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March 02, 2019

From 'stupid money' to sealing the deal, Phillies owner John Middleton was key to landing Harper

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030219_Middleton-Harper_usat Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper shakes hands with managing partner John Middleton as general manager Matt Klentak watches.

The phrase "stupid money" has been thrown out there quite a bit this winter, both on this site and on pretty much every other outlet that writes or talks about the Phillies. For good reason. 

Once owner John Middleton made that proclamation when asked about his team's offseason plans, he had to know it was going to follow him and his organization throughout free agency. And while it may have taken a bit longer than originally anticipated, general manager Matt Klentak and the rest of the Phillies front office did indeed spend what could be considered "stupid money" this offseason. 

But how they spent it was anything but stupid. Here's a recap: 

•  Bryce Harper: $330 million
•  Andrew McCutchen: $50 million
•  David Robertson: $23 million
•  Then there's the $45 million they spent extending staff ace Aaron Nola. Plus, add to that the nearly $6 million they'll be spending on J.T. Realmuto and the extra $23 million they've committed to Jean Segura (compared to what Carlos Santana had left on his contract). 

That gets us to a whopping $477 million, which is a staggering amount of money, no matter how many players and how many years it's spread over. In this case, however, it's money well (and wisely) spent.

Just ask Middleton.

"Does it look like stupid money to you?" the Phillies owner quipped when asked if he felt any added pressure after such a promise. "I think Matt [Klentak]'s had a pretty good offseason, don't you? First person in the history of baseball, I'm told, to sign three prior All Stars from the previous year. And that doesn't even include what he did with Aaron [Nola]'s extension and signing Dave [Robertson] and 'Cutch [Andrew McCutchen], who is obviously a former MVP.

"Look, I wanted to signal that I wanted to be aggressive and was going to be aggressive and I think Matt did a spectacular job. He made himself and me look really smart."

Indeed he did.

Just adding all those players would've been a coup on its own, but Harper's 13-year deal also gives the Phillies some flexibility to go after other big-name free agents in the future. Like, say, South Jersey native Mike Trout, who recently said he wouldn't get involved in contract talks during this season. His current deal with the Angels expires after the 2021 season.

"I'm making $26 [million] per year or something like that, so I think that's going to allow us to bring in some other guys as well to be able to help this organization win," Harper said. "I know there's another guy in about two years that comes up off the books — we'll see what happens with him. But I'm excited to be in Philly, I'm excited to be part of this organization."

Of course, there's a lot of baseball to be played between now and then, but at least one MLB insider is already pretty confident Trout will be coming home to the Phillies once he's done with the Angels. 

Let's be honest, Harper or not, the Phillies had a great offseason. Unfortunately, it wouldn't have been viewed that way by the majority of the fanbase had Middleton not sealed the deal with Harper. Leigh Middleton, that is... 

By all accounts, both Middletons played an instrumental role in landing Harper. Not only did Klentak thank him for his support throughout the offseason, saying you can't do something like this without an owner like Middleton, Bryce Harper said his time with Middleton and his wife was crucial in helping him realize the Phillies had the family dynamic he stated was so important in this process. 

Even super agent Scott Boras pointed to the role the Middletons played in this process, and it had nothing to do with the amount of money Middleton just committed to paying his client.

"When Bryce and [his wife] Kayla had dinner with Leigh and John [Middleton], I think they came away from that dinner with an understanding of a family and a community and an owner who has a strong, strong passion for winning, and continued winning. And John did an amazing job of answering all Bryce's questions, and you can see the medaling of what Bryce hoped to find out in free agency. And the fact that he and Kayla were going to be in a community for a long time, that was an important aspect.

"And then the next day, John and Leigh canceled their flight and decided to have lunch again with the Harper family and wanted to express that they listened, that they understood, and they heard things, and they took the extra time and the commitment to make Bryce develop a level a trust that Philadelphia's going to be an environment where he's going to be able to win continually, which is his primary goal in baseball, and to bring an illustration that Bryce wanted to recruit players to a city and to a community. And that's why he didn't want an opt out. 

"He wanted to do his best to make sure that he could put, on his team and his locker room, a commitment ... that's kind of unique in professional sports. And the union of that commitment by John and Bryce's objective — Bryce instructed Matt and I, while we at times certainly ended phone calls, there was always a reason to pick up and make another one. 

"And that's really what got this deal done."

As it turns out, stupid money wouldn't have been enough to get this deal done. It was about more than that. And luckily for the Phillies — and the fans — it appears their team's owner is much more than just a bank. 


MORE: What they're saying: Harper got paid, and Phillies still have money to spend


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