Klentak steps down as Phils GM, reassigned

October 4th, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- Everything changed for Matt Klentak in just 20 months.

Back in March 2019, Phillies managing partner John Middleton and Klentak celebrated Bryce Harper’s 13-year, $330 million contract. It signaled a turning point for an organization that had not enjoyed a winning season or made the playoffs since 2011. Middleton praised Klentak’s job performance, saying he had one of the best offseasons by any general manager in baseball history. But the Phillies never won in 2019, and they were worse in ’20. Saturday, the Phillies announced that Klentak “stepped down” as GM after nearly five years on the job. Klentak, who has two years remaining on his contract, will remain in the organization in an unspecified role.

Middleton said Andy MacPhail will remain as team president and Ned Rice will be interim general manager. Middleton said there is no timetable to find a permanent replacement for Klentak in part because of potential complications from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Middleton knew he could not wait to make a change.

“The reality is I’ve just been looking, over time, at what we’re doing and the progress we’ve made, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve made progress, but we haven’t made progress fast enough,” he said Saturday evening. “I looked at kind of what we’d be doing a year or two from now and I said, 'You know what? I’m not sure I see that it’s going to necessarily lead to the things I want to see.' So I made the decision to move on.”

Middleton’s biggest concern was the organization’s inability to identify, acquire and develop talent. He wants those traits in the next GM.

“This is a systemic problem, and frankly, it’s not a problem of Matt’s making,” Middleton said. “It’s been a problem forever with the Phillies. I don't hold Matt responsible for the creation of the problem. I think we’re better than we have been historically. We just didn’t get there fast enough in my opinion, and we’re probably going to continue to have to make some changes would be my guess.”

Potential candidates to replace Klentak include former Giants general manager Brian Sabean, Royals vice president of player personnel J.J. Picollo, Twins general manager Thad Levine, Cardinals general manager Mike Girsch, Cardinals special assistant to the general manager Matt Slater, former Red Sox, Marlins and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and Rays general manager Erik Neander. In the case of general managers like Levine, Girsch and Neander, the Phillies could offer them a promotion and make them president of baseball operations.

Whoever gets the job has plenty of work to do. The Phillies finished 28-32 this season, despite the highest payroll in franchise history and one of the five-highest payrolls in baseball. There are holes everywhere on the 40-man roster, and they have little help coming through the system. The Phillies’ farm system was ranked 23rd in baseball by MLB Pipeline. And it could drop even further, once right-hander Spencer Howard loses his prospect status next season.

The farm system was ranked seventh in March 2016.

“Look, in terms of where my unhappiness, my dissatisfaction with where we are, I think that’s been apparent for some time,” Middleton said. “There’s nothing new about that. Certainly, you were in the press conference a year ago with Gabe [Kapler’s dismissal], right? Did I seem happy then? Did I seem satisfied then? I don’t think so. No.”

Middleton and MacPhail chose Rice to lead the way in the short term. Middleton said he never considered Pat Gillick, who remains with the team as a senior advisor; Terry Ryan, the longtime former Twins GM who works with the Phillies as a special assignment scout; or MacPhail.

“We needed a guy in that job that we had enough confidence in that we could have him in there for a long time,” Middleton said.

Asked if Rice will have final say in personnel decisions, Middleton said, “Those 40-man roster decisions are always going to be group decisions with coaches, and farm-system people brought in, and scouts. Andy will certainly be involved and will probably be more involved this time. Look, I’m not a baseball guy, but I’m probably going to pay a little more attention now.”

Rice was Klentak’s first official hire in the baseball-operations department in January 2016, when he named him assistant GM. He was Klentak’s closest and most trusted confidant over the past five seasons. The two made decisions in lockstep, with valued input from the organization’s analytics department.

“If you’re talking about a permanent hire, that would be one issue,” Middleton said, asked if Rice and Klentak are too similar. “If you’re talking about something that could be two-three months or at most a season, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Frankly, that’s a totally different concern. It should be.”

Rice’s interim tag seemingly puts him in charge of negotiating a multiyear contract with free-agent catcher , plus other critical decisions that could shape the organization’s 40-man roster before Spring Training. Those familiar with the Phillies’ inner workings say Rice is a conservative voice when it comes to pursuing and signing free agents to lucrative, multiyear contracts, including Harper, Manny Machado and Jake Arrieta. It might not bode well for Realmuto’s return.

“While I am disappointed that we failed to reach our ultimate goal, I am nevertheless very proud of the progress that this organization made over the last five years and of the people who worked so hard to make it happen,” Klentak said in a statement. “I am grateful for all of the support that I received along the way from Phillies ownership, friends and colleagues, and our loyal Phillies fans.”