Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies plan to be a ‘little bit stupid’ in free agency

Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton says the team will be in the market for top free agents, including Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, this offseason.

Coming off a late-season collapse to finish 2018, Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton wants to ensure that doesn’t happen again in 2019.

Middleton says he’s preparing to spend big on free agents this offseason in an attempt to improve the team’s fortunes. He even promises they might be “a little bit stupid” in how much money they spend.

“We’re going into this expecting to spend money,” he told Bob Nightengale of USA Today at the owner’s meeting in Atlanta on Wednesday. “It’s exciting to contemplate what we may be able to do this off-season. We know the free agent class this year is really, really good.”

The class Middleton speaks of is headlined by outfielder Bryce Harper and shortstop Manny Machado, two players the Phillies will make an attempt to sign. Harper and Machado will provide significant improvement to the Phillies roster at those positions. The team is ranked No. 23 in the majors in Wins Above Replacement by outfielders last season, according to Fangraphs. They were No. 27 among shortstops.

The 26-year-old Machado hit .297 with 37 home runs and 107 RBI with Baltimore and Los Angeles last year. Phillies shortstops, meanwhile, combined to hit just .235 with 14 homers and 47 RBI. Harper had a down year in batting average at .249, but he still had 34 home runs and 100 RBI. Phillies outfielders hit .241, and only Rhys Hoskins had more than 75 RBI. Hoskins was poor defensively, however, and the Phillies want to move him back to first base next year.

Middleton says he and general manager Matt Klentak don’t have a specific focus in targeting free agents, promising they will look at every possibility to improve the team.

“We don’t have like one need. It’s not like we need a left-handed relief pitcher in the eighth inning,” Middleton said. “We got lots of ways to go to improve this ballclub. Starting pitching. Bullpen. In the field. At the plate.”

The Phillies currently have a $68.9 million payroll projected for next season, according to Spotrac. Most of that is tied up in veterans Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana, the latter of whom the Phillies are trying to trade. They also have to sign starter Aaron Nola, who is eligible for arbitration coming off a season where he finished third in NL Cy Young voting.

The Phillies had a $93 million payroll last year, 24th in the majors. The 2018 season started off promising for the Phillies before ultimately ending in disappointment. They led the NL East on Aug. 12 before going 15-30 to end the year, finishing 10 games behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves. The Phillies haven’t made the playoffs since 2011.

Their 80-82 record, however, still marked a 14-game improvement over 2017 and has the team optimistic they are close to contending.

With such optimism comes great expectations, and the front office wants to ensure they have the resources to build on last year.

“It makes it fun, but there’s a lot of pressure too,” Middleton said. “We’re looking at it like if things break the right way, we could be a really good team next year.”

Either Harper or Machado will go a long way towards meeting those expectations.

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