The Phillies removed their general manager on Saturday but the change atop the front office should not be expected to be drastic as they simply replaced Matt Klentak with his trusted confidant.
Ned Rice, Klentak’s first front-office hire five years ago, was elevated to interim general manager and could remain in that position through the 2021 season. Normally, an interim GM is a temporary position tasked with overseeing the front office until a permanent replacement is hired.
This time, the Phillies seem prepared to stretch the definition of “interim.”
Managing partner John Middleton said complications brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, such as an inability to have in-person interviews and challenges of a new hire meeting staff through video conferencing, could force the Phillies to slow their search.
So for now, they turn to Rice as they enter a pivotal offseason. J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius are weeks away from free agency, baseball’s worst bullpen in 90 years needs to be rebuilt, and the final pieces of the starting rotation need to be addressed.
Rice was Klentak’s top lieutenant for the last five seasons as an assistant general manager. They worked lockstep during a rebuilding process that struggled enough for Klentak to be reassigned. Klentak lost his job, but Rice shared some responsibility for the organization’s missteps.
And now the team’s immediate — and perhaps season-long — solution is to replace the star of the show with the supporting actor. The Phillies may have a new general manager, but it’s hard to imagine the philosophy being much different this winter. Plus, Klentak is still a member of the front office in an undefined role and it’s assumed that his voice will still be heard.
Middleton and president Andy MacPhail will offer more input this offseason into baseball decisions but Saturday’s decision to remove Klentak was more of a shuffle than a shake-up.
Rice and Klentak worked together for four seasons in Baltimore before Klentak joined the Angels in 2012 as an assistant GM. Rice graduated from William & Mary and joined the Orioles in the fall of 2005 as an intern in the public relations department. He transitioned in 2006 to baseball operations as Baltimore’s video coordinator for road games.
A year later, Rice caught the attention of Andy MacPhail — who had just been hired to run Baltimore’s front office — while answering MacPhail’s office phone when MacPhail’s executive assistant was out sick. Rice had his break, impressing MacPhail with his acumen for advanced statistics, and MacPhail hired him to be a player information analyst.
Four years later, Rice was promoted to director, overseeing major-league operations and assisting “with roster management, player contracts and negotiations, transactions, salary arbitration, and rules compliance.”
MacPhail hired Klentak in October of 2015, and Rice was brought on board in January of 2016. With the Phillies, Rice overhauled the nutrition plan for minor leaguers and Middleton credited him Saturday with playing a key role in the negotiations to sign Bryce Harper.
The Phillies media guide says Rice helped “map out strategy of roster management, oversees analytics and the medical department and assists in player contracts and negotiations, transactions, salary arbitration and rules compliance.”
“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 is frankly the most depth as well,” Middleton said. “We don’t know because of all these other extraneous pressure points of how we’re going to be moving in the next two to three months. We needed a guy in that job that we had enough confidence in that we could have him in there for a long time.”
A decade ago, all three — Rice, Klentak, and MacPhail — were together in Baltimore. Five years ago, they reunited in Philadelphia. Rice and Klentak’s duties have now shifted, but the three key figures of a rebuilding process that began five years ago and has yet to reach October still remain. The Phillies removed Klentak on Saturday, but they don’t seem prepared to immediately overhaul their approach.