CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Scott Boras is known to call an owner or two as he pursues and closes monster contracts for clients.
The agent can be persuasive. So how often has Phillies owner John Middleton heard from Boras recently? Middleton shaped his thumb and index finger into a circle Thursday, a couple of hours before the Phillies played an exhibition against the University of Tampa at Spectrum Field.
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"We're pretty clear that Matt's the guy," Middleton said, referring to Phillies general manager Matt Klentak. "I think you have to do that or you cut the legs out from your general manager. Look, I don't know what I'd do if my phone rang right now and it was Scott Boras. I mean, honestly, I think what I'd say is, 'Scott, it's nice to talk to you, but I don't negotiate. Matt does. I don't want to be rude, but I'm paying the guy a lot of money.'
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"I've said this many times and I really believe it. This is no different than my company. I've told Matt and [team president] Andy [MacPhail] and everybody else, I'm going to evaluate you based on how well you do. If I sit there and I start making decisions for Matt, it's kind of hard for me to evaluate Matt, isn't it? He's got to make that decision. He's got to accept the responsibility for it. I have to give Matt the authority to do this. Does that mean we don't talk a lot? We've already talked this morning about what's happened since 5 o'clock last night."
Sources have told MLB.com that the Phillies are open to a three-year contract for free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta, but they have been unwilling to make a six- or seven-year commitment to him, which reportedly is what Arrieta wants. In other words, little has changed between the Phillies and Boras, despite discussions throughout the offseason.
"It's hard to characterize it at this point," Middleton said about the team's chances of finding a starter before Opening Day. "It's not so remote that you'd say no, there's really no chance. But I would tell you we're not just looking at free agents. We're talking to teams about trades, because there are players that we would trade for.
"Beyond that, I would tell you, whether we get it done before the start of the season or we do it during the season, I'm hoping we're playing so damn well by early July that I get to look at Matt and say, 'Matt, we're in the hunt now. What the hell are you going to do come Trading Deadline to get us over the hump?' If we're there, my guess is Matt will probably look at everything a little bit differently, as I think he should."
The Phillies currently look at their situation like this: While they believe they will be much improved, they do not like the idea of throwing $100 million or more to a pitcher who turns 32 in a couple of weeks, even one as accomplished as Arrieta.
Starting pitching is always available. If the Phillies play as well as manager Gabe Kapler said they can, they should be able to find one later.
"I think Andy, Matt and I are completely in agreement here," Middleton said. "We want to improve the team, we're always trying to improve the team, but we've got to do it a way that makes sense now and next year. We don't want to sacrifice something significant in the future by making a short-term move. Whether it's a trade or a signing, if we get the deal we think is right, we'll do it. We'll pull the trigger. Money is zero object. No object whatsoever."
So it has to be smart money?
"We're not going to go out and do something stupid," Middleton said.