Opinion

Time for John Middleton to close out Bryce Harper



It is time for the Phillies owner to close out lengthy free agent process with Harper and Boras.

“We’re going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.”

This was the statement made by Philadelphia Phillies principal owner John Middleton at the Major League Baseball owner’s meetings back in mid-November. His statement lit a spark that blazed up Hot Stove logs in the fireplace of Phillies fans everywhere.

We believed all along that Middleton was the ultimate answer to the Phillies returning to the consistent glory that so many in that fan base had come to expect. Remember, this was the man who, after the club had dropped the 2009 World Series in six games to the New York Yankees, made the following statement to Ryan Howard“Ryan, I want my bleeping trophy back. It’s bleeping ours!” He didn’t actually say the word “bleeping” either, in case you were wondering.

From 2001 through 2012, a period of a dozen seasons, the Phillies were playoff contenders nearly every year. But then the bottom dropped out, and for five years the team and those fans wandered through the darkness of a bleak losing wilderness.

For the first decade after Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004 those fans swarmed to the beautiful South Philly ballpark. More than three million tickets were sold in eight of those 10 seasons, including a half-dozen in a row. The ballpark was the place to be, a social happening every single game.

But as the losing began and club management and ownership seemed to give up on putting out a winning product, fan interest waned. The Phillies didn’t even draw two million for three straight years from 2015-17.

Things appeared to be turning around last season. The club was a surprising contender for much of the summer, leading the division for more than a month from July 6 through August 12. Fans responded to the winning and some strong promotional events by filling more than 30,000 seats for 18 games between late-June and mid-August.

But as the team collapsed to a 12-28 record over the final six weeks, fan interest dried up. The Phillies drew that 30,000 figure just five more times. All of those were on weekends, with three specifically for Sunday promotions.

The message from last year when viewed against the previous handful of seasons is clear to Middleton. Do your job and put a winning team on the field and fans will respond. The message from a decade ago is also clear. Put players on that winner who those fans can relate to and who excite them, and they will come out in droves.

Middleton met this weekend with agent Scott Boras and the Harper’s in Las Vegas. (MissChatter/WikiCommons)

Middleton does understand. He is one of us in this regard: he is also a fan. He is driven. He wants to win. That is why he fueled up his private jet with the red Phillies “P” branded on the tail and had the pilots fly him out to Las Vegas, hometown of the biggest fish in this off-season’s large free agent lake, Bryce Harper.

General manager Matt Klentak has performed well thus far. In what has been by far his best off-season to date the GM has signed free agents Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson and swung trades to bring in Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto.

But it isn’t enough. Look around at the other National League contenders. The Phillies are improved, but so are any number of other teams that already appeared to be ahead of them. The fans realize that this team has a chance to contend for a Wildcard spot now. But that is not what spending “stupid” money is supposed to get you.

The players added thus far by Klentak are respected by most of the fan base. But to really fill up the ballpark again it is going to require star power. Even with the additions and maturation of players like Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola, the team is lacking marquee star power. There is no Mike Schmidt or Jim Thome.

After the other big free agent whom the Phillies took a run at this off-season, Manny Machado, signed with the San Diego Padres, Klentak stated “If the reports are true, then this contract will exceed our valuation and sometimes you have to be willing to walk away.” This is not one of those times. In fact, sometimes you have to be willing to go beyond mere numerical valuations.

That is where Middleton comes in at this point. Harper is the big fish, the top prize. He would bring the tremendous raw power to the lineup that has largely been missing since Howard’s 2006-09 peak years. He would bring star power not seen around these parts since ‘The Big Piece’ and his teammates began to age-out and break up earlier this decade.

After meeting with Harper, his wife Kayla, and agent Scott Boras this weekend, Middleton flew home on Saturday night due to a prior engagement. While he was gone, representatives of the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly slipped into Vegas on Sunday and tried to take one last shot at luring Harper with a short-term deal.

I have never met the man, but I believe that I know John Middleton. He is not going to let this get away from him. At least not over money and desire. I fully expect the Phillies owner to be closing things out, if he hasn’t already.

It is time, and he knows it. When a big game is on the line at the end, you send in your strong-armed closer. When an important business deal is getting down to the brass tacks of final negotiations, you send in the big guns to close. John Middleton is the closer, the big gun. It is time to close out Bryce Harper.

 

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Terry Meehan

    February 25, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Matt,

    If Boras used the Phillies this whole three months to get the coin from L.A. I’d trade all of his clients, including Hoskins, to the most undesirable place in baseball. I’d make it my mission to ruin boras business.

    • Matthew Veasey

      February 25, 2019 at 4:35 pm

      Guarantee? You cannot “ruin Boras business”, as you put it. Boras did not “use” the Phillies. Boras is doing his job, trying to get the best possible deal for his client. It is exactly what you or I would want him to do if we had him negotiating for us with leverage. There have always been other options, other teams drifting in and out and making offers.

  2. Ken Bland

    February 25, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    For the longest time, many people have erroneously observed this free agent market, particularly from the Phils angle. They act like its a 1 way party and its up to the Phillies (*Middleton) to close the deal.

    Wrong.

    So wrong.

    Maximum amount wrong.

    There’s a powerful man on the other side who is masterfully controlling the game with time on his side, and options STILL open to him. It might aggravate the hell out of most folk, but Scott Boras is as deserving of a Hall of Fame plaque as most any non uniformed personnel that ever walked the Cooperstown aisle. This is don’t shoot the messenger stuff. People can hate Boras all they want, but the fault lies with the owners having allowed for the system that is to develop.

    Middleton may or may not be over his head in this. But he doesn’t possess the power to close a deal until he has cooperation from the other side. The proverbial mystery team has reared it’s head. If Middleton wanted to show the type of power…the type of gonads that Phillie fans have wanted for days, weeks and months, he’d announce the Phils reversed baseball tradition, and identified a mystery player, and 24 hours later, pay the amount Harper would have gotten to a combination of Kiechel and Kimbrel. But like so many who are obsessed with this nonsense, and it IS nonsense, Its probable that Middleton is too far in to walk away and leve Boras wondering when it WAS that he should have told his client the turnip had been drained. And the Phillies would probably be the better for it.

    • Jeff Orbach

      February 25, 2019 at 4:50 pm

      Man , do I agree with you! I would have done this a month ago and then left Boras in the dust.

      • Ken Bland

        February 25, 2019 at 5:34 pm

        Well, I didn’t say Middleton should say they come up with a mystery player and all that, I suggested that would show some testicles. I don’t particularly like Harper on the Phils, he’s a mixed bag. I think the Phils would agree with that, but they might think his plusses out weigh his less than positives. Following the strategy I plotted, if they like his positives in net, and want him, they’d be cutting their noses to spite their faces.

        Onliest point I’m making is that disdain for Boras is awfully misguided.
        Doesn’t mean I’m exactly enamored with him, but he’s an excellent businessman, and I respect the hell out of that.

        This ain’t no Cliff Lee trip down Free Agency Lane.

      • schmenkman

        February 26, 2019 at 9:22 pm

        “Man , do I agree with you! I would have done this a month ago and then left Boras in the dust.”

        AKA the cut off your nose to spite your face strategy.

        • Jeff Orbach

          February 27, 2019 at 2:24 pm

          He’s going to sign with LA anyway . But,since we’ve made him out to be an irreplaceable player that will never come along again..we put ourselves in the position of having to sign him. As long as he doesn’t re-sign with the Nats I don’t really care anymore.

          As Charles De Gaulle said No one is irreplaceable, the graveyards are full of them.

          Be that as it may, it’s clear to me, due to a story I read from the inquisitor, that his family wife etc doesn’t want her little snookums to sign with us. So we missed the boat! I hope I’m wrong.

          I guess we now know , why Rube wouldn’t deal with Boras.

  3. Dottie Bostick

    February 25, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    No sports person is worth that kind of money. I hope we fans don’t get a huge spike in prices at the ballpark! You make it too expensive to go!!!!

    • Kith

      February 25, 2019 at 8:24 pm

      Agreed 100%. I hope we get Harper but NOT at any cost.

  4. Seahawk7

    February 25, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    I want Bryce Harper here as much as anyone, but when does it end. And now with Boras getting the Dodgers back in the picture??? I’m sure Mr. John Middleton did not just fuel up his jet to Vegas just to say hey Bryce, we are still here. I’m sure he thought he was going to come to an agreement. And then Boras pulls this BS. I really want him here, but at this point, if I were Mr. Middleton, I would say if I do not have an answer by tomorrow morning at 9am, we are pulling our offer. Plain and simple.

  5. Mark Perez

    February 26, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Let him walk. Don’t get me wrong he is a great player but he is not worth this kind of money. There are good players out there the Phills can sign they don’t need this. I am sure we all remember the crap deal the Phills signed with Ryan Howard lets not get stuck again.

    • schmenkman

      February 26, 2019 at 9:24 pm

      Who are these good players the Phils can sign? Keuchel, he’s not what he used to be, but he can eat some innings. Kimbrel? Ok, though the bullpen looks very good already. Anybody else?

  6. Wally Hayman

    February 26, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Okay, first let me state that I would love to have Harper’s left-handed bat in the lineup. The Phillies need pop from that side of the plate and Harper is, by far, the best (available) player to fill the gaping need.
    That said, over the past 3 seasons since his incredible 10 WAR-MVP 2015 performance, Harper has amassed a decent but modest cumulative 2.5 WAR. That’s 3 straight seasons since his MVP glory year in which he’s performed at a star level but not at a superstar or “generational” player level. It should also be noted that Harper is also an average fielder, at best and not the most durable everyday player versus the investment.

    Yes, you could fairly argue that the addition of Harper might instantaneously make him the top position player on the team but we’re talking about a team without any proven superstars, but is Harper really a sound $350M/10-year investment?

    At some point, playing this game of chicken with Boras could end up costing the team other available FAs that, while not flashy, could reflect a comparable improvement in the team’s cumulative WAR., and perhaps their pursuit of Harper has already cost them, dearly. For instance, the Brewers resigned FA 3rd baseman Mike Moustakas on a 1-year/ $10 million deal. Moustakas is coming off a 2.5 WAR season. That’s 2.3 WAR above the .2 WAR performance of Maikel Franco last season. And what about Patrick Corbin who signed with the Nats for $140 million/ 6 years and is coming off a 4.8 WAR season? Just those 2 players alone could probably had been signed by the Phillies for some combination under $200 million over 3 years – and like the outfield, remain positions in need of performance improvement.

  7. mitchell nathanson

    February 27, 2019 at 11:18 am

    If the Phils don’t end up with Harper, Middleton’s “Little Bit Stupid” remark is going to go down as the “We Owe You One” for the 21st Century. The 2019 Phillies: A Little Bit Stupid.

    When you go out on a limb and make a statement like that, you have closed-off the “this contract exceeds our valuation” excuse. Middleton has put himself in a box. Either he gets out of it by paying Harper whatever it takes or he’ll be humiliated by this episode for as long as people around here remember his name.

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