In signing Nick Castellanos to a five-year, $100 million contract, the Philadelphia Phillies have finally put their best foot forward. The only downer? So have the Atlanta Braves and to a degree the New York Mets. The Braves doubled down on their already formidable bullpen – inking Colin McCugh to a two-year, $12 million deal and former Dodgers undertaker Kenley Jansen to a one-year 16 million deal. Oh yeah, and they traded for Matt Olson, an all star 1st baseman and gave him  an eight-year, $16-million dollar deal. The Braves may have let Freddie Freeman walk – but make no mistake, they are all in.

But the Phillies, for the first time in their history, actually went all in. They spent “stupid money” – finally breaking the luxury tax threshold by signing not only Castellanos but fellow slugger Kyle Schwarber to a four-year $79 million deal, earlier that week. For the first time in team history – a history which is nearly as long as the game of baseball is old – the Phillies have triggered the luxury tax by exceeding the $230 million payroll threshold. They’ve provided the reigning N.L. MVP with the best roster he’s ever been surrounded by. They’ve made a commitment to winning. Most of all, by virtue of finally needing a return on his exorbitant investment, John Middleton did one thing: he created a murderer’s row of a lineup capable of slugging its way into October.

And what did it cost them? A sacrificial 2nd-round draft pick? A 20% surcharge on every dollar spent up until the next payroll threshold of $250 million. Hardly a price to pay for an organization for which money is its greatest strength and drafting amateur talent its greatest weakness.

It was a welcome necessity, for once again, the Mets and the Braves have gone all in – only this year, the Phillies have finally anted up. 

What makes the signing of Castellanos isn’t just that he’s a remarkable player, it’s a reversal of what was a disappointing trend in recent team history. Even with all of the money that he had spent, John Middleton, in the last few years, has been labeled as cheap. His avoidance to break the glass ceiling attached to the luxury tax has been viewed as the very thing that’s held the team back- think for a second of last summer’s trade deadline acquisitions – his refusal to pay for a star didn’t do the Phillies any favors when trying to snap a 10-year playoff drought.

The message sent to the team, year after year, was simple: “You are not worthy of a further investment.”

Evidently, after a year in which the Phillies narrowly missed the postseason even with the N.L. MVP and Cy Young Runner up on their roster, Middleton finally decided that they were in fact worthy.

The change of tune was likely a result from A. Harper and Wheeler’s excellent play B. Internal pressure stemming from the team’s (literally) most valuable asset, Harper himself or C. Middleton’s realization that in order for him to get any sort of return on his already incredibly expensive yet mediocre franchise – and finally fill the seats of the oft half-empty Citizens Bank Park – be needed to bite the bullet and spend what was necessary to fund a winning team.

Earlier today, Middleton vehemently denied any rumors of succumbing to internal pressure from Harper or having a hard cap on breaking the luxury tax in recent years – citing instead the productivity and trust between himself, and President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski. Middleton spoke of his faith in Dombrowski’s vision and that it didn’t take much convincing from Dombrowski for him to loosen his pocket book – before going on an incredibly defense rant regarding his unwillingness to break the luxury tax threshold in recent years, his business acumen as a whole, and the massive amount of support he has from the fan base.

The same incredible amount of fan support that has absolutely nothing to do with a half-empty stadium every home game.

Regardless of the motivation, Middleton’s choice to break the luxury tax cap by allowing Dombrowski to sign Castellanos sent a message to the team, one they have been waiting a long time to hear:

“You are worthy of further investment. This year, we believe in you.”

Maybe, just maybe, a $100 million vote of confidence is all this team needed to push them over the hump.

Featured Image / NBC Sports Philadelphia

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