Mike Trout, Bryce Harper Phillies Team-Up Would Be MLB's Cash Cow Dream

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 18, 2019

Los Angeles Angels Mike Trout, left, and Washington Nationals Bryce Harper, right, embrace in the outfield before the start of their baseball game, Wednesday, April 23, 2014 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

There was only one thing wrong with the John Middleton quote that began this baseball winter. You know the quote, even if you're not all that familiar with Middleton, the managing partner of the Philadelphia Phillies.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money," Middleton told Bob Nightengale of USA Today, way back in the middle of November. "And we may even be a little stupid about it."

Team Stupid Money was born.

But here's the thing: What Middleton and the Phillies planned was never stupid. At a time when so many other teams are patting themselves on the back for being smart and analytical and avoiding risky big-money contracts, there's a huge opening for a team willing to spend what it takes to win on and off the field.

Excite your fans, fill your stadium and greatly improve your chances of playing in October? Tell me what's stupid about that.

The Phillies can be that team.

They could be the team that ends up with Bryce Harper this winter. They could be the team prepared to pounce if Mike Trout gets to free agency after the 2020 season.

Imagine an outfield of Harper, Trout and Andrew McCutchen, who the Phillies already signed this winter. According to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, the Phillies have already imagined exactly that.

And why not?

Why not spend the money, if what you're getting in return is two of the best players in the game? Why not, when Harper is a 26-year-old free agent now and Trout could be a 29-year-old free agent in another two years?

With Bryce Harper in a Phillies uniform, a lot more of those seats at Citizens Bank Park would be filled.
With Bryce Harper in a Phillies uniform, a lot more of those seats at Citizens Bank Park would be filled.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Phillies seem to be going all out to sign Harper, with MLB Network's Jon Heyman reporting on Twitter that their meeting with him last weekend in Las Vegas "went great." And while they may have had to sell Harper on the virtues of playing in Philly, there would figure to be no such obstacles with Trout, who grew up in southern New Jersey and makes no secret of his love for the area.

It would take huge money to sign two megastars, but the Phillies have huge money, and they've been saving it over the last few years. Their 2018 payroll ranked 24th in the game, according to the Associated Press, and even after signing McCutchen and David Robertson and trading for Jean Segura, their future commitments aren't overwhelming.

It's why people talked about them signing both Harper and Manny Machado this winter. And it's why signing Harper now and adding Trout in two years remains a realistic goal.

Besides, while the biggest reason to sign Harper and Trout would be to win on the field, reason 1A would be making tickets at Citizens Bank Park even more valued than they were from 2009 to '12, when the Phils sold out 257 consecutive games and led the National League in attendance three years in a row.

No one has to tell Mike Trout what Philadelphia fans are like.
No one has to tell Mike Trout what Philadelphia fans are like.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Phillies don't have to guess whether their fans will support a winning team filled with stars. They've already seen it happen.

They've also seen what happens when those stars are gone.

Do you know how many games the Phillies sold out in 2018, in a season where they were a good story and led the National League East as late as Aug. 12? Four. Opening Day. Two games against the New York Yankees in June. And June 30, against Harper and the Washington Nationals.

Winning matters. The Phillies built their sellout streak on five straight division titles and the enthusiasm generated by taking the 2008 World Series.

But stars matter, too. The sellout-streak Phillies had Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, with Roy Halladay on the mound.

The 2018 Phillies had Aaron Nola and…Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera?

The 2021 Phillies, if all goes right, could have Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Tell me you wouldn't want to watch that team, night in and night out. You'd be able to watch them, too, because you'd better believe a Harper-Trout Phillies team would be on national television as often as possible.

You'd better believe that Harper and Trout on the same team would be a marketing dream for Major League Baseball.

It will still take some doing to get there. Harper hasn't signed yet, and Trout still has two years left on his contract with the Los Angeles Angels, a team that would very much like to keep him.

But at a time when far too many teams aren't even trying to win, and when the richest teams in the game have convinced themselves they can win without spending big for the biggest stars, the Phillies have an opportunity to take advantage of the market.

You can call that a lot of things. You can't call it stupid.

          

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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