Middleton: Opportunity outweighs tax for Phils

Managing partner details front-office talks regarding Schwarber, Castellanos

March 21st, 2022

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski asked managing partner John Middleton to meet in his office on Thursday morning at BayCare Ballpark.

Middleton stepped in. The door closed. He saw Dombrowski, general manager Sam Fuld and assistant general manager Ned Rice. They pitched Middleton the idea of signing free-agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, less than 48 hours after they agreed to a four-year, $79 million contract with outfielder Kyle Schwarber. A Castellanos deal would surprise a lot of people for a lot of reasons, one of them being it would push the Phillies past the Competitive Balance Tax for the first time in franchise history.

“I started to interrupt him, because I knew where it was going and I was fine with it,” Middleton said on Monday morning following Schwarber’s introductory press conference. “But he had worked on this, and he wanted to lay out the logic to it, and I said, ‘OK, I’ll be quiet, I’ll sit patiently.’ After 20 minutes, I said, ‘Yes,’ again.”

Less than 48 hours later, the Phillies and Castellanos agreed to a five-year, $100 million contract, giving the team one of the more high-powered offenses in baseball.

“[Dombrowski] talked about why and he talked about the opportunity,” Middleton said. “And he talked about, if you didn’t do this, what it meant and what else you could do if you didn’t want to be this aggressive. But at the end of the day, he said this is what I think you need to do. He’s the only GM who has taken three different franchises to the World Series. He’s one of five who has won two with two different franchises. When that guy says to you, ‘This in an opportunity’ -- he’s been there. He’s been there a dozen times over in a career of 30-plus years. He’s making that judgment. He says, ‘You know, I think this is the time to strike.’ Those opportunities don’t come along very often.”

So, the Phillies will move beyond the luxury-tax threshold. They will be roughly $10 million over the $230 million threshold once the Castellanos deal is official. He could be introduced at a press conference on Wednesday.

Middleton had never said the Phillies would never move past the CBT. He always said they would for the right player at the right time.

Castellanos was that player.

The Phillies believe this is the right time.

“We have a really strong base, not just for this year,” Middleton said. “We’ve got guys who are going to be around for years in the pitching staff and on the position side, and I think we’ll be able to build on this. So when you think of what might happen a year from now, we’re going to have opportunities to build on that [due to an improving farm system].”

Middleton acknowledged on Monday that he had heard the talk that the Phillies would never exceed the luxury tax.

He shook his head.

“You hear that, but the question then is what factual evidence would you provide to support that statement, because there is none,” he said. “There’s no memo in the file that says, ‘You may not do this.’ I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, there’s a directive.’ Really? … Did I write it down? Was it a verbal directive? Who was I talking to? When did I say it? There was no truth to any of that. But you know what, sometimes you just have to be patient and wait until the right moment, and then you get to do what you’ve always said you were going to do all along.”

Bryce Harper stumped early last week for the Phillies to sign Kris Bryant, Castellanos or Schwarber. After they got Schwarber, he said he hoped the club was not finished making moves.

But even he said he never expected both Castellanos and Schwarber.

Middleton said Harper’s comments did not put any pressure on him or the front office to keep going. He said they would have done it anyway.

“Bryce wants to win,” Middleton said. “He may want to win as much as I do, but he may not. But I’ll concede that he probably wants to win as much as I do because he’s just built that way and so am I. It’s always just been about when do we get there? And I like his enthusiasm. I think it’s good. Look, Bryce said to us … even before we signed Kyle, he said, ‘You know what I want, but I understand you’re going to try and sometimes you can succeed and sometimes you can’t.’ He understands that. But he also talked about having confidence in us. I think we’ve … when you sign Bryce and then [Zack] Wheeler and then J.T. [Realmuto], you know, you kind of at some point, I think, have proven yourself.”