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Five Phillies have been named the NL Most Valuable Player

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Klein was the National League MVP in 1932 and finished as runner-up in both 1931 and 1933

 

Major League Baseball will conclude the process of handing out hardware to the 2019 award winners on Thursday with the naming of the National and American League Most Valuable Players.

In a televised announcement on the MLB Network beginning at 6:00 pm EST, the official BBWAA award winners will be announced.

As has been the case all week, the IBWAA (internet writers/bloggers) named their winners during the afternoon.

 

This year’s three finalists for the BBWAA honors in the National League are outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger of the LA Dodgers, third baseman Anthony Rendon of the world champion Washington Nationals, and outfielder Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers, the latter of whom as last year’s winner.

Over in the American League the finalists are third baseman Alex Bregman of the pennant-winning Houston Astros, shortstop Marcus Semien of the Oakland A’s, and outfielder Mike Trout of the LA Angels. Trout is a two-time AL MVP and four-time runner-up for the honors.

My thought is that Bellinger will win the NL MVP honors. But my pick would be Rendon. The Nationals turned their season around after a miserable first seven weeks, put up the NL’s best record over the final four months, and won the first world championship in franchise history. Rendon’s productive bat and outstanding play at the hot corner were keys.

In the American League, there is little doubt that Trout is baseball’s best all-around player. But this is not the “Most Outstanding Player” award, it’s for the most valuable. The Halos finished 18 games below the .500 mark and in fourth place. Bregman is similarly outstanding, and his club won. But he was surrounded by easily the best and deepest lineup in the league.

Semien is nowhere near as well known in wider baseball circles. However, his value to the NL West runners-up in leading the small-market Athletics to the postseason for a second straight year is worthy of the award: 33 homers, 83 extra-base hits, 92 RBIs, 123 runs scored and outstanding defensive play at shortstop helped add up to 8.1 total WAR. He would be my choice.

The origins of a formal Most Valuable Player in baseball can be traced back to the 1911 season, and an early automobile manufacturer by the name of Hugh Chalmers.

Chalmers company presented a vehicle to the player with the highest batting average after the 1910 season. For 1911 he instituted the Chalmers Award, with a baseball writer’s committee formed to select what was described as the “most important and useful player to the club and to the league“.

The Chalmers Award was handed out following the next four seasons from 1911-14, and the winners are a who’s who of Hall of Famers: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, and Eddie Collins. As World War I began and national attention diverted to the effort that summer, the award was discontinued after the 1914 season.

The American League decided to hand out an award beginning in 1922 to “the baseball player who is of the greatest all-around service to his club“. It was voted on by a baseball writer’s committee, and players were only allowed to win one time.

That award lasted for seven seasons. Hall of Famer George Sisler won the first, and Johnson took the honors in 1924. A pair of legendary New York Yankees stars, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, won the award for the 1923 and 1927 seasons. The first Philadelphia ball player, Mickey Cochrane of the Athletics, won the final award in 1928.

The National League followed suit in 1924 with an award that lasted through the 1929 season, but the NL allowed a player to win multiple times. This resulted in Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby winning in both 1925 and 1929.

For the 1931 season, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA) began to hand out the honors that have lasted through today.  In the NL, the Phillies’ Chuck Klein won in 1932 and finished as runner-up in the voting in both 1931 and 1933.

Philadelphia Athletics ball players captured the first three AL awards, with pitcher Lefty Grove winning in 1931 and then slugger Jimmie Foxx taking it in 1932 and 1933. The A’s would get one more AL MVP winner before leaving town, with southpaw pitcher Bobby Shantz earning the honors in 1952.

Foxx would win again in 1938 for his performance that season with the Boston Red Sox. He is one of only four three-time winners in the American League, joining Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez. Trout will try to join that list tonight.

In the National League, Barry Bonds captured the award seven times. Next in line are a list of four three-time winners including Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, and Albert Pujols.

The other three-time winner in the NL is the greatest player in Philadelphia Phillies franchise history, Michael Jack Schmidt.

Mike Schmidt won the National League Most Valuable Player award for his performances in the 1980, 1981, and 1986 seasons. Ernie Banks in 1958-59, Joe Morgan in 1975-76, Dale Murphy in 1982-83, Bonds in 1992-93, and Pujols in 2008-09 are the other back-to-back NL winners. Yelich will try to join those ranks tonight. Bonds also had a stretch of four straight wins 2001-04.

A pitcher with the 1950 Phillies “Whiz Kids” National League championship club, Jim Konstanty was honored with the NL MVP that season, and remains the only reliever to ever win the Most Valuable Player honors. Konstanty received 18 of 24 first-place votes that year to win comfortably over Musial.

How did a relief pitcher capture the honors? Well, it would be hard to argue against Konstanty’s value to the NL pennant winners. He won 16 games and recorded 22 saves while tossing 152 innings and allowing just 108 hits across 74 games, all out of the bullpen.

With Klein, Konstanty, and the three Schmidt honors, that leaves two more Phillies National League Most Valuable Players. Those two were teammates who captured the honors in back-to-back seasons.

In 2006, first baseman Ryan Howard, who had won the NL Rookie of the Year award the prior season, won in a reasonably close vote over Pujols. Howard received 20 first-place votes while Pujols got the other 12, with Howard winning the overall vote by 388-347.

The following year, shortstop Jimmy Rollins predicted before the season began that the Phillies were “the team to beat” in the NL East Division. The club had fallen short despite contending over the prior half-dozen years, and had not won a division crown in 14 seasons.

JRoll backed up his prediction with an MVP performance. He became the first player in big-league history to record 20+ home runs (30), doubles (38), triples (20), and stolen bases (41) and scored 139 runs. Despite such an outstanding season, Rollins win was tight, edging out Matt Holliday of the Rockies by 353-336. Rollins received 16 first-place votes to 11 for Holliday.

A pair of current Phillies players have National League Most Valuable Player awards in their home trophy case. Andrew McCutchen won the award in 2013 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing third in both 2012 and 2014. Bryce Harper was the unanimous winner in 2015 as a member of the Washington Nationals.

Who will be the next Philadelphia Phillies player to take home the NL Most Valuable Player Award? At just age 27, Harper would seem to be the most logical candidate. If he can do it, he would add his name to a list that includes just 11 players in winning the award multiple times during a career.

 

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Four Phillies have won the NL Rookie of the Year Award

Sanford was the Phillies first Rookie of the Year Award winner in 1957.

 

In a scheduled 6:00 pm EST telecast this evening on MLB Network, the 2019 Major League Baseball Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards will be announced.

These are the official awards for the National and American League’s top first-year players as chosen in voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Finalists for the NL honors are first baseman Pete Alonso of the New York Mets, starting pitcher Mike Soroka of the Atlanta Braves, and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.of the San Diego Padres.

Over in the AL the finalists are OF/DH Yordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros, 2B/OF Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays, and starting pitcher John Means of the Baltimore Orioles.

(UPDATE: After original publication of this piece it was announced that Alonso and Alvarez had won the NL & AL awards respectively.)

Winners of the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America) Rookies of the Year were announced earlier in the day. Those awards went to Alonso in the NL, with Alvarez capturing the AL honors.

The Chicago chapter of the BBWAA established the original Rookie of the Year Award in 1940 and voted on a single winner for all of baseball through the 1946 season.

In 1947, voting went national, and the winner was the racial barrier-breaking Robinson. Beginning in 1949 a separate award was given for the top rookie in each league.

Originally named the J. Louis Comiskey award after the 1930’s-era Chicago White Sox owner, it was renamed as the Jackie Robinson Award in July 1987 on the 40th anniversary of his breaking baseball’s unofficial color barrier.

The Philadelphia Phillies have seen four players take home the award as NL Rookie of the Year.

The first of these was Jack Sanford. A right-handed pitcher from Massachusetts, Sanford was signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent prior to the 1948 season. He made his first big-league appearances during a brief three-game cup of coffee in 1956.

During his official rookie campaign the following year at age 28, Sanford made 33 starts, going 19-8 with a 3.08 ERA for a .500 ball club. Sanford allowed just 194 hits over 236.2 innings with 188 strikeouts, a figure that led the National League.

For his outstanding freshman season, Sanford not only took home the NL Rookie of the Year award, but was also named to the NL All-Star team that year. In addition, he finished 10th in the NL MVP voting.

Seven years later, in what would become an infamous 1964 campaign for the Fightin’ Phils, a slugging 22-year-old third baseman named Dick Allen took the honors in the National League.

Allen (featured picture accompanying this piece) had also received a cup of coffee in September prior to his breakout season, hitting .292 over 25 plate appearances across 10 games in September of 1963.

The following year, Allen (known then as ‘Richie’) led the Phillies to the front of the National League, a position the club would hold until collapsing with 10 consecutive late-September losses left them a game off the pennant pace.

Allen’s power-speed combination in the middle of manager Gene Mauch‘s lineup made all of the difference. He slashed .318/.382/.557 with 29 home runs, 91 RBIs, and 125 runs scored.

Among his 80 extra-base hits were a league-leading 13 triples, and Allen led all of Major League Baseball with 352 total bases.

In addition to capturing that year’s NL Rookie of the Year honors, Allen finished 7th in the NL Most Valuable Player voting.

It would be more than three decades before another Phillies rookie took home the honors. Once again it would be a dynamic, slugging third baseman. But that player very nearly did not qualify for the award.

Requirements for the MLB Rookie of the Year Awards are that a player must have fewer than 130 official at-bats or fewer than 50 innings pitched in order to be eligible. They must also have fewer than 45 days on the active roster, excluding time on the disabled list, in military service, or time when the rosters are expanded.

In 1996, Scott Rolen was called up for an August 1 doubleheader against Saint Louis at Veteran’s Stadium. He would play so well that he was never sent back to the minor league.

Rolen hit .254 with four homers, seven doubles, 18 RBIs, and 10 runs scored over his first 146 big-league plate appearances with the Phillies across 37 games that summer.

Then, in the bottom of the third inning of a September 7 game at Veteran’s Stadium, Rolen was hit by a pitch thrown by Chicago Cubs starter Steve Trachsel. He would be pulled from the game, and miss the rest of the season.

That left Rolen a single at-bat shy of exhausting his rookie eligibility. With it still intact the following year, he would become a runaway winner in the 1997 Rookie of the Year voting.

That season, Rolen slashed .283/.377/.469 with 21 homers, 59 extra-base hits, 92 RBIs, 93 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases. He also played the hot corner like no one had since Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt nearly a decade earlier, and like no one has since.

Eight years later, in 2005, a hulking first baseman named Ryan Howard would become the fourth and most recent Phillies player to win those Rookie of the Year honors.

Howard may have been ready for his big-league debut a year earlier, but was blocked by future Hall of Famer Jim Thome. Howard did receive his own September cup of coffee promotion in 2004, blasting a pair of home runs over 42 plate appearances across 19 games.

Thome was still manning the first base position at Citizens Bank Park when that 2005 season began, so Howard again began the season at Triple-A.

However, an injury to Thome opened the door for an opportunity, and Howard  was called up on May 3 for what would be another dozen games. The injury to Thome’s elbow would persist, eventually costing his season. Howard came back on July 2 to stay.

Over the final four months of the season, Howard slashed .296/.365/.585 and became one of the most feared middle-order hitters in the game. He blasted 21 homers with 62 RBIs over just 318 plate appearances in that stretch.

During the ensuing off-season, Thome would be traded away to the Chicago White Sox for a package led by center fielder Aaron Rowand. Howard would become ‘The Big Piece’ in the middle of the lineup for five straight NL East Division champs, back-to-back NL pennant winners, and the 2008 World Series champions.

While a member of the Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper took the honors as National League Rookie of the Year as a 19-year-old back in 2012. Harper hit .270 with 22 home runs, 57 extra-base hits, 59 RBIs, 98 runs scored, and 18 stolen bases after being called up on April 28.

Phillies defense improving, led by trio of Gold Glove Award candidates

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No Phillies player has won a Gold Glove since 2012

The Philadelphia Phillies are currently one of the most inconsistent contending teams in Major League Baseball.

The biggest problem for the team in getting on a long winning run has been consistently poor pitching from both the starters and the bullpen group.
Offensively, they are a middle of the pack team, with the Phillies run production having fluctuated wildly all year long. The club’s hitters are collectively tied for 15th among the 30 MLB teams with 4.81 runs scored per game.
The one area of the game at which the Phillies have been solid this year is on defense. The gloves are currently tied for sixth in the NL in fielding percentage, having committed 55 errors, tied for fifth-lowest in the league.
The SABR Defensive Index of individual player performances was released through games of July 7, just about 10 days ago. For the seventh consecutive season in 2019, the SDI will be used to help select the winners of the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. The SDI accounts for approximately 25% of the Gold Glove selection process, added to votes from the managers and coaches.
Based on the SDI as of July 7, the Phillies have three players who are legitimate National League Gold Glove Award contenders. Those three are right fielder Bryce Harper, catcher J.T. Realmuto, and perhaps surprisingly to some, left fielder Jay Bruce.
All three of those Phillies players are ranked second by the SDI at their positions. Harper’s 3.7 mark trails well behind the 7.6 of Dodgers right fielder Cody Bellinger and his 7.6 SDI rating. In left field, Bruce’s 4.4 is right behind the 4.7 of positional leader David Peralta of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

J.T. Realmuto might be the best chance for a Phillies player to actually win a Gold Glove Award in 2019. (Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)
Realmuto, the one Phillies representative on this year’s NL All-Star team, has an 8.5 SDI. That is the third-highest mark in the entire National League among all players. Unfortunately, one of the two ahead of him is San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges and his 9.1 mark.
Aside from those three, the rest of the Phillies defenders do not fare as well. Shortstop Jean Segura has a positive mark of 0.8, which places him at 8th among the 17 players rated. Maikel Franco has a -1.3 rating, putting him at 13th of the 19 third basemen rated.
At second base, Cesar Hernandez has a -1.2 rating, putting him 14th of 16 ranked players at the keystone position in the National League. Out in center field where Scott Kingery is played out of position on most days, the club’s future second baseman carries a -1.3 rating, putting him at 13 of 18 ranked players.
On the mound, Aaron Nola‘s 1.2 and Jake Arrieta‘s 0.6 make them the only Phillies pitchers in positive territory. They rank as tied for 11th (Nola) and 19th (Arrieta) respectively. Nick Pivetta has a -0.3 rating and Zach Eflin a -0.5 as the only other two Phillies pitchers on the NL list.
With these pure stats only accounting for one-quarter of the vote, reputation among players and coaches continues to provide the largest influence in the actual final selection of the Gold Glove Award winners.
Considering that key factor, Realmuto, widely considered the top all-around defensive catcher in the game by many, has the best chance to actually take home hardware after the season ends. None of the three leading Phillies contenders has ever captured a Gold Glove Award.

The last Phillies player to be awarded a Gold Glove was Jimmy Rollins, who took home the honors at shortstop back in 2012. It was a fourth career NL Gold Glove for JRoll, who previously was honored for three straight years from 2007-09. Mike Schmidt (10) and Garry Maddox (8) have won the most Gold Glove Awards in club history.

Lance Parrish and Gregg Jefferies: big-name free agents who didn’t work out for Phillies

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Lance Parrish had been one of baseball’s top catchers

Excitement surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies has skyrocketed over the nearly two weeks since the announcement that Bryce Harper had agreed to a contract with the team.

Harper was the biggest piece to an off-season puzzle put together by principal owner John Middleton and general manager Matt Klentak, turning the Phillies from an interesting young team into an immediate title contender.
The club also signed a former National League Most Valuable Player, Andrew McCutchen and one of the top relievers in baseball over the last decade, David Robertson, in free agency. However, it was the signing of Harper which lit up the phone lines in the ticket sales office and actually drove fans to the Phillies website to grab seats for 2019 ball games.
Harper is one of the top players in the game today. He becomes the latest in a series of high-profile free agent stars from Pete Rose in 1978 to Jim Thome in 2002 to Cliff Lee in 2010 to choose Philadelphia as their new home. He is by far the youngest and is expected to impact the organization for a far longer time period than any free agent addition in franchise history.
Signing a big-name All-Star in free agency has not always worked out for the Phillies, however. The two biggest during the decades of the 1980’s and the 1990’s each ended up a major let-down. Neither of those players would produce to the standards they had set in their respective careers prior to their arrival in Philadelphia. Neither would help the team to achieve success. Here is a look back at those two disappointing free agent signings.

Lance Parrish was a slugging catcher who appeared to be just what the late-80’s Phillies needed to return to contention. (KG Graphics/WikiCommons)
The Phillies of the mid-late 1980’s began to fall on some hard times as management tried one of the toughest tricks in baseball, rebuilding while continuing to win. It wasn’t working out real well. The 1984 Phillies slipped to the .500 mark at 81-81, and the following year suffered the first losing season for the team in a decade.
In 1986, the Phillies bounced back to finish 86-75. It was the third-best record in the National League, but still only good enough for second place, 22 games behind a mega-talented New York Mets club that would go on to win the World Series.
Still, the Phillies felt that they were back. Schmidt had won his third NL MVP and was still going strong at age 36. Juan SamuelVon Hayes and Glenn Wilson were providing solid support.
The catching position was in a state of flux. Ozzie Virgil Jr, who had been an NL All-Star in 1985, had been traded to the Atlanta Braves in a deal that brought closer Steve Bedrosian and outfielder Milt Thompson to the Phillies.
In the 1986 season, 25-year-old John Russell was the starter behind the plate and caught in 93 games. He was supported by Ronn Reynolds, a 27-year-old who came over from the Mets and caught in 43 games and a skinny 24-year-old named Darren Daulton who caught 49 times.
On the free agent market in the off-season the club decided to close the gap with the Mets by upgrading behind the dish. The 30-year-old Parrish, one of the top catchers in the game at the time, had become a free agent. The Phillies jumped, inking him to a two-year contract at $1 million per season.
Parrish had been an AL All-Star catcher in the previous five years and six of the prior seven seasons with the Detroit Tigers. He was a five-time Silver Slugger winner as well as a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, and a key cog in their 1984 World Series championship team.
His first game with the Phillies came on April 7, 1987 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Much as with Rose’s first game in the powder blue road unis of the time, it was nothing to write home about. The Phillies were shutout that night by Rick Mahler, who surrendered just three hits in a complete game effort. Parrish went 0-2 with a walk.
The 1987 Phillies never got going. They lost their first four game, eight of their first nine, and were ten games under the .500 mark in early May.
A big push from late-June through late-August during which they went 35-18 pushed them nine games over the .500 mark and moved the club within 6.5 games of first place. But they would go just 13-25 from that point, finishing in fourth place, 15 games out.
In 1988 the Phillies sank to the bottom of the NL East standings like a stone right from the outset. They were 7.5 out by the end of April, 14 games back by the end of May, and were 16 out at the MLB All-Star break. Things only got worse after that point. The team went 29-47 after the break to finish in last place, 36.5 games behind the leaders.
To say that the two seasons with Parrish were disappointing would be an understatement. Not only did the team fail the fans, but so did he, slashing just .230/.304/.385 with 32 homers, 38 doubles and 127 RBI over 253 games with the Phillies.
Jefferies arrived with the Phillies at an unusual time for both the franchise and the game. He signed a four-year, $20 million deal as a free agent on December 14, 1994. At the time, Major League Baseball was still in the midst of a player strike that had seen the World Series cancelled for the first time since its inception. The strike would finally be resolved on April 2, 1995 and the season would begin three weeks later.
The Phillies had been the surprise 1993 NL pennant winners. But at the time the strike they were just 54-61 and struggling along in fourth place. One of the most popular veterans of that team, John Kruk, was turning 33-years-old and became a free agent.

Jefferies wasn’t bad in his time with the Phillies. He was just never very good, and after early promise, neither was the team. (1995 Upper Deck SP)
Re-tooling their lineup, the club decided to bring back former third baseman Charlie Hayes as a free agent as soon as the strike was ended. That moved incumbent Dave Hollins over to first base to take Kruk’s spot.
Jefferies couldn’t agree to contract terms with the Saint Louis Cardinals, and chose to leave for the Phillies. He would end up splitting time between left field and first base in his first two seasons with the club, and then become the full-time starting left fielder in the last two.
Just 27-years-old when he signed, the Phillies appeared to be getting one of the top pure hitters in the game as he was entering his prime.
Jefferies had reached Major League Baseball at just age 19 when he was the youngest player in the NL with the 1987 New York Mets. He finished 3rd in the 1989 NL Rookie of the Year voting, and then hit .342 and .325 and had been an NL All-Star in each of the two seasons with the Cardinals prior to his arrival in Philadelphia.
The hope was that he could bring a similar skill set as Kruk had provided. A slashing doubles hitter who could get on-base frequently. His ability to play the outfield also allowed manager Jim Fregosi some versatility in lineup construction.
Much of the 1993 popular core was still around, including Hollins, Curt Schilling, Darren Daulton, Lenny DykstraJim EisenreichMariano DuncanMickey Morandini and Kevin Stocker. It was hoped that the additions of Jefferies and Hayes would help the club return to contending status.
Jefferies debuted on April 26, 1995 at Busch Stadium against the Cardinals in Saint Louis. The host Redbirds would rally from an early 5-0 deficit, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the 9th inning for a 7-6 walkoff victory. Jefferies went 1-4 with a walk, run scored, and a stolen base. He was also thrown out stealing.
The 1995 Phillies came out like gang-busters. With baseball back, that club ran out to a 37-18 record by June 25, building a 4.5 game lead in the NL East. Then the inexplicable happened. They returned home for a seven-game homestand and won just once. It was the beginning of a horrendous slide in which the club would lose 20 of their next 26 games.
They never recovered, falling further and further out in the division. The 1995 Phillies would finish tied for second place, but at 69-75 were 21 games behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves, who would go on to win the World Series that year.
Jefferies would have one major individual highlight during the 1995 season. On August 26 he became the first Phillies player in 32 years to hit for ‘The Cycle’ when he did it against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Veteran’s Stadium.

That 1995 season would be the first of four consecutive big losing seasons during Jefferies years with the Phillies. It became a period in which the team, rather than finding a way to continue the 1993 success, would instead increasingly move through transition. By his final year in 1998, Jefferies was teammates with the likes of Scott RolenBobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal. But they were the future, and he was pretty much finished.
Over his four seasons in Philadelphia, Jefferies slashed .287/.340/.411 with 95 doubles and 52 stolen bases. He wasn’t a bad player – he just wasn’t a very good one either. While it was never expected that he would carry the team, it was hoped that he would remain an All-Star caliber player who would help the Phillies back to contention. After those first two months, they never came close.
With the signing of Harper, a new era is clearly dawning in the history of Phillies baseball. It is a near certainty that he will prove a far more positive influence on that history than either Parrish or Jefferies. Fans are hoping that by the time his 13-year contract is finished, the Harper-era Phillies will not only have surpassed the results of the Lee and Thome clubs, but even the World Series-winning Rose team.

It’s time for the Phillies to finish off the Bryce Harper negotiations

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Middleton (L) hasn’t had a slugger like Howard in years

“We’re going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.”
This was the statement made by Philadelphia Phillies principal owner John Middleton at the Major League Baseball owner’s meetings back in mid-November. His statement lit a spark that blazed up Hot Stove logs in the fireplace of Phillies fans everywhere.
We believed all along that Middleton was the ultimate answer to the Phillies returning to the consistent glory that so many in that fan base had come to expect. Remember, this was the man who, after the club had dropped the 2009 World Series in six games to the New York Yankees, made the following statement to Ryan Howard“Ryan, I want my fucking trophy back. It’s fucking ours!” 
From 2001 through 2012, a period of a dozen seasons, the Phillies were playoff contenders nearly every year. But then the bottom dropped out, and for five years the team and those fans wandered through the darkness of a bleak losing wilderness.
For the first decade after Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004 those fans swarmed to the beautiful South Philly ballpark. More than three million tickets were sold in eight of those 10 seasons, including a half-dozen in a row. The ballpark was the place to be, a social happening every single game.
But as the losing began and club management and ownership seemed to give up on putting out a winning product, fan interest waned. The Phillies didn’t even draw two million for three straight years from 2014-17.
Things appeared to be turning around last season. The club was a surprising contender for much of the summer, leading the division for more than a month from July 6 through August 12. Fans responded to the winning and some strong promotional events by filling more than 30,000 seats for 18 games between late-June and mid-August.
But as the team collapsed to a 12-28 record over the final six weeks, fan interest dried up. The Phillies drew that 30,000 figure just five more times. All of those were on weekends, with three specifically for Sunday promotions.
The message from last year when viewed against the previous handful of seasons is clear to Middleton. Do your job and put a winning team on the field and fans will respond. The message from a decade ago is also clear. Put players on that winner who those fans can relate to and who excite them, and they will come out in droves.
General manager Matt Klentak has performed well thus far. In what has been by far his best off-season to date the GM has signed free agents Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson and swung trades to bring in Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto.
Middleton does understand. He is one of us in this regard: he is also a fan. He is driven. He wants to win. That is why he fueled up his private jet with the red Phillies “P” branded on the tail and had the pilots fly him out to Las Vegas, hometown of the biggest fish in this off-season’s large free agent lake, Bryce Harper.
But it isn’t enough. Look around at the other National League contenders. The Phillies are improved, but so are any number of other teams that already appeared to be ahead of them. The fans realize that this team has a chance to contend for a Wildcard spot now. But that is not what spending “stupid” money is supposed to get you.
The players added thus far by Klentak are respected by most of the fan base. But to really fill up the ballpark again it is going to require star power. Even with the additions and maturation of players like Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola, it is lacking marquee star power. There is no Mike Schmidt or Jim Thome.
After the other big free agent whom the Phillies took a run at this off-season, Manny Machado, signed with the San Diego Padres, Klentak stated “If the reports are true, then this contract will exceed our valuation and sometimes you have to be willing to walk away.” This is not one of those times. In fact, sometimes you have to be willing to go beyond mere numerical valuations.
That is where Middleton comes in at this point. Harper is the big fish, the top prize. He would bring the tremendous raw power to the lineup that has largely been missing since Howard’s 2006-09 peak years. He would bring star power not seen around these parts since ‘The Big Piece’ and his teammates began to age-out and break up earlier this decade.
After meeting with Harper, his wife Kayla, and agent Scott Boras this weekend, Middleton flew home on Saturday night due to a prior engagement. While he was gone, representative of the Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly slipped into Vegas on Sunday and tried to take one last shot at luring Harper with a short-term deal.

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Would Bryce Harper be interested in a short-term, high AAV deal with the ?@Ken_Rosenthal discusses the Dodgers reported interest in Harper on .

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I have never met the man, but I believe that I know John Middleton. He is not going to let this get away from him. At least not over money and desire. I fully expect the Phillies owner to be back on his plane and heading back out to Vegas to close this thing out. It may be happening as you read this, in fact.

It is time, and he knows it. When a big game is on the line at the end, you send in your strong-armed closer. When an important business deal is getting down to the brass tacks of final negotiations, you send in the big guns to close. John Middleton is the closer, the big gun. It is time to close out Bryce Harper.