John Middleton's week of perfect team owner comments continues

John Middleton's week of perfect team owner comments continues

You don't often hear someone in John Middleton's position speak publicly with the passion and honesty he has this week, from the surreal Saturday afternoon in Clearwater to his interview with 94WIP's Angelo Cataldi Tuesday morning. He's pretty unique, as far as owners in the major sports go.

So many conversations have changed over these last five days. How far can the 2019 Phillies go? What is the ceiling to this overwhelming fan reaction? Could it be the best offense in the NL? Where does Matt Klentak's offseason rank among the great winters in baseball history?

Middleton said plenty of interesting things on the WIP Morning Show. He observed how Klentak, his GM since 2015, seized the moment this winter. 

He talked about the mindset of knowing other teams were chasing him for Harper.

He mentioned just how much the Phillies' front office paid attention to fan reaction throughout the offseason, even citing a Twitter poll by's Todd Zolecki that resulted in 87 percent of the fan base selecting Harper over Manny Machado.

Middleton also gave more insight into his "stupid money" comment and the intent behind it. It was about "cutting off the escape route."

"It was an intentional comment, it wasn't a comment that just slipped out," Middleton said. "As I thought about the offseason and what we had to do, I wanted to send a clear and concise message to the team, to the organization that I expected us to get a lot better. ...

"So I set that marker out there, I set it as a goal. Matt said yesterday that it 'raised the bar.' You know what? That was exactly what it was intended to do, particularly when I raised it publicly. I could've made that statement in an office somewhere where two or three people would have heard, but by making it publicly, I made it a public expectation, which was part of raising the bar. 

"Look, sometimes leaders have to kind of eliminate the easy way out. They have to say to their organization, I'm going to push you beyond what our comfort zone is. Part of doing that is cutting off the escape route. It committed the organization to a series of decisions that was really going to test its mettle." 

Middleton cited the ESPN note that the Phillies are the first team in baseball history to, in one offseason, add three position players who were All-Stars the prior year.

"I mean, seriously, Branch Rickey never had this kind of offseason. Pat Gillick never had this kind of offseason," Middleton said. "I'm not telling you [Klentak] had the greatest single offseason in the history of baseball, but you know what? If you make that statement, people might quibble with it but they can't really argue with it too hard. Because nobody's ever done what this kid did.

"I've always thought this was an exceptional young man. He has great instincts. Watching him create this strategy to fill all these holes and have to do it sequentially and still leave that last big piece in the signing of Manny or Bryce — honestly, it was brilliant. I've always known Matt had the confidence that he could step up to the plate and deliver when the time came, but the difference is today he's delivered and he knows that he can perform. 

"This guy, really he is a full-fledged, elite GM in this game."

The Phillies' front office was well aware of the fan base's preference for Harper over Machado. It was fascinating to watch this offseason how it started with a slight edge to Harper and just grew and grew to the point that few in this town preferred Machado at the end. 

Middleton said that at the beginning of the offseason, the Phillies' decision-makers asked themselves, do you prefer one player over the other enough to not make a good deal with the player you don't prefer if he'll take it? They all said no, showing how closely they rated each player.

But in the end, not going to $300 million for Machado was in part about the fan base's preference for Harper.

And yes, Middleton knew what the perception would have been if the Phillies ended up with neither player.

"When we looked at it, we said, you can do a lot of things, but if you don't sign one of the two big free agents, it's going to be a little flat," Middleton said. 

"You had to, emotionally and psychologically, just get over the fact that you were going to have set a record here. If you were troubled by that, I just didn't think you could be a serious player in the negotiation. And ultimately, our initial offer was $330 million, which is a record.

"When I read these reports about the Dodgers and Giants coming in, my reaction was, you know what? I'm the leader in the clubhouse, you're coming after me. I don't have to go after you, you're chasing me. And we could sit there and wait because we didn't think anyone else was gonna touch that. And they didn't."

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Bryce Harper's headband collection continues to grow with latest design for his son

Bryce Harper's headband collection continues to grow with latest design for his son

Since his time in Philadelphia began just shy of one year ago, Bryce Harper has embraced the city with open arms from the moment he arrived.

One thing that Harper is known for, outside of crushing dingers and having a monster arm in right field, is his vast headband collection that was seen throughout the season.

It’s something that he carried over from his time in Washington, but let’s be honest — the ones that he has worn here have been way cooler.

Who can forget the iconic Phanatic one, that had just about every fan running to the closest team store or taking to their phones to place an order for their own.

(Image credit: USA Today Images)

Harper truly took a liking to the Phanatic (who wouldn’t?) and even embraced the mascot via socks and cleats. Notice the details in the laces? They’re fuzzy. Seriously, who designed those? Give that person a raise.

(Credit for Images: USA Today Images)

And let’s just hope the whole Phanatic ordeal gets settled before the start of the season, so Harper can continue repping his biggest supporter.

Let’s get back to the main reason for this post — headbands.

There were many other ways he sported his new team last season, including a headband in army green, one to match the Phillies’ home uniforms and even one with stars.

(Credit for images: USA Today Images)

His latest one though, looks to be a custom design from It’s personalized with Harper’s number but more importantly, his son’s name, Krew.

(Image credit: John Clark/Twitter)

We’re not sure how Harper is going to top last year’s lineup … but he’s off to a pretty great start.

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Realmuto feeling ‘blessed’ as he heads into arbitration showdown with Phillies

2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins

2020 Phillies spring training pitching probables: Battle for 5th starter begins

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The battle for the Phillies' fifth starter's job will get off to a quick start.

Manager Joe Girardi on Tuesday announced his starting pitchers for the first three Grapefruit League games.

Nick Pivetta will start the exhibition opener against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday in Lakeland.

Presumed opening day starter Aaron Nola will get the ball Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Clearwater.

Vince Velasquez will get the nod Monday against the Baltimore Orioles in Clearwater.

Girardi was not ready to announce any other pitching plans.

On paper, the top four spots in the Phillies' rotation appear set with Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin. Pivetta and Velasquez will vie for the fifth spot with pitchers like Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin and prospect Damon Jones also getting a look.

"I think it's important that all these guys that are competing for the last spots get a ton of looks and we can afford to do that," Girardi said. "We have a number of games, we have split-squad games. We'll look at people. I think it's important that we do that, that we're fair to everyone because it's fair to the team that way.

"As we go forward, each start gets a little bit more important, but I think it's not fair to evaluate start 1 and start 2. That's the buildup stage."

Girardi, his staff and the front office will use a couple of factors in picking a fifth starter. Obviously, there is performance in spring training. In addition, Girardi said, the team will consider who might profile best in the bullpen. Suarez opened eyes in the bullpen last year. Velasquez and Pivetta both spent time in the rotation and the bullpen last year. One of them appears to be ticketed for the rotation and the other for the bullpen.

"The bottom line is we're going to want our 13 best pitchers to go with us and we have to kind of put that puzzle together," Girardi said.

New pitching coach Bryan Price has mentioned that a starter transitioning to the bullpen can benefit from some adjustment time because relieving is "a learned craft." In a perfect world, the Phils will identify who starts and who goes to the bullpen before the Grapefruit League schedule ends so the adjustment period can commence.

"We would like to do that," Girardi said. "That doesn't mean it will happen. If they make our job really difficult, it might get drawn out longer. And you can make it difficult two different ways — they're all pitching good or they're all scuffling."

Girardi hopes they're all pitching good.

In Price's view, a starter transitioning to the bullpen should not view the move as a slight.

"There's an emotional hurdle of not starting that has to be cleared," he said. "Some guys look at it as a demotion when it can really be something that stimulates a career and greatly impact the ballclub."

No team gets through a season with five starters. So today's reliever might be tomorrow's starter. 

"Just because we pick a fifth starter at the end of March doesn't mean things couldn't change," Girardi said.

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