After more than two days of radio silence, the Philadelphia Phillies finally responded to allegations that they ratted out two former draft picks who spurned the team last year to return for their senior years of college.
As I wrote on Thursday, the Phillies were accused by Baseball America writer Aaron Fitt of ratting out their fifth round pick last year, Ben Wetzler, and their sixth round selection, Jason Monda, to the NCAA for hiring agents, after both spurned the Phillies and returned to college for their senior seasons.
The NCAA has since ruled that Wetzler would be suspended for 11 games, but would be allowed to pitch in his senior season. Monda had been cleared to play last week.
Since the story broke Thursday, the Phillies had been silent, saying they did not want to comment on an investigation as it was happening. After the NCAA's ruling Saturday, the Phils responded in a brief statement.
"The Phillies did participate in the NCAA investigation and a ruling has been issued. We believe it is inappropriate to comment further on either the negotiation with the player or the action taken by the NCAA."
In other words, the Phillies said nothing, which is highly disappointing, and only feeds into the narrative that the Phils ratted out two young kids and messed with their collegiate careers simply out of spite. And while this may have been the act of a rogue member of the front office or scout somewhere, the fact the organization chose not to elaborate, offer up any real explanation or apologize in any way indicates the Phillies don't feel they have anything to apologize for.
Of course, I did not expect the Phils to lay the blame at anyone's feet, or to name names. And given the loyalty of the organization to its employees over the years, I certainly didn't expect anyone to be fired over this. But the fact the team offered no assurance that something like this won't happen again proves two things.
First, the team isn't sorry for what it did and doesn't think they did anything wrong. They feel they were in the right, that they have nothing to explain, no matter what anyone else thinks.
Second, the Phils don't think this is going to hurt them all that much on the field.
Interestingly, Ruben Amaro went on to tell reporters Saturday that he didn't think the incident will hurt the Phillies' reputation around baseball.
"I think people know that we do things professionally in the way we go about our business and our reputation is very good."
And hey, maybe Amaro is right. Maybe this is a non-story. After all, when the Phillies select a player in the draft, and that player wants to play Major League Baseball, they're probably going to go ahead and sign with the Phils.
But let's not forget that there is likely to be college coaches that refuse access to Phillies scouts. And trust has been seriously damaged in the amateur community by the Phils. No college player wants the threat of blackmail hanging over their heads during negotiations, thinking "If I don't sign this deal or I decide to change my mind, the Phillies are going to rat me out to the NCAA and I could lose my eligibility or get suspended."
But perhaps worst of all, the Phillies brand has been damaged throughout baseball, despite what Amaro says.
Agent with multiple high-profile prospect clients: "We’re going to shut down all communication with the Phillies": http://t.co/yedUrjqjip— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) February 22, 2014
Same "@aaronfitt: Hearing from one agent after another today about the Ben Wetzler situation. There will be repercussions for the Phillies."— keithlaw (@keithlaw) February 20, 2014
Wow. This is ridiculous. Why would an MLB team ever resort to this? http://t.co/cM79r0l0vk— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) February 20, 2014
There is risk for MLB clubs in turning in players to NCAA:College coaches have the power to lock down scouting access to specific MLB teams.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 20, 2014
Unless Phillies clean house, there's zero reason for any draftee not a college senior to even talk with the Phillies. Way too risky.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 20, 2014
Was tempted to heckle guy in Phillies hat at grocery store over this Wetzler thing.— Jay Jaffe (@jay_jaffe) February 22, 2014
Hope the @Phillies, after spitefully going after Wetzler, will have the guts to publicly discuss why they did so. We'll see.— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) February 22, 2014
Lesson: If you don't sign with the Phillies, they'll tell on you.— Dayn Perry (@daynperry) February 20, 2014
#Phillies say in statement "inappropriate" to comment further on Wetzler situation. Not as inappropriate as their actions.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 22, 2014
Obviously, this is not good. The Phillies could have helped themselves out today by saying something like...
"The Phillies did participate in an NCAA investigation into the activities of two college baseball players involved with agents during negotiations with the team last summer. And while the organization affirms they did nothing wrong and the players in question did violate NCAA rules, we acknowledge an error in judgment was made by the organization in this case. We want amateur players to feel they can trust the Philadelphia Phillies and to know they have a reliable negotiating partner. We also want to make clear that we regret the actions taken by a member/members of the organization, and also want to make clear it will not happen again.
While the Phillies followed NCAA rules, the motivation for these actions were petty and wrong and won't be repeated."
A statement like that would go a long way to reassure agents and potential draftees that the team screwed up and that it won't be company policy to rat out players who hire outside "advisers" to help them negotiate complicated deals with a Major League Baseball team.
The Phillies statement released Saturday only portrays them as tone deaf and indignant. It also shows they haven't grasped some of the long-term consequences this action could have on the team over the next few years.
And after today's "statement," no one can ever make the claim that it's too soon to offer an opinion on this matter because "all the facts aren't out yet." The Phils had a chance to lay their side of the story on the table today, and they chose not to do it. They chose to allow people to make what they want of the situation, and to write their stories based on the information already at hand.
This is the information they wanted us to have. Nothing. So, we'll go with that.
Not only that, silence by the Phils only perpetuates this story. While this certainly hasn't been leading the news on SportsCenter, it's big news in the amateur baseball world. And, for a team that is preparing to embark on a roster rebuild over the next few years, it'd be nice to not tick off the entire amateur world all at once.
The Phillies had a chance to do some damage control today with their response to this situation. Instead, they decided to double down and tell you that you don't deserve an explanation. Or, perhaps worse than that, they simply don't have one.
More than anything else, this whole incident just makes me sad. It's depressing to hear your favorite baseball team talked about in such negative terms in such a universal way.
At the end of the day, perhaps nothing comes of all this. Scout.com's Kiley McDaniel does a good job outlining how the Phillies may actually benefit from the situation. Players who want to play Major League Baseball are going to sign with the Phillies. The team will still be able to draft high quality players, although I can't imagine how any high school or college player that is on the fence about turning pro will ever want to negotiate with the Phils in the future. That said, the team is not going to be left drafting guys out of Australia and Turkey because no one in American collegiate athletics will take Marty Wolever's call.
It's just a bad situation that portrays the Phillies in an extremely negative and petty light. And the team is content to allow the baseball world to cast them as the "heel" in this situation.
Sometimes, the shoe fits.