In a bombshell report Thursday night, Fox 29's Howard Eskin said Phillies president Dave Montgomery, currently on leave from the team while he battles jaw cancer, was forced out of his decision-making role by minority owner John Middleton, as Middleton makes a power grab to become majority owner of the ballclub.
In his report, Eskin states Middleton has been collecting more shares of the team in recent months and now owns 48% of the Phillies. His plan is to remove Montgomery from the day-to-day operations of the club, allowing interim president Pat Gillick and general manager Ruben Amaro more freedom to conduct business as they see fit.
Here is Eskin's report below.
Montgomery has been president of the team since 1997, but Gillick has been calling the shots since late August. Eskin says Monty was "pushed out," and that his jaw bone cancer was "a convenient story" that, while legitimate, also served as an effective cover for a baseball decision.
Eskin reported that Montgomery hasn't actually been away from the team at all during his recovery and has, in fact, been at the Phils' offices every day since May. Eskin intimates that many of the decisions the team has made in recent years were not the call of the current GM, but that of Montgomery, including re-signing Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz to new contracts.
However, with Middleton soon to be the majority owner, Eskin notes there would be major changes coming on the field, including a willingness by the former cigar magnate to eat virtually all of Howard's salary, ensuring he will not return to the team in 2015. Also, Eskin reports Middleton would be more inclined to trade Cole Hamels to a team like the Cubs, Dodgers or Red Sox, all of whom have top notch young talent and have expressed interest in the ace left-hander in recent months.
Middleton is known as one of the more aggressive of the Phils' owners, and has been among the most vocal in recent years. It is believed he is the one who freed up the money and pushed the team to sign Jim Thome to a free agent contract back in 2003, and for Cliff Lee before the 2011 season.
Obviously, there are a lot of uncertainties in this report. So far, Eskin is the only one out on this ledge, so everything contained in this report should be absorbed with that in mind. However, if this report is true, it would signal a sea change in how the organization conducts business moving forward.
The Phillies, and David Montgomery in particular, have been a notoriously loyal organization through the years. It is their reputation, and loyalty is mostly a good thing. But it is not a good thing if it prevents an organization from moving on from old heroes when the situation calls for it.
Certainly, it would be best if the Phils can move on from Ryan Howard. He offers nothing to the Phils, and freeing him from the roster would allow the team to try out younger players at different positions, possibly shifting Chase Utley to first base. But there are a lot of baseball reasons not to trade Hamels. Holding onto him wouldn't be just out of raw loyalty.
It should be noted, however, that some of Eskin's analysis of the current state of the Phillies is at best exaggerated, and at worst, incorrect.
While the farm system isn't stocked with talent like Chicago's, Los Angeles' or Minnesota's, it has been steadily improving over the last couple years, and appears to be getting better, especially in the low minors. In addition, aside from Howard, it was the veteran players who actually performed up to par this year, while the younger players, like Domonic Brown and Cody Asche, largely disappointed.
Eskin told WIP on Thursday night that, if the owners vote to allow Middleton to acquire a majority stake in the Phillies, he would "spend whatever it takes," which could be good news for those who want the Phils to make signing Cuban free agent Yasmani Tomas a priority.
Tomas was officially declared a free agent on Thursday, and it's reported he has said he will go to whoever will offer him the most money. The Phils have held a private workout with him, and if this report is true, it's likely the team will make a strong push to sign the 23-year-old slugging left fielder.
In fact, maybe they already have?
It's hard to know what to make of Eskin's report. It sounds plausible, but Eskin is an interesting source for a story like this, as opposed to a beat writer. I guess we'll see over the next few weeks and months if it has any validity.
But, if true, it's a move that could radically change how the Philadelphia Phillies operate.
Update: The Phillies have issued a press release in response to Eskin's report. Read the story here.