Phillies GM Matt Klentak stepped down on Saturday after five seasons running baseball operations in Philadelphia. Despite making an impact on the hot stove with significant free agent spending on stars like Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, Didi Gregorius, and Andrew McCutchen. The trade for J.T. Realmuto brought in the premier catcher in the game, one of just a couple of backstops capable of managing a staff while wielding a middle-of-the-order bat. He also brought in presumptive third baseman of the present-and-future Alec Bohm with the third overall pick of the 2018 draft.
Klentak’s record wasn’t spotless. The David Robertson signing fell apart due to injuries. He doled out large sums to Michael Saunders and Carlos Santana, only to move on after disappointing starts. First overall draft pick in 2016 Mickey Moniak hasn’t developed into a superstar as one might expect from a 1-1 pick.
But the darkest mark on Klentak’s record was a failure to make the playoffs during his five years in charge. The Phillies have the second-longest playoff drought in the game. Despite many successful moves, the Phillies disappointed year after year, leaving principal owner John Middleton somewhat befuddled. As successful as Realmuto has been for the Phillies, for example, Sixto Sánchez’s success has to be particularly galling. One of the pieces used to acquire Realmuto from Miami, Sánchez helped the Marlins leapfrog the Phillies into the playoffs this year. Realmuto’s time in Philadelphia, meanwhile, could already be reaching an end – he’s an unrestricted free agent this winter.
With Klentak demoted, the Phillies are considering their options for how to fill out the head of the baseball operations department moving forward. They could look to hire a head of baseball operations as well as a GM. They could wait to bring in a head of baseball ops until Team President Andy MacPhail retires at the end of 2021, per The Athletic’s Matt Gelb. MacPhail’s impending retirement is very much a part of Middelton’s decision-making.
The pandemic complicates all significant hiring decisions, of course, and it could be some time until the Phillies make a final decision. There was a roughly 6-week hiring process to bring in Klentak, but his replacement could take more than a year to find, per Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter). 37-year-old Ned Rice has been elevated to the interim GM position for now, and it’s on the table that Rice could serve in the role for the entirety of next season.
Middleton spoke highly of Rice, saying in a quote provided by Gelb, “One of the reasons that we chose Ned is because he has by far the most breadth of experience in the organization other than Matt and frankly the most depth as well. For example, he put together the presentation for Bryce Harper when we flew out to Las Vegas the first time. He was involved with all the meetings, discussing strategy and tactics of when to make offers and what the offer should be, analyzing the offers that Scott (Boras) put out and how we should respond. He has significant experience, and his input in that process is invaluable.”
On the surface the process might feel disjointed, but it’s entirely within the realm of reasonable solutions for the Phillies to take their time in deciding the management structure moving forward, especially considering the complicated nature of a mixed-bag tenure like Klentak’s. Middleton remains the unequivocal head of the organization and traditional concerns about continuity and organizational clarity are mitigated somewhat because of the presence of MacPhail and Rice. More important for the Phillies is that whoever comes in next has a clear plan in place with benchmarks that Middleton can use to measure the success of the program.