CLEARWATER, Fla. -- John Middleton and Scott Boras chatted and signed autographs as they strolled up and down the left-field line Tuesday morning at Spectrum Field. They could be talking more in the future.Middleton said years ago he circled Jacob Arrieta's name among the list of prospective 2018 free agents.
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- John Middleton and Scott Boras chatted and signed autographs as they strolled up and down the left-field line Tuesday morning at Spectrum Field. They could be talking more in the future.
Middleton said years ago he circled Jacob Arrieta's name among the list of prospective 2018 free agents. He said he considered Arrieta the best of the bunch. Of course, it led to the next question: how many names does Middleton have circled in the 2019 class? The potential list includes superstars such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Blackmon.
"Oh, that's a conversation for another day," Middleton, the Phillies' principal owner said, shortly after Arrieta was introduced as the newest member of their team. "But trust me, [the names] are circled, and they have been discussed for quite a while internally."
The Phillies have maintained payroll flexibility with the 2019 class in mind. There is no question they are gearing up to spend big next offseason. There is little question Harper is atop their list. Harper, Keuchel and Arrieta share Boras as an agent. Boras said Arrieta's arrival makes the Phillies a prime destination for future free agents.
Wait, even if they are not on the cusp of the World Series, like the Dodgers, Yankees or Cubs?
"Oh, I think when you have players like Jake on the team you've now crossed the bridge," Boras said. "It's hot coffee and ready to drink. So when you're looking at an organization, you're not looking at it in the sense that [the Phillies are] something different than they were before, they're more along the lines of returning to where they were."
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The Phillies won five consecutive National League East titles from 2007-11, winning two NL pennants, and the 2008 World Series. Middleton wants to get back to October baseball. He said signing Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract sends that message.
"I don't know how [potential free agents] could mistake that," Middleton said. "I don't know how they could misunderstand a signing like this."
Middleton had his private jet waiting for Arrieta at the Philadelphia airport on Monday evening to fly him to the St. Petersburg airport.
They wanted to show Arrieta that he is a big deal. They wanted everybody else to know they mean business. It is why Middleton, club president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak and others greeted Arrieta upon his arrival.
"A lot of organizations don't do that," Boras said. "Those are the kinds of things, he arrives down here and everyone from his staff late at night is here to meet them at the airport. All of them, which says a lot about their intentions and how sensitive they are to player needs and the importance of players.
"I think when you respect players like that -- people like myself -- when players ask me about Philadelphia and their ownership, those are things that I think will ring true to players about how they wanted to be treated, and how they're respected. In addition to the competitive nature of where the team wants to go."
"I think it's a message frankly to everybody. It's not just the free agents," Middleton said. "I want everybody in our organization to understand what our mission is and how we're supposed to go about doing it. I want the other 24 players on the 25-man roster who are not named Jake Arrieta to understand what our mission is, and how we're going to go about doing it. I want the coaching staff, I want the front office, I want the fans, I want other players, I want even other baseball organizations ... we're serious about winning and we're going to do what it takes to win."
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.