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John Middleton equals big changes for the Phillies...or not
by Scott Butler 10/14/14

When the Phillies finally announce (or word leaks out) that billionaire cigar guy John Middleton is the majority owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, it should not come as a big surprise. As I pointed in July, an ownership change has likely been in the works for quite some time as the owners prepared for the lucrative TV contract they signed with Comcast last January. 

Regardless of how it evolved, replacing the current stagnant ownership arrangement with one in which the decision maker happens to have the most money invested is big news. If Middleton is the aggressive, hungry owner he appears to be from the limited information we have on him, the announcement could mean serious changes. Perhaps some of the following: 

--Trading or releasing Ryan Howard and willingly tossing aside $50 million or more

--Trading Cole Hamels

--Trading Jonathan Papelbon

--Signing Yasmany Tomas for over $100 million

--Signing John Lester

--Firing Ruben Amaro

--Firing coaches

--Overhauling the entire front office

--Revamping the minor league system

After being forced into silence as the Phillies made one conservative move after another, Middleton must be foaming at the mouth at the opportunity for some major reconstruction. More importantly, having a single majority owner calling the shots might result in a specific organizational plan which has been sorely lacking.  With money to spend, it could be the precursor to an even greater stretch than the one we recently witnessed.

It is easy to expect the story to go down that road.  As I mentioned when I first brought up the possibility, Middleton is the most ardent Phillies supporter of the owners. This from an article in phillymag.com:

[David] Montgomery denies a long-circulating rumor that John Middleton was the force behind the $85 million acquisition of Jim Thome in 2002, the boldest Phillies signing in at least a decade. The legend goes that as the owners fretted over the size of Thome’s salary, Middleton declared, “I’ll pay for him myself!” There’s also talk that Middleton pushed to recruit cannon-armed Billy Wagner, the most reliable closer in the Phillies’ inconsistent bullpen in recent years. (Shortly after hightailing it to the Mets for more money, Wagner joined former Phils Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen in questioning the ownership’s will to win.) John Kruk, ESPN analyst and a leader of the pennant-winning 1993 Phillies, believes both Middleton tales. “He’s very aggressive,” Kruk says. “From what I understand, he had to be talked off the ledge a few times. He wanted to be like the Yankees and buy everyone, and the other owners said whoa, hold on."

As wonderful as the concept sounds, also be prepared for the possibility that Middleton is not that guy and the Phillies are destined for more of the status quo.  Perhaps we are more in love with the story and the idea than we are of the man.   Don’t forget, Middleton is part of the existing ownership group. 

As such a diehard fan, why did he not push for majority rights sooner? Why did he quietly buy shares rather than openly aim for sole ownership? How did he allow Montgomery to re-sign every aging core player?  The answers may reveal an owner who is more a part of the problem than of the solution

If and when this shakeup occurs, it won’t take long before we realize which side of the bed he sleeps on. Hopefully he wakes up on the right side.

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