Philadelphia Phillies: Is J.T. Realmuto Really Worth $100M?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 30: J.T. Realmuto #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on August 30, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 30: J.T. Realmuto #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on August 30, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

When he got drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 Draft, Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto wasn’t thinking about signing a $100M contract with an MLB team.

When he got drafted in the third round of the 2010 June Draft, Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto was probably thinking about how he is now officially affiliated with a Major League team. Perhaps dreaming of his first hit, a first home run, and first handshake with the closer after locking up a win.

In his wildest Realmuto probably wasn’t thinking about being an All-Star one day. The thought of one day being the best catcher in the Major Leagues probably didn’t cross his mind and he surely wasn’t thinking about chasing a $100M contract.

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Christian Vazquez‘s call came in the ninth round of the 2008 June Draft and surely few individuals thought he was capable of putting up numbers almost identical to those of the top catcher in the game.

No, when he was signed out of the Puerto Rican Baseball Academy at 17 years old, Vazquez was probably thinking similar thoughts to Realmuto’s as he started being groomed as the next catcher for the Boston Red Sox. Vazquez has developed into an exceptional defensive catcher so far in his career while his bat seemed to lay dormant up until the 2019 season.

In 2019 the average salary of an MLB player was just north of $4 million. Now that is far from the $10M salary that is due to Realmuto this season however it is right in line with Christian Vazquez’ 2020 salary of $4.2 million.

An average level of compensation for an average player seems fitting, right? By that reasoning, it appears logical for some to think Realmuto’s  $10 million salary is a bit inflated based on his performance last year.

Over 145 games with the Philadelphia Phillies last season, J.T. Realmuto clubbed 25 home runs with 83 RBI. The Oklahoma native walked 6.9% of the time while owning a K% of 20.7%. He hit .275 and posted a 5.7 WAR, all numbers good enough for him to make the All-Star team for the second consecutive season.

Comparatively, Vazquez hit 23 home runs with 72 RBI while owning a 6.2% BB% and 20.7% K%. His .320 OBP and 102 wRC+ during his 2019 campaign are also right in line with Realmuto whose OBP was .328 and also respectively posted a 108 wRC+.

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A deeper dive into the advanced numbers show that both catchers have similar habits at the plate when it comes to discipline. Posting numbers extremely similar to one another with swing percentage, contact percentage, and swinging strike percentage among others, it truly captures and bends the mind as to how these two men are significantly similar in production while receiving significantly different paychecks.

So why isn’t Christian Vazquez worth as much or more than J.T. Realmuto? The answer is simple: sustainability.

Since breaking into the Major Leagues in 2014 Realmuto has accumulated over 1,000 more plate appearances than Vazquez, has played in almost 250 more games and his .174 ISO speaks to his strength and ability to hit for power. Being able to consistently stay healthy and put up solid offensive and defensive numbers year in and year out proves value. In fact, that is the very difference that lies in the salary gap between Vazquez and Realmuto.

Vazquez lost the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery and 2019 was the first time in his career that he caught over 100 games with his previous high coming in 2017 which was 99 games.

Throughout his career, Vazquez never was one to turn heads with his bat. For the young Puerto Rican Native who idolizes and trains with Yadier Molina and the Molina brothers during his offseasons, his defense was what got most baseball personnel’s attention. A Major League ready pop time along with framing and blocking abilities proved that Vazquez was going to have himself a nice little career behind the dish.

Although Vazquez’s defense appeared superior (and is) to opposing baserunners, what J.T. Realmuto is able to do defensively is nothing short of magnificent. In 2019 Realmuto threw out 46.7% of would-be base stealers, almost 10% higher than Vazquez’ caught stealing rate of 37.9%.

Now we shouldn’t judge the defense of both men solely based on one number especially when the pitcher and opposing runner play roles in stolen bases as well. It’s tough to measure a catcher’s true defensive value when there are multiple other factors that play a role in base stealing.

FanGraphs has attempted to measure defensive value with their stat Def, or defensive runs above average. Measuring fielding runs above average plus positional adjustments. On a scale where 0 is league average, Realmuto and Vazquez both put up Defs of over 20 meaning they are both 20 runs above the average catcher with Realmuto being closer to 30 runs than 20.

rSB or Stolen Base Runs Above Average measures how a catcher compares to an average defender at the position in terms of preventing stolen bases. Realmuto proves once again to be the superior defender to Vazquez eclipsing his mere 2 rSB to with 10 rSB in 2019.

J.T. Realmuto is no doubt the best catcher baseball has to offer and whether or not he plays this season he will become a free agent at its conclusion with dreams of signing a $100 million contract making him the highest-paid catcher in the history of the game.

But is he worth that? Will he be worth that? Would it be more economical for a team to pay him say $25 million a year for two or three years as opposed to $100M over 5 years? Economical? Yes.

Risk free? Of course not, no deal comes without risk. Whether its injury, risk of not performing up to their true potential or anything else every deal has an upside and a downside.

At 29 years old, this is very likely the last big deal Realmuto will be able to get on the open market and his stock has never been higher. Although it’s highly unlikely that the Philadelphia Phillies will even offer Realmuto a 2 or 3-year contract with a substantial pay increase, it’s even less likely the power-hitting catcher would entertain such a deal. A two-year deal would make Realmuto an even richer man and allow him to test free agency again during his age 31 season.

With Yasmani Grandal‘s 4-year, $73 million pact with the Chicago White Sox as a base, Realmuto should have no problem finding suitors for the $100M price tag he has on himself.

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Being a catcher is the most physically demanding position in the sport. That being said there is a multitude of reasons teams are hesitant to give big money to either sign or resign a catcher. Sustainability is certainly a hot commodity that you’d want to find in any player and Realmuto has proved that he has that and more.

The impact a catcher has on a team as he navigates a pitcher through opposing lineups is unparalleled to that of a different position and that value should undoubtedly be reflected in the players’ compensation.

Even with front offices’ understanding of the vitality of putting a good catcher on the field the current trend of teams paying players for what they will do as opposed to what they have done doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Philadelphia Phillies star J.T. Realmuto’s play over the past few seasons has earned him the right to be paid as he has unmistakably established himself as one of the game’s elite.

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Among the game’s best, he is in a small company. Among catchers that have received $100M contracts? His company is minuscule at best.