Apparently early October is the height of front office rumor season. Yesterday, prior to Howard Eskin's potentially dubious account of recent Phillies front office machinations, and the Phillies' subsequent refutation, Bob Ford wrote an article speculating on the role Comcast is going to play in the upcoming off-season. The crux of the piece is that Ford expects changes in the direction of the franchise to be forced upon the Phillies as Comcast grows uneasy with increasing fanbase malaise less than a year removed from their $2.5 billion dollar television rights deal.
Is this a realistic scenario? Perhaps, though "realistic" and "likely" are two different things. Ford points to the ouster of Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews from the broadcast booth as evidence that Comcast is willing to intercede in the Phillies affairs. While that part is true, it is also limited to the one area in which Comcast is directly involved-the television broadcasts. It's less clear that Comcast would have the desire or ability to get involved in actual player-personnel decisions that shape the on-field product.
Ford acknowledges this, to an extent:
"Ditching Wheels and Sarge is small potatoes, however, compared to prying Amaro out of his job or persuading the front office to eat $60 million worth of Ryan Howard's remaining contract. We'll see how it goes, but expect Comcast to insist on something to give fans a reason to watch before next April."
The first sentence is dead on, at least. As for his speculation that Comcast will "insist on something" (what is that thing, who knows!), well, what really can they do? We aren't privy to the details of the television rights contract between the Phils and Comcast, but it would be relatively unusual for the television broadcasting contract to include the right to withhold payment in the extent the Phillies fail to shape the team to Comcast's liking. In other words, even if Comcast was interested in forcing the Phillies to shake things up a bit, and even if they thought they knew better than the actual baseball people what those changes should be, they really have no way of enforcing said desires.
It would be naïve, of course, to assume that the corporation paying the Phillies billions of dollars doesn't have the ear of the front office, but having your phone calls returned promptly is not the same as being able to make demands about the shape of the front office or locker room. Without a doubt there will be changes to this Phillies team over the coming months, and some are likely to be significant, but it's just as likely, if not more so, that those changes will be the natural result of a second losing season from a team with a huge payroll than because the owner of the Phillies' broadcast rights is unhappy.