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Middleton: “Stupid money” quote “eliminated the easy way out”



CLEARWATER, FL – MARCH 02: Managing Partner John Middleton high fives the Phillie Phanatic as he walks out moments before the press conference to introduce Bryce Harper to the media and the fans of the Philadelphia Phillies on March 02, 2019 at the Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida. (Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

When Philadelphia Phillies managing partner John Middleton spoke to USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale last November, and talked of spending “stupid money,” he knew what he was doing.

Well, kind of.

Middleton says he did mean to put some pressure on his organization ahead of a long-anticipated offseason when making the statement. He perhaps wasn’t aware that saying “We’re going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it,’’ would simply be paraphrased into “stupid money.” Yes, the internet can be a great place, but in a world where many just read headlines or portions of articles, nuance is often lost. His next quote of “We just prefer not to be completely stupid,” was almost never mentioned as the offseason wore on – certainly not in headlines.

But despite insinuating that his original quote was taken out of context, the 64-year-old cigar mogul says that his comments being made in such a public manner served a purpose.

“Sometimes leaders have to eliminate the easy way out,” Middleton told Angelo Cataldi and the SportsRadio 94 WIP Morning Show Tuesday. “They have to say to their people, to their organization, you guys – I’m gonna push you beyond what our traditional comfort zone is and part of doing that is to cut off our escape route.”

Of course, the phrase “stupid money” meant different things to different people. To Middleton, it probably meant that he was the most motivated of the Phillies partners and after seven consecutive seasons of not making the postseason, he was ready to put whatever financial resources his front-office asked him for in play. Some fans, however, interpreted the comments as Middleton suggesting that he was going to go above general manager Matt Klentak and president Andy MacPhail, and offer a blank check to Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado the second free-agency opened.

Having to wait over 120 days for the Phillies to sign Harper led to some unrest in Philadelphia. Klentak said earlier this week that the “stupid money” quote, or Middleton’s statement that devolved into the “stupid money” quote, was a blessing and a curse for his front-office.

“It certainly raised the bar and the pressure for the organization to deliver,” Klentak told Cataldi Monday. “On the positive side, we didn’t have any trouble landing meetings with agents. They were happy to pick up my phone call.”

The smart thing that Klentak and his front-office did is they didn’t wait around for Harper and Machado to make their decisions. They acquired two-time All-Star shortstop Jean Segura from the Seattle Mariners in November, moving Carlos Santana in the process, which re-opened first base for Rhys Hoskins. With Hoskins no longer in left field, the Phillies signed Andrew McCutchen to a lucrative three-year contract, hoping he’ll fill the void of the offensive production that Santana brought in his lone season with the club. In January, the Phillies signed reliever David Robertson – an 11-year veteran with postseason experience as set-up man and closer. And a few weeks prior to ultimately landing Harper, Klentak pushed his chips to the center of the table, sending a package headlined by No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez to the division-rival Miami Marlins for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

And ultimately, the Phillies, aware that an otherwise successful offseason would be overlooked if it didn’t end with Harper or Machado in red pinstripes, did land Harper. They did so to the tune of 13-years and $330 million. There’s a debate to be had about how well that deal will age, even if it isn’t backloaded, but in the interim, the $25.6 average annual value that Harper will make in his deal will allow the Phillies to remain more financially flexible than they would have been if he signed for $330 million over 10 seasons. Middleton, per Matt Gelb of The Atheltic, sent Nightengale a sarcastic text message shortly after signing Harper asking “Was that stupid money?”.

Much of this discussion circles back to the idea of nuance. The Phillies made north of half a billion in future financial commitments this offseason. In the slang sense, that’s “stupid money.” But everything is relative. For one of the wealthiest people in the state of Pennsylvania, who is believed to own just under 50 percent of the Phillies, that number, on a special occasion, is doable. And it’s hard to point to any of the money the Phillies took on and assert that it was outright stupid. Maybe McCutchen got a little extra money from the Phillies, but in the grand scheme of things, the Phillies appear to have made their team significantly better in the short-term without running the risk of crippling the organization over the long haul.

And whether Middleton’s initial quote about the Phillies offseason plans was taken out of context or not, it did put pressure on Klentak and the entire organization. And Middleton said Tuesday that you could make a case that Klentak had the best single offseason that any general manager in baseball has ever had. And as you may have heard, pressure makes diamonds, and maybe “bleeping trophies” as well.

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