SCOTTSDALE, Arizona - Scott Boras, baseball's most high-powered agent, has forged an undeniable chemistry with the Phillies and owner John Middleton, in particular, over the last two years. It started with the pursuit and eventual signing of Jake Arrieta before the 2018 season and reached a crescendo last winter when the club signed Bryce Harper to a staggering $330 million contract.
Boras will look to capitalize on that chemistry again this winter. The Phillies have needs and he has solutions.
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On the pitching side, Boras represents several free-agent starters, including the two biggest stars on the market, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. He also represents lefties Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the majors' ERA champ in 2019.
The Phillies, as documented, are very much in need of starting pitching.
They also could look to add a third baseman this winter as they allow top prospect Alec Bohm more development time and consider a possible move to another position for him. Boras represents two top free-agent third basemen, Anthony Rendon and Mike Moustakas.
It is likely that the Phils will look to spend the bulk of their free-agent budget on pitching - and it's difficult to argue with that approach. That could leave the Phillies as interested bystanders in the Rendon sweepstakes as Rendon is seeking a lengthy, mega-dollar deal. The Phils will certainly monitor the market for Josh Donaldson, another free-agent third baseman, but the best fit in terms of dollars and years might be Moustakas, who has played the last two seasons in Milwaukee on one-year contracts.
According to multiple sources, Phillies officials touched base with Team Boras here at the general managers meetings this week and the two sides discussed a number of subjects - and not just pitching.
In other words, Moustakas is very much on the Phillies' radar.
The Phillies' most pressing need remains starting pitching. Cole is the biggest name on the market. The Phillies will be in the hunt for him, though the Angels and Yankees may pull out all the stops to sign him to what could be a multi-year deal worth more than $250 million. Boras disclosed Wednesday that he recently had lunch with Angels owner Arte Moreno. He would not say if he'd recently broken bread with Middleton.
"Well," he said with a grin, "I'll let John tell you about that."
Boras, as he typically does at the general managers meetings and winter meetings, which arrive next month, talked up his top clients in florid language.
"If this were major-league Christmas, we would be looking at 30 stockings that clearly wanted a lump of Cole," he said, referring to his stud right-handed client. "I think starting pitching has become back in vogue. It's an aggressive market."
Boras employed an oceanic analogy when referencing Strasburg.
"In the oceans of the playoffs, the Strasburg sank many contending ships," he said.
Strasburg, along with fellow ace Max Scherzer, helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series last month.
"There are general managers who I said four or five years ago to that, ‘You're going to have a very hard time winning a world championship if you don't sign this player.' And I'm very happy to say that player was Max Scherzer," Boras said. "I told that to three teams and they have not won and he did win.
"The reality of it is that those No. 1 kind of guys, those special arms, take you through the playoff seas. You have to have them because when it comes down to that, you end up throwing 70 percent of the innings (in the postseason) among three guys.
"It all boils down to what's important to (teams), what's important to their ownership, what drive do they have to get to where they are really going to take risks. All of these things are risks in their minds. But that's how you win. You take risks. You pay Max Scherzer $30 million a year when no one else would, and by doing that, you've been rewarded."
Boras became convinced that Middleton wants to win after the Phillies signed Harper last winter.
"I don't see any stop sign in John's pursuit of his goal and that's a world championship," Boras said. "He's an owner that has been very straightforward about his path and his commitment. He's very, very involved in the franchise and it's really good to see owners really be that committed to their city, to their team. We should really have a dynamic where when people are that involved, they're going to be as competitive as they feel they need to be to create the winning product they want."
Boras said the economic value of Harper's signing with the Phillies - i.e., branding, attendance, TV ratings, merchandise sales, etc. - "will pay the next two years of Harper's contract." Harper is more than just the Phillies' right fielder. He is an influential voice in the organization and his will to win is as strong as the owner's.
Would Harper, Boras' mega client, push Phillies ownership to sign one of Boras' big free-agent pitchers, or, perhaps, one of his third basemen?
"Knowing Bryce, I'm sure that he will be offering a lot of opinions about how to get better and what to do and I'm sure they are listening to him as well," Boras said.
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