The headlines have gone in multiple directions the last couple of days surrounding catcher J.T. Realmuto and the chances of the Phillies signing a contract extension with their backstop. Some have suggested he's a lock for free agency, with NBC Washington already exploring Realmuto as an option for the Nationals. Others have highlighted Realmuto's own words stating that he "loves" Philadelphia. But the fact remains that Realmuto is about to start the 2020 season and is not signed. That should not be a surprise.
Let us consider the situation that brought Realmuto to the Phillies in the first place.
At the end of the 2017 season, the headlines in Miami were already that Realmuto wanted out of Miami. The first report came from Marlins reporter Craig Mish way back in December of 2017. Mish is a Marlins reporter.
Source : JT Realmuto has requested a trade from the Marlins.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) December 18, 2017
Of course, Realmuto went nowhere in the 2017-2018 offseason. With three years left on his rookie deal, Realmuto was in no place to demand a trade. Even though the Marlins had traded Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, the latest Marlins rebuild would have included Realmuto. But Realmuto's agent, Jeff Berry, continued to agitate the Marlins. Then came the 2018 trade deadline. Rumors swirled around Realmuto, perhaps due to his agent's pressure. Ultimately, Realmuto stayed in Miami. The following offseason, Berry started putting the pressure on the Marlins publicly to trade Realmuto:
"J.T. has informed the Marlins' ownership, he's informed their front office, he's not going to sign an extension in Miami," agent Jeff Berry told MLB Network Radio. "It makes sense, when you have one of the more valuable trade assets in baseball, to move him. Period."
Berry even did the radio circuit to publicly put pressure on the Marlins to trade Realmuto:
J.T. Realmuto's agent, Jeff Berry, says his client has told the #Marlins, "he's not going to sign an extension in Miami." Berry also expects Realmuto to be traded before Spring Training. #JuntosMiami pic.twitter.com/1WiRU1biNw — MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) October 30, 2018
The pressure finally ended the week before pitchers and catchers were to report to Spring Training.
The Phillies swallowed hard and sent their top pitching prospect, Sixto Sanchez, their very capable major league catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospect Will Stewart to Miami to land Realmuto in a trade. By the time he was introduced, his salary was set for 2019, after avoiding arbitration with the Marlins.
But in 2018, Realmuto and his agent took the club to an arbitration case. Realmuto lost that case, much like he lost his 2020 arbitration case against the Phillies. In other words, his agent has shown the ability to play hardball in the numbers, both against the Marlins and against the Phillies.
So should anyone be surprised he is doing the same with the Phillies right now? Did the Phillies think that Realmuto's agent was only going to be tough against the Marlins? That a club like the Phillies would be one that he would negotiate a deal with?
Berry calls the compensation for catchers "outdated". Realmuto has called the business with the Phillies "not personal". So no matter how much Realmuto loves Philadelphia, Berry and Realmuto seem to be a on a mission: set a new precedent for catchers. To do that, they'll likely test free agency. It should not be a surprise to the Phillies or anyone else.