Analysis

Hail to the Chief! John Middleton spends “stupid money” on very smart moves



John Middleton said that his team might spend money a little bit stupidly this off-season, then actually spent it smartly.

This will be the last time that I use the term “stupid money” in regards to Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton and the Hot Stove season that is now drawing to a close. I promise.

But it bears mentioning just one more time for this reason – to give props to the man who aggressively stepped up and showed that he was not all talk. What Middleton did over the last week is something that should rightfully buy him respect and credibility from Phillies fans for the rest of his life.

It was back at the owner’s meetings in Atlanta in mid-November that Middleton made the statement “We’re going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.’’

In what was already opening up as a highly-anticipated off-season by the fan base, two words that weren’t even uttered together by Middleton, “money” and “stupid“, were snipped from that quote and turned into the catch-phrase for the Phillies entire experience during the Hot Stove season that would unfold over the next three-and-a-half months.

The process to back up the words with actions would begin just three weeks later. General manager Matt Klentak swung a trade with the Seattle Mariners that sent Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford out west. Coming back to the Phillies were All-Star shortstop Jean Segura and relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos.

While the Mariners took on the $35 million which remained on the Santana contract albatross that had been hanging around their necks, the Phillies would be taking on $60 million total owed to Segura over the next four years and $9.25 million owed to Nicasio for the 2019 campaign. Total stupid money spent was just over $24 million.

Nine days later Klentak got the approval from ownership to put former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen‘s signature on a three-year, $50 million free agent contract with a further $15 million club option for the 2022 season. Total stupid money spent was upped to at least $74 million.

Two days after the calendar had flipped to the new year of 2019, Middleton gave his approval to ink yet another free agent. This time it was shutdown reliever David Robertson who would sign a two-year, $23 million deal with a $12 million team option for the 2021 campaign. Total stupid money spent was upped to a guaranteed $97 million by the Phillies.

A little more than a month later, Klentak closed on the biggest name on the trade blocks during this Hot Stove season when he traded for the best catcher in the game today in J.T. Realmuto. That swap showed the club’s willingness to pay more than money when they gave up top prospect pitcher Sixto Sanchez and powerful catcher Jorge Alfaro as part of the deal.

Realmuto will be paid $5.9 million for the 2019 season and is likely to see a large increase in that figure when eligible for arbitration next winter. Figure that Realmuto will get at least $15 million in 2020. The Phillies are almost surely going to be trying aggressively to extend their new catcher sometime soon. But for now, an estimated total of $118 million in stupid money.

And now the biggest move of all, the 13-years and $330 million guaranteed to Bryce Harper. That brings the total amount of Middleton’s stupid money spent this off-season to a nice, fat $448 million American dollars.

Yes, that money will be spread out over 13 years in Harper’s case with the $118 million to the others spread out over the next two-to-four years. It will give the Phillies the opportunity to spend even more as we move forward in order to ensure that the team remains a contender for years to come.

And so what is actually emerging is that it appears Middleton never spent “stupid money” after all. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the owner spent extremely smart money. That will begin to become evident in short order as season and single-game ticket sales explode at the box office and new merchandise begins to fly off the shelves.

The proof that this was smart money is sure to again become evident when Forbes releases their annual valuations of each Major League Baseball franchise later in the spring. The Phillies were valued at $1.7 billion in the 2018 estimates. With the biggest drawing card in the game now in uniform and a truly contending team, that value is sure to soar.

John Middleton needed to do more, however, than simply write a check in order to get the Harper deal, the key to the entire off-season, wrapped up. He had to get personally involved. In order to make a career-long investment in a franchise, Harper and his wife Kayla needed the personal touch. They needed to know that their owner was not building just a quick winner, but was investing in a shot at a dynasty, one with a familial touch.

That is what last weekend’s mystery flight to Las Vegas was all about. In meetings and over meals on Friday and Saturday, Middleton and his wife, Leigh, sat down with the Harper’s and sold not only their organization and their town, but also their commitment to charity and family.

Per Scott Lauber at Philly.com, club president Andy MacPhail highlighted Middleton’s desire to win in a recent interview:

Here’s a newsflash for you: John wants to win. I think the thing that separates John is that, if we won this year, he would want to win just as much next year and the year after that and the year after that…

The Phillies principal owner and managing partner stepped up last weekend and again on Thursday to nail down the Harper deal. It was the culmination of the process in which he clearly demonstrated that desire to win by putting his money where his mouth had been.

John Middleton showed without question that he is not all talk. For that, all of Phillies Nation owes the man a debt of gratitude. Get on-line and order your Phillies tickets today, or soon. Start buying those Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola jerseys, those Realmuto and McCutchen shirseys, and that Harper merchandise when it soon becomes available. The owner did his part, now it’s on the rest of us.

 

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