John Middleton spent Sunday afternoon where he spends many Sunday afternoons in the fall. He sat with his wife, Leigh, alongside Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie in the executive suite at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. As the Eagles imposed their will upon the Tennessee Titans, those in the stands near Middleton and Lurie noticed something. There were a few loud fans who had a message. They conveyed it whenever there was a break in the action.
“Sign Trea Turner!” they yelled at Middleton again and again.
No one knew the Phillies were 24 hours from agreeing to an 11-year, $300 million deal with the star shortstop. Few knew, as Middleton watched the Eagles, that the Phillies and Turner’s camp had already exchanged offers over the weekend. A small circle within the Phillies organization had contemplated this moment for months — well before the team captured the attention of the entire baseball world.
Turner was the shortstop they wanted.
On Monday morning, one month to the day their unexpected postseason run ended with a Game 6 loss to the Houston Astros in the World Series, Dave Dombrowski contacted Middleton. The veteran baseball executive was here, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, for the sport’s annual Winter Meetings. According to sources familiar with the negotiations, Dombrowski had received enough credible intel to know this: The Phillies were not the high bidder for Turner. The two sides had a gap to bridge and, even then, it would be short of the total guaranteed dollars another team had offered.
That team, multiple sources later revealed as the San Diego Padres, had a legitimate interest; they had met twice with Turner and were armed with an aggressive owner and general manager. San Diego’s engagement is what compelled Turner’s agent, Jeff Berry of CAA Sports, to contact other clubs a few days before the Winter Meetings to ask for offers. Turner’s market had accelerated.
But the Phillies and Turner’s camp had been transparent through the entire process. Dombrowski, the club’s president of baseball operations, had flown to Florida with general manager Sam Fuld and manager Rob Thomson before Thanksgiving to meet with Turner and his wife, Kristen. Turner was impressed. He has a strong relationship with Kevin Long, the Phillies hitting coach. He had been teammates in Washington with Bryce Harper, who in the summer had started lobbying the Phillies’ highest-ranking officials to sign Turner.
Turner’s camp might not have ever said it out loud. But, indirectly, the Phillies believed they were always Turner’s first choice. Kristen is from Flemington, N.J. The Turners now live in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and favored an East Coast team. The Phillies had a limit to how much they’d offer, but there was enough momentum in the talks to know a match was possible — even if they were outbid.