one-year deal.

And Betts’ deal proves that top talent will still go for top dollar. If the Phillies aim to get a 2020 discount on Realmuto, it seems clear they’re destined to lose.

Bryce Harper, President &CEO of the JTRSAA

That doesn’t mean we must abandon hope. We must not abandon the Phillies-fanbase-wide campaign to keep Realmuto in red pinstripes. For example, during the Phillies’ summer training camp, fans reportedly yelled “Sign J.T.!” through the fence. You are bold warriors. I salute your service.

However, clearly the most important person in this campaign is Bryce Harper, who came to training camp in a J.T. Realmuto shirsey (above). Perhaps nothing Harper has done as a Phillie has endeared him to me so much as him taking the position of President and CEO of the J.T. Realmuto Stan Association of America. And Harper serves as a bold and visionary leader of the JTRSAA, as he shouts “Sign him!” into the unpopulated void* of Citizens Bank Park.

*I know staff and press are there. This whole absurd article is just aiming for the poetic image whenever possible.

And Harper also used the occasion of Mookie Betts‘ deal to push J.T. Realmuto’s cause. “I think the deal just goes to show that teams can still afford players at this moment and in this trying time of COVID,” Harper said. “I think [Realmuto] is the best catcher in baseball, a great player, a great individual that we need in our clubhouse as a leader and as a person and hopefully we can get that deal done and he can be in red pinstripes for the rest of his career.”

So, now is the time that we, Phillies fans across the nation but more realistically the tri-state area, apply renewed vigor to our lobbying efforts. Whatever amount of an MLB season we receive, let it be the season that we lift our voices in unison: re-sign J.T. Realmuto.

And if you do not know how dire the situation is, and how late the hour–let my fable instruct.

A Parenthetical Sidenote

Hey. It’s Ellen. Yo. Thanks for joining me for this parenthetical sidenote. I need to make the proviso that I understand worrying about anything that is strictly baseball-related in 2020 is a little ridiculous; I acknowledge that there are more important things about which to raise our unified voices.

However, to the extent that I have worried about anything strictly baseball-related–because I would consider my plea that the MLB shut the season down feels to me Covid-related, and not baseball-related–it has been whether or not the Phillies sign J.T. Realmuto.

In March, I was pacing back and forth in my one-bedroom apartment, complaining to my mom about the fact that if there had been a transaction freeze, doesn’t that mean that there would have been a time previous to that transaction freeze when they could have signed J.T. Realmuto, and if they could have, why didn’t they. And in March–my mom will verify–I was panicking about the fact that decreased revenue from a shortened season might make the Phillies organization claim organizational “poverty,” and let him go.

A Biographical Sidenote to the Parenthetical Sidenote: #saveJT

Because I have loved J.T. Realmuto since 2015. I always have a special and capacious place in my heart for catchers. This is why we have a whole category for the catcher character in films on our podcast, “Take Me In to the Ballgame.”

But J.T. Realmuto stole my heart when I saw him stealing bases, even though it was probably against the Phillies, and he quickly became one of very top-five favorite non-Phillies players. As evidence, I own a Realmuto shirt from his days on the Marlins. (I now own four Realmuto shirts. Four. I am not a sane person.)

And then, when Derek Jeter‘s new reign brought about the Marlins fire sale, flinging super-stars like Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna to the winds, I began a campaign. I called it #saveJT, and the basic tenets of its philosophy were that J.T. Realmuto should not have to squander his many and excellent talents lugging around the carcass of a Marlins team that no longer even had a home-run statue. I was content for any team–although preferably not the Yankees, or the Braves–to save J.T. My only wish for him was a good team context, a consideration I was even willing to extend to the Mets:

And my #saveJT campaign spread like wild-fire.

If the wild-fire is swiftly and expertly put out by the contents of someone’s canteen. It was basically just me, tweeting #saveJT.

I never, in 327,000 years, thought it would be my own Phillies to save him. But when they did, I could only conclude that it was the effectiveness of my own campaign. Thus, we return to the awful urgency of my tale.

Back to Our Story: Casting the Scrooge

For our A J.T. Realmuto Christmas Carol in July, we must cast our Ebenezer Scrooge. Although John Middleton holds the Phillies’ purse strings, one can hardly accuse him of being miserly, when he is more associated with a phrase about the intelligence of money (or not) which I will not utter here out of enduring fatigue of its repetition. Also, as I observed last fall, Middleton appears to be the driving force behind things that make the Phillies fan base happy, like signing Bryce Harper, or ousting Gabe Kapler and bringing in Joe Girardi.

Conversely, Matt Klentak seemed to take varying degrees of oppositional stances to these popular moves. His success in his career with the Phillies is as high variance as Rhys Hoskins‘ 2019 launch angle. The excellent folks at the Good Phight podcast recently discussed how much of his career with the Phillies may be reflected in drafting Mickey Moniak with the first overall pick. Yes, it was not a strong draft class. Indeed: Moniak is still young. And it is easy to analyze a draft retroactively, knowing the future, and wish that they had taken Nick Senzel or A.J. Puk or Forrest Whitley or Justin Dunn or Carter Kieboom or Gavin Lux or Dylan Carlson or the catcher Will Smith, but the fact remains: the Phillies took Mickey Moniak first overall. There is no doubt whatever about that.

And, more importantly, here, in 2020, Klentak seems to think that he can field a bullpen that his held together with dollar-store scotch tape.

Moreover, though Middleton more closely resembles the classic casting of an Ebenezer Scrooge in appearance, this moves me, all the more, to cast Klentak. The sheer delight of imagining Klentak wearing a striped Victorian nightcap and nightgown while clutching the bed-curtains will propel me through this difficult confrontation.

Stripey nightcap. Just imagine it!

So now, let me present you, dear reader, with the monologues of the three Spirits that will visit Ebenezer Klentak, encouraging him to see the error of his ways. Strap in.

The Ghost of J.T. Past

Ebenezer Klentak! No, your eyes do not deceive you. It is I, the Ghost of J.T. Past, appearing to you as a small child in a cream-colored uni of the type frequently worn on Sundays.

To revisit the scenes of J.T. Past, let me whisk you away to the day you made the trade for Realmuto. Do you recall, Klentak, as we fly over the streets of Philadelphia, what you gave up for two years of the estimable and excellent J.T. Realmuto? First of all, you gave the jewel of your farm system, young Sixto Sanchez. Sanchez has a fastball that can blaze above 100, a filthy slider, and a changeup that Fangraphs rates a future 70-grade. It may be the best changeup in the minors, according to prospect luminary Shelly Verougstraete!

Sixto Sanchez may even pitch for the Marlins this season. Would it not be useful to have Sixto Sanchez in the pipeline, as you gaze upon the back end of your rotation? But you are still trying to make Vince Velasquez a thing* because you were responsible for that Ken Giles trade. Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ a thing, Ebenezer.

*Author’s note: please be a thing, Vince Velasquez. Please do not add a cutter only to break what is left of our hearts.

But that is not all! In addition, you gave your own young catcher, Jorge Alfaro. Alfaro does not compare to the demi-god J.T. Realmuto, but he is still an excellent young catcher, constantly improving his defense. I believe you would call his arm a “cannon.”

True, he has a 34.2% career strikeout rate, but everyone keeps expecting his batting average to regress, but he may simply be a naturally high-BABIP hitter. He ranks in the 84th percentile in hard-hit rate, and what may be more shocking to the denizens of Philadelphia whom we now o’erlook, 90th percentile in sprint speed. But be undeceived: he is a speedy lad.

And crucially, Jorge Alfaro will not be a free agent until 2024. While you may find yourself without a catcher come this very off-season.

But do not despair, Ebenezer Klentak. These are only the shadows of trades that have been; do not blame me! Recall the elation you felt when you realized you were bringing the best catcher in baseball to Citizens Bank Park. Only make certain that the sacrifice was not in service of a mere 1.37 seasons of J.T. Realmuto. Sign him to a long-term extension. Do it now.

The Ghost of J.T. Present

Come in, come in, and know me better, man! You’re done with that white-haired androgynous child ghost. For, dude: I am a man’s ghost. I am more jacked than Scott Kingery coming back to summer training camp. My arms put Yandy Diaz to shame.

I do wish your ceiling were a little taller, bro. But I’m good. My neck might get a little stiff, but I’ll brush it off. I’m not like Aaron Judge or something.

So the main thing I must impress upon you this night is that J.T. Realmuto is freakin’ good. He won the Gold Glove Award last year. Then he won the Silver Slugger Award. Then the fans voted him into the All-MLB Team. Everybody agrees that he’s the best. Even the numbers. He led the league in WAR for catchers last year, with 5.7. He’s got a career .278/.327/.452 with 84 homers, and that’s even spending five years of his career in Marlins Park, where he had a .678 OPS at home and an .848 on the road. My boy Mike Petriello pointed out he was basically Javy Baez on the road, and Manny Margot at home.

Last year, Realmuto’s offense regressed a little–above average, though, with a 108 wRC+ versus a 126 wRC+ the year before–but he still posted a career-high WAR because his defense improved. He’s got the best pop time of any catcher in baseball, and he threw out a league-leading 43 baserunners last year. He had a caught-stealing percentage of 46.7%. He gunned them down, bro. And then sometimes, he winked.

Plus, I don’t know if you saw that stuff earlier about how he’s a catcher who steals bases. Dope.

Because, I know this might kind of seem like the job of the ghost who came before me, but they didn’t pick up the slack on this. You know he was originally a shortstop, right? He’s got a shortstop’s athleticism. Check this: in high school, he was the starting shortstop all four years. And he was also on the wrestling team. He was the power forward on the basketball team, just for fun. And he was the star quarterback who brought his team two championships. Seriously, watch this clip of him playing football in high school:

Evidence that J.T. Realmuto sprung fully-formed from the head of Zeus.

And look how humble and stuff he is being interviewed, giving props to the other team. Because you know what else? J.T. played all those sports in high school but he also had a 4.0 GPA. Nerds can’t even be like, “Oh yeah, he played four sports, but he must have been a dumb jock and not smart like me.” He is smart like you, nerds. And also a gift to sports. I didn’t have a 4.0 GPA in high school and I’m a freakin’ ghost with muscled thighs like tree trunks. (You gotta have a powerful lower half, dude.)

So, all I’m saying is: look at J.T. Realmuto. The child ghost was right, he’s a demi-god. He could do anything. And he’s playing baseball. For you.

So you best keep it that way, son. Peace.

The Ghost of J.T. Future

Ugh. I cannot stand that guy.

Pardon the digression. Greetings. I am the ghost of the future. No, your cellphone flashlight will not avail you. I am the darkness itself. I am the darkness of the bathroom mirror before you fumble for the light. The darkness in which you ask yourself, ‘Am I truly doing what’s best? Or am I only trying to look smart?’

Now, traditionally, I am scant on speech. I prefer just pointing to things with one bony outstretched finger. However, I fear that will be difficult to accomplish given the monologue medium to which I and my compatriots have become constrained.

So, let me ask you to recall the number that the former Spirit gave to J.T. Realmuto’s WAR last year. What was it? Speak up. I know I look like a dementor wearing an umpire’s protective gear. Get over it.

That’s correct. 5.7 WAR for J.T. Realmuto last year. Do you know, pray tell, what the WAR was for all Phillies catchers combined?

5.8 WAR.

I believe you are more than capable of doing the math. All of the other Phillies catchers contributed 0.1 WAR. In fact, I am not certain where that 0.1 comes from, because Andrew Knapp had 0.2 WAR last year, while Deivy Grullon had -0.2. For as much as some Phillies fans maligned Andrew Knapp as if his 160 plate appearances in 2019 were the source of all their misery, the fact remains that his 70 wRC+ still beats Grullon’s -26 wRC+. This, however, is uncharitable, as the latter young man only had 9 plate appearances.

Partly, these numbers are facet of how often J.T. Realmuto played in 2019. But that, one would argue–and I believe Realmuto himself does–is part of his value. He plays nearly as often as any other position player, appearing in 145 games last year.

Grim Prospects

But to return to the point at hand, the real issue is that no young catcher coming up in your farm system can fill Realmuto’s cleats. Even should you view them with the kind of optimism once held for players in your system such as, say, Dominic Brown, J.P. Crawford or Aaron Altherr.

It take no delight in speaking ill of young men in their prime of youth. No, who am I kidding, I’m basically the grim reaper, of course I take delight in it. So let me point out that the 24-year-old Deivy Grullon is the closest to being seasoned enough to reach the majors, but his overall prospect grade is a mere 40. Fringy, at best. He has an excellent arm, but his defense still needs work. This will not help your “pitching staff.”

Your best catching prospect, Rafael Marchan, has found a home on your 60-man roster, but only out of dire need because you have no one else. But truly, though he sports a 50 overall grade, and should be a productive, everyday major league player, this 21-year-old may not be ready for that job until 2022. His defense is progressing excellently and he has a 50 hit tool, but since I thrive on negativity, let me point out that he has yet to hit a single home run.

Your other “top” catching prospect, Rodolfo Duran, grades out at an overall 45, and he’s injured. Yes, you brought Henri Lartigue and Logan O’Hoppe out of AA and low-A to be catcher bodies on your 60-man roster, but I will not be distracted by their entertaining names into thinking that they present realistic fill-ins. They are fodder.

2021 Free Agent Catchers

And so what other plan have you? Do you think you’ll miss out on J.T. Realmuto, this paragon of men, and replace him with another free-agent signing?

Do you plan to sign 38-year-old Yadier Molina? Would you deign to replace J.T. Realmuto’s divine defense with that of Wilson Ramos, to whom neither Jacob deGrom nor Noah Syndergaard prefer to pitch?

Robinson Chirinos and Kurt Suzuki are only a year younger than Molina. Oh, I’ll be–. Look at this. How old would you have said Alex Avila was? Guess.

WRONG. He’s 34.

And–ooh, James McCann! was not bad last year–! No, I will not be swayed by a good single year. His WAR for his entire career is only 2.2, less than half of one year of J.T. Realmuto.

Look hard, Ebenezer Klentak. Your feet are upon the crumbling precipice. Look hard at the void, the gaping maw, at the catcher position, should you let J.T. Realmuto go.

This grave is open for thee.

What Shall Be With J.T.

Well, gentle reader, I apologize for that last spectre being a real jerk. I always try to be at least a realist optimist about the prospects in the Phillies organization. How can one be spiteful to Logan O’Hoppe, seeing how thrilled he was to be batting in Yankee Stadium?

But that there is no one to replace J.T. Realmuto is indisputable. That is a central point of my J.T. Realmuto prayer:

And in the same, devout spirit, I hope that being visited by these three ghosts over the course of a July Christmas will change Matt Klentak’s mind. Because the grim future envisioned by the pessimistic dementor in umpire’s pads is not what Will be, but what May be, only.

We can still hope that Klentak will throw open the sash, whatever that is, and see the brilliant midsummer sun baking the grass and the sidewalk. He will call out to a boy in the street: “What day is it today?”

“What?” The boy will cry out, tugging down his mask, because no one seems to understand that a mask is supposed to cover your orifices all the time.

“What day is it?”

“I have no idea. Does anybody know what day it is anymore? It’s like late July something?”

“So the offseason hasn’t come yet? It’s not too late?” And Klentak will laugh, the first laugh in a long line of illustrious laughs. And he will throw money down to the boy, so that he can go buy himself the big cheesesteak in the window.

“The one that’s as big as I am?” the boy will ask. Receiving an affirmative, the kid will ask if he can get a water-ice instead, on account of the heat. And Klentak will say, Yes, whatever you want.

And when the boy runs off down the street, the white bottoms of his sneakers flashing, Ebenezer Klentak will look the other way. He will see a sign that was made just for him. And he will know what to do.

Acknowledgements: I did not want to disrupt the Ghost of Future’s monologue for a kind word, but I would like to thank the brilliant folks at The Good Phight podcast for pointing out the fact about the WAR of Phillies catchers in 2019 on some now distant podcast.

Ellen Adair is an actor, probably best known as Janet Bayne in “Homeland,” Bess McTeer in “The Sinner,” and Bridget Saltire in “The Slap,” but has been in a lot of other TV shows, films, and theater that the truly curious can investigate at www.ellenadair.com. As a human being, she is best known for her unhealthy love of baseball. It says so on her business cards. She loves baseball in general, but the Phillies are her life partner. She is the author of "Curtain Speech," from Pen & Anvil Press, and is working on bringing to life a TV series about baseball writers. Connect with her on Twitter at @ellen_adair or Instagram at @ellenadairg.

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