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John Middleton is excited Phillies will be in position to be players next offseason

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor 

Whether the Philadelphia Phillies are able to land a top-flight free-agent next offseason or not remains to be seen. But it's been one of the worst kept secrets in the sport that Matt Klentak and company plan to be aggressive next offseason in what could be the greatest free-agent class in the history of the sport. Managing partner John Middleton is just happy that the Phillies are in a position where it will make sense for them to be players in the free-agent market.

Middleton recently appeared on Jim Salisbury's "At The Yard" podcast on NBC Sports Philadelphia, and provided a unique perspective on the role the Phillies will play in next offseason's free-agent class:

"The Santana signing this offseason, and the pursuit of another starting pitcher - we're getting our toe back in that market. And next year is a bigger year - with bigger names - and so it's exciting to do it. Most importantly, it's exciting that we have the need to do it. If you kind of could change the circumstances - if next year's free-agent class we're coming up three years ago, we wouldn't be active in it. There would be no reason to be signing these players because we had nothing. It would be like putting Steve Carlton on the 1972 team. I mean, spectacular year, but what good did it do, we won 59 games. But we're now in a position where we've got enough players brought up, and if these guys develop, adding some of these free-agents next year could really change the team's destiny in a big way."

Middleton's point is well taken.The Phillies are developing a young core at the major league level with Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, Rhys Hoskins, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro. Scott Kingery, in all likelihood, will join them at some point this year.

The Phillies also have a second wave of talent coming through their minor league system. The same scout that once scouted Pedro Martinez called Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez a "clone" of the Hall of Famer. Sanchez headlines a talented crop of young arms in the Phillies system that also includes Adonis Medina, Franklyn Kilome, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez. The Phillies have also spent back-to-back high first round picks on outfielders - Mickey Moniak in 2016 and Adam Haseley in 2017 - that they hope will develop into impact major leaguers.

As Middleton alluded to, the Phillies are a few years removed from having next-to-no relevant young talent on their major league roster and virtually no top prospects close to the major league level. If this free-agent class had come a few years earlier, not only would it not have made much sense for the Phillies to be involved, but they wouldn't be an especially intriguing destination for a top-tier free-agent.

Since the back-end of Ruben Amaro's tenure as general manager, into the Klentak/Andy MacPhail regime, the Phillies have focused on rebuilding their organization from the bottom-up and keeping flexibility for an offseason like next. Not only do the Phillies now have an organization littered with talented young players, but they have very few long-term financial commitments, giving them tremendous financial flexibility. 

Obviously, Middleton was unable to comment specifically on any of the players that could be free-agents next offseason. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, both of whom will be 26, are the two grand prizes next offseason. Rather incredibly, Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel, who have a combined four Cy Young Awards, are afterthoughts, but both can be free-agents next offseason as well. So can 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson. Andrew Miller, who may be this era's best reliever, can also be free-agent. Charlie Blackmon, who has a career slashline of .336/.427/.611 against the Phillies, will be another noteworthy free-agent option.

Nola said this week that he believes that the Phillies are no longer rebuilding and they could compete in 2018, Gabe Kapler's first year at the helm. Certainly, 2018 is an important year on the field. But as I wrote last December, 2018 is the most important calendar year for the Phillies in some time, and the biggest reason for that is the free-agent class that Middleton appears eager to spend on. 

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