Phillies Managing Partner John Middleton has his "sights set on next winter when some of baseball’s biggest stars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hit the market," according to Matt Breen of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. Middleton gave the OK to Phillies GM Matt Klentak to spend $169M this winter on "four free agents." The Phillies only have three players -- P Jake Arrieta, 1B Carlos Santana, and CF Odubel Herrera -- "under contract after next season." They have a roster "composed heavily of players who have yet to even reach arbitration, leaving the Phillies enormous payroll flexibility." Nothing the Phillies spent this offseason will "limit them next winter." Middleton said next year’s free agents “would notice" what the Phillies did this offseason. And the team "hopes those four investments make them an even more attractive landing spot for the likes of Harper and Machado." MLB agent Scott Boras, who represents both Arrieta and Harper, said, "When you have players like Jake on the team, you’ve now crossed the bridge" (PHILLY.com, 3/13).
FLYING HIGH: NBC SPORTS PHILADELPHIA's Jim Salisbury wrote the Phillies are "back in the free-agent game." Not only by signing Arrieta to a three-year, $75M contract on Monday, but also with how they "transported and welcomed the pitcher to spring training." After Arrieta's physical was completed on Monday he was driven to Philadelphia Int'l Airport, where Middleton’s private jet -- "adorned with the Phillies’ red P on the tail -- awaited." Arrieta and one of his representatives then "flew to Florida's East Coast, picked up Middleton and his wife, Leigh, and jetted across the state to St. Petersburg," where four Phillies execs "waited on the tarmac." The entire event was "captured Hollywood-style by two team videographers and posted on social media." Middleton said, "I want people to understand that we’re going to do things in the best way we can possibly do it -- first class. It’s a message to everybody, not just free agents." Boras: "Jake goes to Philadelphia for a physical and the Middleton family has its plane waiting to take him down here. A lot of organizations don’t do that" (NBCSPORTSPHILADELPHIA.com, 3/13).
DC United on Saturday "might perform before the smallest audience" in MLS' 23 seasons after playing Atlanta United last week "in front of the largest crowd for a stand-alone match in MLS history," according to Steven Goff of the WASHINGTON POST. Saturday's home game against the Dynamo will be played at the 5,000-seat Maryland SoccerPlex, and because it is "not part of the season ticket package and individual sales are slow, the match is threatening to break the league mark of 3,702 set by defunct Chivas USA four years ago." Sources said that "barring a late surge, final attendance would probably end up between 3,000 and 3,500." With DC United "focused on Audi Field," the front office has put "little marketing efforts into Saturday's match" and the April 14 match against the Crew at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. A source said that ticket sales for the Annapolis date are "also sputtering." While a small crowd "won't look out of place at cozy SoccerPlex, it would cause embarrassment at Navy's 34,000-seat venue." Meanwhile, DC United said that they have sold "close to 10,000 season tickets to Audi Field (most are full packages, the rest are partials that equal fulls) but didn't include the first two home dates in the packages because of the distances that fans would have to travel" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/14).
MLS Commissioner Don Garber "isn’t worried" the Union's recent attendance struggles could cause the team to relocate, and yesterday "offered a robust defense" of the team and Owner Jay Sugarman, according to Jonathan Tannenwald of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. Garber said, “It’s a huge market. It’s an influential market. ... We continue to have great faith in the club, its ownership and the market.” As part of the Union’s lease of Talen Energy Stadium, if after 10 years the team’s attendance is in the bottom 25% of MLS, the team can pay the county $10M and "leave the venue." But the Union have "insisted that will not happen," and Garber "does not expect it." Garber: “There is a belief in the market; there is an absolute commitment on behalf of ownership. ... No fan in Philadelphia should be remotely concerned about that team being anywhere other than where it is" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/14).
ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz noted the 76ers have "put food at the center of the team's daily existence." Situated on the second floor of the Sixers' training facility in Camden, N.J., the team's "enormous, light-filled dining room and professional-grade kitchen with a view of the Philadelphia skyline function not only as a fueling station where players receive nourishment, but also a hub for the communal life of the team." Sixers G J.J. Redick calls executive chef JaeHee Cho's operation a "top-10 Philadelphia restaurant" (ESPN.com, 3/13).
SURF'S UP: The Clippers for the second consecutive year will have their "training camp in Hawaii." In L.A., Broderick Turner noted the team will have their "practice sessions" on the campus of the Univ. of Hawaii. Camp will "start in late September." The Clippers "spent 10 days in Hawaii last year and played two exhibition games" against the Raptors (LATIMES.com, 3/10).
ART CRAWL: In Milwaukee, James Nelson noted the Bucks have "selected a diverse group of artists to create pieces for their new arena." The group includes 32 artists, 22 "with Wisconsin ties." Bucks President Peter Feigin said that they "expect to spend" $2-3M on the arena art. They will get a "return on that investment because the team will own all rights to the pieces, an arrangement that will allow the Bucks to sell merchandise that includes the images" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 3/10).