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John Middleton either needs to explain himself or sell the team

Didn’t think it was possible, but it got worse

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies-Bryce Harper Press Conference Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the fanbase was more than a little perturbed at John Middleton.

Then Sunday hit and another bombshell rumor came out. The Phillies are considering moving Zack Wheeler.

The Philadelphia Phillies have communicated to other teams that they are facing a financial crunch and are open to offers for their second-highest-paid player, starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, according to sources.

Now, before we move forward, let’s discuss the business of baseball in the offseason. Each and every player is available. Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, all of them. Each star, no matter the team, is available to be moved to another team at any given point. It would be foolish of every general manager to consider someone off limits as that would put a cap on his/her team getting better. If the Angels were to get blown away by an offer for Mike Trout that would without a doubt make their team better, they’d seriously think about pulling the trigger on said deal even if it meant a public relations nightmare. This much is obvious.

What’s also obvious is that the price tag for each player varies. The price tag for acquiring Trout would likely be so astronomical, no general manager in his/her mind would rightly say yes as it would more than likely cripple that franchise in the present and in the future. It’s why players of elite ability like Trout don’t get traded unless it is strictly a financial decision a la Mookie Betts.

So when you hear a rumor involving Wheeler, there is no baseball reason to actually do so. The team claims they are trying to win now, but we’ve already seen the reports of financial issues making the likelihood of their re-signing J.T. Realmuto, or signing any big free agent, fall by the day. Now we see a report from a national write that the team is making it known Wheeler is available and is actually putting what we already know into words:

The Philadelphia Phillies have communicated to other teams that they are facing a financial crunch...

This is not about winning anymore.

The re-assigning of Matt Klentak, but not firing him so they didn’t have to pay someone who wasn’t working in the organization, was the first sign. Andy MacPhail’s press conference, where his discussion of the team’s financial issues was a prominent part, was the second.

Then came the firing of the 80 employees, followed by the report that first posited the team lost $2 billion, then was corrected to a number nearer to $145 million. That report was also quoted as stating the team wasn’t going to be able to sign free agents that were in the upper tier of the market.

The Jean Segura trade rumors that seem based solely on saving money, not on improving the team.

Now we have this. A team putting a player that could play a serious part in their competing for a playoff spot in 2021 up to the highest bidder solely because they can no longer afford to pay him.

We all know what it comes down to: the Phillies only care about money. This falls squarely on John Middleton and the conclusion can no longer be avoided.

Either explain yourself, or sell the team.

The public relations harm has been done. These reports are out there and are just a button click away anytime Middleton decides he wants to speak in public. The fact that he does not even have a general manager in place to take the bullets from the fanbase, or a team president that actually gives a crap about anything that happens with the Phillies means that Middleton is the face of the decision making that is going on with this team. He bears the full responsibility for everything that has happened this offseason and he must answer for it.

Enough with this putzing around. He has backed himself into this corner by not already putting into place a leadership group that can make decisions for the team since he refuses to let go of the man who is in charge in MacPhail. No one is going to want to work for a guy they know is going to be gone in a year if he still has influence on the decisions being made. Whoever they hire at this point either needs to be given assurances that they will be allowed full autonomy or else he/she will not want to come. That’s on Middleton.

Why would any free agent want to come here anymore? This is a team that has no direction, sees the reports of its second best starter being available, and likely does not want to swim in the waters required to get any of the big names, Realmuto included, to come to Philadelphia. That’s on Middleton.

Now, a lot can change in a short amount of time. Perhaps these reports by ESPN are erroneous and the team has placed a price tag on Wheeler that no team will meet. Perhaps they are going to find the money to sign one or more impact free agents that will put the team back in the playoff chase. Maybe they’ll see that revenues will improve in 2021 to the point that Middleton will feel comfortable doling out money to help his team. Maybe he is just saving his money for the next free agent class that includes multiple players at positions the team isn’t particularly deep at.

All of this seems highly unlikely based on the evidence we have right now. All of that falls on the shoulders of the owner. Middleton wanted to be the face of the team when he became the majority shareholder a few years back. He bears the responsibility for the current state of the team. Either he faces it and explains it, or just give that responsibility to someone else.

UPDATED: Apparently, John reads this. From Jim Salisbury:

I’m reminded of a saying, but I forget how it goes. Something about where there’s smoke...