Three smart ways for the Phillies to spend ‘stupid’ money
John Middleton says he's ready to 'be a little stupid' about how much money he spends this winter. Swell. But it's up to GM Matt Klentak to spend the owner's cash wisely.
So, principal owner John Middleton says he's prepared to spend "stupid" sums of money to add to the Phillies roster.
It's no wonder agent Scott Boras likes him.
Seriously, though, Middleton's comments to USA Today last week were surely music to the ears of Phillies devotees, who must be tired of hearing about a rebuild that should have started sooner under former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and is going into Year 3 of the Matt Klentak regime. The losing has dragged on for six years, and after being teased this season by 39 days in first place, fans are ready for something real.
Good for Middleton, then, for finally expressing publicly what rival team officials have suspected for months — namely, that his desire to win at any cost is growing ever stronger. But it will be up to Klentak as the Phillies' general manager to help his willing owner see beyond the end of his nose.
There's some correlation between high payrolls and championship celebrations, but it's hardly a foolproof strategy. And although the Phillies — with their $2.5 billion local television deal — might be able to throw good money after bad, flushing cash on contracts that don't work out isn't exactly an efficient business model.
Nobody asked us, of course, but here are a few responsible moves the Phillies can make while still spending a stupid amount of Middleton's cash:
1. Sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, then wait for Mike Trout.
The Phillies have a need for Harper and Machado and the money to sign both to record-setting contracts. Why not just do that then?
Allow Klentak to explain.
"I think it's always going to be something that's on our mind — maintaining financial flexibility," he said recently. "I think it's a pretty bad feeling to go into an offseason knowing that you have holes and things you need to address and not having the financial resources to do it because your money is tied up in other players. I don't think we ever want to put ourselves in that position."
Now, don't misunderstand. Klentak isn't allergic to long-term deals. He did, after all, work for the Angels when they took a 10-year plunge on Albert Pujols. And Harper and Machado are 26, not 31 as Pujols was back in 2011.
But even if Harper and Machado are young enough to provide big bang for those enormous bucks over a majority of the next decade, taking on multiple 10- or 12-year commitments could handcuff the Phillies from doing other things they'd like to do, such as locking up Aaron Nola or Rhys Hoskins.
And then there's the Trout factor. It's doubtful that baseball's best player will sign an extension with the Angels until a) he knows that he enjoys playing for new manager Brad Ausmus, and b) he's convinced the team will give him a chance to win a World Series. If Trout isn't sure of both, he will look forward to free agency after the 2020 season, which might compel the Angels to trade him. And just think of how much duck-hunting he could do with Carson Wentz if he was dealt to the Phillies.
How hard would the Phillies kick themselves if Trout winds up being available and they don't have the payroll flexibility to bring him home?
2. Trade for ace Zack Greinke.
After pitching a scoreless inning in the All-Star Game last summer, Nola sat in the dugout and talked pitching with Greinke.
"He's a smart guy, man," Nola said later.
Imagine if they were in the same rotation.
The Diamondbacks are facing the challenge of trying to improve on an 82-win season while also trimming payroll. The easiest way to do that: unload Greinke and the $104.5 million that he's owed over the next three years.
If the Phillies absorbed most of that salary, they wouldn't have to give away as much talent as it would take to pry Indians ace Corey Kluber or the Mets' Noah Syndergaard. Greinke, 35, also likely represents a shorter, cheaper commitment than prized free agent Patrick Corbin, five years younger and a left-handed fit in the Phillies' all-righty rotation. But Greinke is a former Cy Young Award winner who is aging well, with a 3.20 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 410 innings over the past two seasons.
One potential snag: Greinke has a no-trade clause that includes 15 teams. It's unclear if the Phillies are among them. But he would get $2 million for agreeing to a trade. And it's likely the Phillies speak his language. Greinke was an early convert to the analytics craze and often cites FIP, Gabe Kapler's preferred pitching stat, as his favorite metric.
3. Sign third baseman Josh Donaldson or outfielder Michael Brantley.
If the Phillies land Harper, Donaldson becomes the target here. If they wind up with Machado, it's Brantley. Either way, there's the potential to acquire an impact bat on a short-term deal.
Brantley, 31, played only 11 games in 2016 and 90 in 2017 due to surgery on his shoulder, biceps and ankle. He bounced back last season by batting .309 with 17 homers and an .832 OPS in 143 games for the Indians. But the lefty-hitting left fielder still might have to settle for a two- or three-year contract worth about $16-18 million annually.
It's conceivable that Donaldson will sign for one year at a high salary ($20 million or so). That might even be the soon-to-be 33-year-old's best bet after coping with calf and shoulder injuries the past two years. But there's no denying he can hit. He clubbed three homers in 50 at-bats after being acquired by the Indians late last season and has slugged .509 since 2012.
And acquiring a third baseman would enable the Phillies to address other needs, such as another late-inning reliever, by trading Maikel Franco.