Written By Jason Voorhees
A few months back, Phillies principal owner John Middleton made a comment to a reporter that may forever live in infamy. He was discussing the Phillies plans for free agency in 2019 and how they would operate as a franchise. That reporter was Bob Nightengale. The comment?...That the Phillies may even be "a little stupid" with how much money they spend on free agents in this years class. Middleton jokingly added, "We just prefer not to be completely stupid."
At the time those comments seemed completely harmless. However, the media sure took them for a spin. And Scott Boras surely Is now taking them to the same "bank" that Nightengale prefers. Of course the news broke on Monday that Manny Machado will sign a 10 Year/$300 Million dollar contract with the San Diego Padres. Yes you heard that right folks...the Padres. This news came as a shock to most...including the Philadelphia Phillies who had been linked to Manny Machado the entire offseason.
At first glance this was an implausible punch to the gut in the Phillies attempt at "star gazing" just like when LeBron spurned the 76ers for the Lakers over the summer. This was a crack in the Phillies negotiating leverage process with the other remaining star free agent, Bryce Harper. However; the real kicker came back in November when Phillies owner John Middleton said the Phillies would spend "stupid money" in this years free agency. That was the real arrow in the heart of the lion.
Those comments may have actually guaranteed that the Phillies will now likely have to grossly overspend their original "valuation" of both of these players in salary. In fact, Machado getting 10 years and $300 million definitely was not what the Phillies had projected in their value that was placed on that player. Matt Klentak, speaking to reporters on Monday had this to say...in regards to the Machado deal. "If the reports are true, this contract will exceed our valuation. Sometimes you have to walk away."
Will the Phillies do the same with Bryce Harper? I would emphatically argue No. So too is the opinion of some Phillies local beat writers speaking to some sources on or close to the team. Matt Breen who writes for philly voice had the following to say..."The Phillies, according to as source, are confident they will sign Bryce Harper, as they have ramped up their negotiations with the outfielder after being motivated by loosing out on Machado." He further went on to state "The Phillies began the offseason with the expectation that they would sign either Harper or Machado...that expectation according to the source, has not changed."
Breen is a very respected writer in this town and I am sure that he has legit sources. But it was further analysis that truly has me buying in. Breen on the Phillies next move..."Scott Boras, Harper's agent, is set on getting his client a bigger deal than the one Machado got. The Phillies are well aware, and they will be much more reluctant this time to walk away, knowing what the public perception will be if they end the offseason without either free agent." I think this emphatically tells the tale...that John Middleton's comments truly have painted the team into a corner where there really is only one outcome...sign Bryce Harper or else!!! Or as some have said as well...Harper or Bust.
Do I feel that the Phillies offseason will have been a failure if they don't get Harper? Absolutely not. However; I also don't agree with Matt Klentak's absurd comments that the Phillies have had an "objectively awesome offseason" either.
The fact of the matter is that unless the Phillies land Harper...their offseason will have been disappointing and everything goes back to the original comments made by Middleton. Those comments not only set the Phillies up for failure...but also drastically altered their negotiating prowess with the star free agents. And when it comes to going to bat with Super Agent Scott Boras, you better be ready to hit a home run. Unfortunately, the Phillies are now in a position of bidding against themselves. And that's exactly where Scott Boras wants them.
In the end, I do believe that all of the national reporters are correct and that the Phillies are indeed the favorites to win this war and get the player they undoubtedly covet. I am just saying that those harmless comments a few months back could have been extremely detrimental to the organizations success at landing this big fish. And I am sure that Middleton regrets the poor choice of words today...that's just my opinion.
The true question that we must ponder now is just how "stupid" this team will be in regards to the contract offer? A contract offer that may define the future of this franchise for years to come. Notwithstanding the free agent classes of the next few years...this is an important crossroads for the Philadelphia Phillies and they need to tread lightly when making a final decision on Harper. They have to nail this.
Let's face it folks, the bottom of the barrel right now is looking like 10 Years/$326 Million which would break Giancarlo Stanton's record for the highest contract in Major League Baseball history.
And if the reports are true...and the Phillies are truly bidding against themselves...what is the absolute walk away point now. Because you can bet your hard earned dollars that Boras is going to drag this out as far as possible to squeeze every last penny for his client. And you can rest assured that the Phillies are now feeling immense pressure to strike a deal done now.
My hunch is that a deal is close but what will the final number look like...only time will tell. One thing is for sure, this has been the most excruciating baseball offseason ever. It has been frustrating for fans and teams and players alike. Hopefully they can resolve the disconnect between team and player In the upcoming years. Until then, we must continue to hope that this Harper dilemma gets resolved any day soon.
The bottom line..."Team Stupid Money" will now be forced to be more stupid than they originally thought and this will be a tone setting outcome for years to come. Lets hope for all of our sakes that Middleton backs up his words with what will be the greatest signing in franchise history. It definitely will be the most lucrative so Bryce yourselves folks...this thing is coming to a head quickly and it will all be over soon...we can only hope.
About Jason Voorhees
Jason resides in Norristown, PA and writes about all things sports and heavy metal music.