Back in November, Phillies owner John Middleton uttered a phrase that would become the theme of his team’s offseason endeavors. Speaking to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports, Middleton said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” Middleton added, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid.”
Shortened to “stupid money,” the Phillies’ efforts from that point forward were judged by that standard Middleton had inadvertently created for himself. For instance, when Manny Machado inked a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres on February 19, I wrote that the Phillies were under pressure to spend “stupid money.” The Phillies didn’t come all this way, rebuilding the minor league system and slashing payroll, only to come back from the superstar-studded 2019 offseason with zero superstars, I argued.
On Monday, The Athletic’s Matt Gelb published a fantastic narrative, illustrating every step of the process that ultimately led to the Phillies and Bryce Harper agreeing on a record 13-year, $330 million contract. The whole thing is worth your time, but one thing in particular stood out to me: Middleton contends that the “stupid money” quote was taken out of context.
“Stupid money” had an impact beyond creating expectations among fans. According to Gelb, agents began leaking details about their meetings with Phillies representatives in order to drive up the prices for their clients. Teams trying to unload expensive players often called the Phillies before any other team, and teams circled back with the Phillies before agreeing to a trade to see if the ante could be upped at all.
Humorously, after the Harper news went public last week, Middleton texted Nightegale, “Was that stupid money?” Considering that the Phillies have already seen a dramatic surge in ticket and jersey sales since the Harper signing, it’s not looking like it.
Harper, by the way, is expected to make his spring debut for the Phillies on Saturday.