As the Phillies playoff chances dwindle down the stretch, an offseason full of difficult decisions faces John Middleton and the front office. One of those impending decisions is whether or not the Phillies will resign J.T. Realmuto after trading for him two years ago. If they Phillies don't, a number of teams will pursue the All-Star catcher, including division rivals.
On Wednesday, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post floated the idea that the Washington Nationals would be a great fit for the team that has previously engaged in trade talks for Realmuto when he was with Miami.
Here is what Boswell had to say:
"For years, the MLB has underestimated the ambition, and wallet, of the Lerners [Nationals' owners] and [GM Mike] Rizzo. Yet they keep adding huge, costly pieces at vital times. This winter, that key piece may be 2 ½ hours up Interstate 95 in free agent catcher J.T. Realmuto, just 29 years old. Rizzo has coveted him for years."
Back in 2018, Rizzo was in talks with Miami to acquire Realmuto throughout the offseason and up to the trade deadline, but the asking price was too high. That didn't prevent Rizzo from keeping in touch with the Marlins for several months trying to work out a deal.
This time around, trading prospects is not at stake: money is. As Boswell points out, the Nationals have six players outside of their core group who they could part with that would shed $40.5 million in contracts. They have carried a top 10 payroll in the league for several years now and can afford another big contract. They signed Jayson Werth for $126 million in 2011, which is similar money to what Realmuto is asking for.
The Nationals join the Mets as the Phillies two division rivals with ties to Realmuto in free agency, and that could affect what the Phillies decide to do. They won his arbitration case this offseason and tried to broker a deal before the pandemic hit. Since then, the two sides seem nowhere close to getting something done. This week, Matt Klentak suggested they traded for Realmuto knowing they only had two years of control.
If that is the case and Realmuto is too expensive, the Phillies could lose a player and fan favorite who is the best in the game at his position. The team may be better off using that money to upgrade the bullpen or the backend of the rotation. They have to address the free agency of Didi Gregorius; Rhys Hoskins is arb eligible this offseason; Nola's contract is up in 2022. The financial decisions Middleton has to make within the next few seasons revolve around important pieces to the core of this team. Maybe Realmuto isn't part of that future.
The scary part is, if he is not, he might be for a division rival for years to come.