Phillies

Phillies

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 MLB.com'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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