To keep their star player behind the plate, the Philadelphia Phillies will award J.T. Realmuto the largest contract given to a free agent catcher. The two sides agreed on Tuesday to a five-year, $115.5 million deal, topping the previous record for highest annual pay for a catcher — $23 million, set by Joe Mauer in 2011 — by $100,000 a year.
The deal was confirmed by a person familiar with Realmuto’s contract who was not authorized to comment publicly because it was pending a physical examination.
All winter, the Phillies, who disappointed in 2020 despite having a talented roster, were seen as the favorite to retain Realmuto, the clear-cut best catcher in baseball.
Realmuto, who will turn 30 in March, is a two-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, one-time Gold Glove Award winner, and a rare dual threat at catcher, known for his standout athleticism.
During his All-Star campaigns with the Miami Marlins in 2018 and the Phillies in 2019, Realmuto hit .276 with an .822 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and averaged 23 home runs a season. During the pandemic shortened 60-game 2020 season, he hit .266 with an .840 O.P.S. and 11 home runs. Although he plays a physically demanding position where players’ skills decline rapidly, Realmuto has regularly ranked among the best defenders and fastest runners among catchers in recent years.
Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants ($167 million over nine years) and the former Minnesota Twin Mauer ($184 million over eight years) — both of whom won Most Valuable Player Awards in their careers — both signed deals larger than Realmuto’s contract, but those were extensions. Realmuto topped catcher Brian McCann, who signed a five year, $85-million contract as a free agent with the Yankees in 2013.
The Phillies have spent big in recent years, signing players like pithcers Jake Arrieta and Zack Wheeler, and the outfielder Bryce Harper. They are expected to have a payroll among the top 10 in baseball in 2021, but have not had a winning season or reached the playoffs since 2011. They went 28-32 in 2020.
The road will be tough again for the Phillies in the National League East this year, with the defending division champion Atlanta Braves, the Washington Nationals and the Mets having upgraded their rosters this winter. The Marlins were also a surprise playoff team last year under the expanded format.