By Sam Bush
As Major League Baseball owners gather for their annual confab in Texas, Phils managing partner John Middleton has been batting away references to “stupid money,” which was his mantra last year about offseason spending, which resulted in signing Bryce Harper (above) and others.
“Mantras are a lot of fun,” Middleton said. “But we just want to acquire players that will make us meaningfully better. All of our efforts this offseason will be geared toward that.”
And he agrees with GM Matt Klentak’s declaration: “No questions asked, it is time to win right now.”
“I loved it. No argument here.”
“There are many places where we can add value and become more successful,” Middleton said. “One of those is certainly pitching, but we’ll explore all areas.”
The free-agent pitching market is led by Gerrit Cole. The power-armed right-hander is expected to fetch the largest contract ever for a pitcher, eclipsing David Price’s $217 million package. Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello and others are also on the market.
“Any time impact players are available who fill a need of ours, the Phillies need to be in the middle of those negotiations,” Middleton said. “At the same time, no team can sign the top free agent each off-season — it just isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy. We’ll explore ways to make our team better in both the trade and free-agent markets and make the additions that we feel best balance our needs.”
The competition for Cole will be stiff with the Yankees and Angels both known to covet him. You just know that agent Scott Boras cannot wait to pit those two big-market clubs against each other in negotiations.
Boras also represents Strasburg and Ryu, as well as third basemen Moustakas and Anthony Rendon.
Boras and Middleton got to know each other during the Phillies’ pursuit of Jake Arrieta two winters ago and built further chemistry during Harper’s Bazaar last winter. Could the relationship foster a deal?
“As is often the case in high-profile negotiations, Scott and I had our ups and downs last year,” Middleton said. “But we learned a lot about each other, and fortunately we landed in a great place. Matt will be at the point in all our major negotiations. I’m always available to him for support and assistance.”
“I don’t see any stop sign in John’s pursuit of his goal and that’s a World Championship,” Boras said. “He’s an owner that has been very straightforward about his path and his commitment. He’s very, very involved in the franchise and it’s really good to see owners really be that committed to their city, to their team.”