4:11 pm: Team President Andy MacPhail, who was instrumental in Klentak’s initial hiring, will remain in that position, Middleton confirmed to reporters (including Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer). MacPhail will be involved in the search for the club’s next GM, the owner added.
3:03 pm: The Phillies announced that Matt Klentak has stepped down as the team’s general manager. He’ll remain in the organization in another position. Assistant general manager Ned Rice will take over on an interim basis while the club conducts a formal search for Klentak’s replacement.
“I have stated publicly that winning is what matters, not just in Philadelphia but in all cities and in all sports,” Phillies managing partner John Middleton said in the accompanying press release. “While Matt made many significant contributions to the organization, we did not accomplish our goal of playing baseball in October. Consequently, we have mutually agreed to allow new leadership to head Baseball Operations.”
Previously an assistant GM with the Angels, Klentak took over the Phillies’ baseball operations department in October 2015. He inherited an organization somewhat in flux. The club’s massive success at the tail end of the previous decade was squarely in the rearview mirror. Outgoing GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. had already kicked off a rebuild, but the organization was surely anticipating some growing pains coming off a 63-99 season.
That proved to be the case, as the Phillies’ revamped roster struggled through a pair of miserable years in 2016-17. By 2018, though, the organization was ready for a push toward contention. Philadelphia brought in Gabe Kepler to manage that offseason and saw core young players like Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery cement themselves as everyday players. The club even added Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana on three-year free agent deals, moves that proved ill-fated when Arrieta struggled and Hoskins proved incapable of adequately playing left field to open a spot for Santana at first base. Philadelphia didn’t make the playoffs that year, but their 80-82 record was a fourteen-win improvement over the prior season and seemingly positioned them on the verge of a breakthrough.
Clearly, the organization felt they were just a few players away from putting themselves over the top. The Phillies swapped out youngsters like J.P. Crawford and Sixto Sánchez for established everyday players Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto. To top it off, Philadelphia broke the bank for Bryce Harper, inking him to a record 13-year, $330MM free agent contract in February 2019.
Unfortunately, those offseason splashes didn’t translate into on-field improvement. Philadelphia plateaued at 81-81 last season, leading to Kapler’s ouster in favor of Joe Girardi. As Middleton noted, Klentak’s big ticket acquisitions generally performed well. Harper, Realmuto, Segura and fellow free agent addition Andrew McCutchen all turned in solid to very strong seasons, but the club never found answers in the rotation behind Aaron Nola.
To Klentak’s credit, he attempted to fix that deficiency over the offseason, signing Zack Wheeler to a five-year deal. Wheeler was highly productive in year one, while Zach Eflin locked himself in as a capable #3 starter. Yet again, though, the team as a whole fell flat. Weighed down by an atrocious bullpen, Philadelphia went just 28-32 in this year’s shortened season and missed the expanded playoff field, punctuated by a season-ending sweep at the hands of the Rays. Ultimately, the team’s lack of productivity despite plenty of high-priced acquisitions proved too much for Middleton to ignore.
Philadelphia is the second team to look for a new baseball operations leader this offseason. Angels’ GM Billy Eppler was let go last weekend. After the hiring of Kapler, a first-time manager, didn’t work out, the Phillies turned to the more experienced Girardi. Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter link) anticipates the club will similarly target a long-tenured front office executive after Klentak’s first GM job came up shy of expectations. The Phillies should have plenty of interested suitors, given the club’s high-quality core and generally aggressive ownership.
First on the docket for any new baseball ops head could be a call with Realmuto’s camp. The All-Star headlines this year’s free agent class at catcher; the two sides have had extension talks in the past, and it stands to reason any incoming executive would similarly have interest in keeping Realmuto in the fold.