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Phillies give Rhys Hoskins big raise, while J.T. Realmuto's free-agent options continue to narrow

Scott Lauber, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Baseball

PHILADELPHIA — Rhys Hoskins, Vince Velasquez, and Jose Alvarado reached agreements on their 2021 salaries Friday, a generally positive outcome because they were able to avoid arbitration hearings next month. But even if they hadn’t, all three were under contract to play for the Phillies this year, and that was unlikely to change.

Of greater consequence, then, were two developments that might help clear the path for J.T. Realmuto’s return to Philadelphia.

With the New York Yankees reportedly agreeing on a six-year, $90 million contract for free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu and the Los Angeles Angels signing catcher Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $1.5 million deal, Realmuto’s market appears to be rapidly shrinking. The New York Mets were already out of the mix after signing catcher James McCann last month.

So, which teams may be left?

— Toronto Blue Jays: Despite their willingness to spend money, they came up short in their pursuit of LeMahieu and a trade for shortstop Francisco Lindor. They appear now to be focused on landing center fielder George Springer or pitcher Trevor Bauer. If Springer and Bauer go elsewhere, though, they could pivot to Realmuto.

— Washington Nationals: They are known to have at least some interest in Realmuto but have already bulked up their offense by trading for first baseman Josh Bell and signing left fielder Kyle Schwarber. They could seek a less expensive catcher to pair with Yan Gomes while addressing other needs, such as third base.

— Houston Astros: Realmuto would provide them with a catching upgrade while also moving closer to his Oklahoma home. But after being docked first- and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021 as a penalty for stealing signs in 2017-18, the Astros may be reluctant to give up another pick as compensation for signing Realmuto, as The Athletic reported this week.

It seems increasingly likely, then, barring interest from the always popular “mystery team,” that Realmuto’s best fit is right back with the Phillies. He liked playing here for the last two years. Managing partner John Middleton has said it’s a “priority” to re-sign him. And president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has been in touch with the catcher and agent Jeff Berry.

 

Over the last two days, the Phillies added $16.8 million to the 2021 payroll. They signed free-agent reliever Archie Bradley to a one-year, $6 million contract that will be signed after he completes a physical, according to multiple sources, and settled with Hoskins ($4.8 million), Velasquez ($4 million) and Alvarado ($1 million) before Friday’s deadline to exchange salary figures.

Including those contracts, and figuring in salaries for players with less than three years of major-league service and payouts for benefits and other expenditures, the Phillies have approximately $150 million in 2021 payroll commitments, as calculated for the luxury tax. They have signaled a reduction in payroll from last year, when they spent $207.6 million against the luxury tax, according to estimates tracked by Cot’s Baseball Contracts. It’s not clear, though, how much ownership intends to scale back.

Realmuto (or another catcher) isn’t the Phillies’ only need, either. They must address shortstop and are monitoring the market for Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien, Freddy Galvis and others. They also need to add depth to the starting rotation and continue to rebuild baseball’s worst bullpen last season.

But by settling with Hoskins, Velasquez and Alvarado, the Phillies crossed a few items off their January to-do list.

Hoskins, 27, received a 693% raise from his full-season salary of $605,000 last year. After a dismal second half in 2019 and a shaky start last season, he went on a tear, belting 10 homers with a .991 OPS in his final 25 games before injuring his elbow. He underwent surgery in October but likely will be ready for spring training, according to manager Joe Girardi.

Velasquez, 28, was thought to be a non-tender candidate after his ERA rose for a second year in a row to a career-worst 5.56 mark last season. Instead, the Phillies brought him back for one more year with a $400,000 raise, a decision necessitated by their lack of major-league pitching depth.

Alvarado, 25, came over last month from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade. Shoulder issues limited him to nine innings last season, but with an average fastball velocity of 98 mph in 2019-20, he fits into Dombrowski’s plan to stock the bullpen with hard throwers.

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