It has been talked about for the last two years and is now official. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced at the Owners’ Meetings in Chicago today that John Middleton has taken over as controlling partner of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Middleton had been a limited partner since 1994, holding a 48% stake in the Phils. Back in October of 2014, CBS’ Howard Eskin first reported the move was in the works, with the ailing Dave Montgomery recovering from cancer surgery. Middleton now officially supplants Montgomery, who had been the team’s primary stakeholder since 1997, as the control person of the franchise. Montgomery will continue to serve as the Chairman of the Board of the Phils.
In a press release, Middleton said, “I am both thrilled and honored to assume this important position. I’m grateful that the Buck family, Major League Baseball and the other Major League clubs have confidence in my ability to lead our franchise into the future.
“Our fans should know that the Phillies organization is committed to restoring the Phillies to its recent dominant past. We will approach the 2017 season and the years to follow with even greater intensity and determination, knowing our fans are eager to bring a championship back to Philadelphia. We intend to accomplish that goal.”
Middleton’s profile has taken on a greater stature since the team hired Andy MacPhail to be the new president and head of baseball operations. Middleton was front-and-center at the press conference announcing MacPhail’s hiring and he has taken over the role Montgomery previously held as the spokesperson for the ownership group.
Middleton is seen as an aggressive owner who is willing to use his considerable financial heft to win. He recently sold his cigar business for more than $2 billion, and the recent TV contract with Comcast SportsNet gives the team a wealth of cash with which to make the team better in the coming years.
Jimmy Rollins once referred to Middleton as “Steinbrenner South,” although it appears Middleton is taking a more measured approach to the team’s rebuilding effort. Though there is a scarcity of quality free agents on the market, there are some bats would could help the team improve somewhat in 2017, but general manager Matt Klentak appears to be targeting players who will allow the franchise to plug in rising prospects and is prioritizing roster flexibility over payroll flexibility.
In addition, as CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury said on the latest Felske Files podcast, the Phillies are using their cash to buy prospects and roster space instead of foolishly spending it on aging free agents who will not be good enough to play for the next good Phils team. This is a wiser move than throwing money at potential free agents who may be a drag on the roster in two years.
And under Middleton, the team has whole-heartedly embraced analytics and sabermetrics like never before, hiring additional employees with analytical and statistical backgrounds and increasing the size of the analytics staff this off-season. The team has also created their own proprietary computer system called “Phil,” which aims to use data in a way the Phillies never had before.
This is simply a confirmation of what most have long suspected and a formality to the workflow that had already been in place. But it’s still good news and a sign the team has continued to move forward in its rebuilding process.