Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Klentak, just 35, comes to Phillies with 'breadth of experience'

The man Andy MacPhail tabbed as his top lieutenant as they attempt to resurrect the Phillies is younger than four players who were on the team's active roster at season's end.

New general manager Matt Klentak at a press conference.
New general manager Matt Klentak at a press conference.Read more( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer )

The man Andy MacPhail tabbed as his top lieutenant as they attempt to resurrect the Phillies is younger than four players who were on the team's active roster at season's end.

But Matt Klentak's youth shouldn't be miscast as a lack of experience. A dozen years in professional baseball have furnished the Phillies' new general manager with a unique perspective for an executive his age.

Klentak joined the Phillies having worked for three teams in contrasting markets and facing varying circumstances. One club built through the draft, another largely through trades, and a third was deep-pocketed enough to roll the dice in free agency. He has been with small or mid-market clubs that emphasized tools-oriented scouting and player development and with a larger-market club better known for its accent on analytics.

That's not to downplay a four-year stint in the commissioner's office, where in baseball's labor relations department Klentak was privy to observing how all 30 teams operated. This "breadth of experience," as his former boss, Jerry Dipoto, called it, should only help Klentak as he joins a big-market franchise with vast resources and a fresh direction.

"He's a very sharp guy," said Dipoto, the former Los Angeles Angels general manager who hired Klentak four years ago as his No. 2. "He has a number of unique experiences in the game. I think that really led me to him."

Dipoto is now GM of the Seattle Mariners. He resigned from his post with the Angels in July amid renewed friction with manager Mike Scioscia. Dipoto learned of Klentak through Texas Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine, who gave Klentak his start in professional baseball with the Colorado Rockies in 2003 through an internship in the team's baseball operations department.

Dipoto kept Klentak's name in mind as he continued his ascent through the executive ranks. Dipoto grew more intrigued after interviewing in October 2011 for the GM post with the Baltimore Orioles, whose brass raved about their director of baseball operations.

When the Angels hired Dipoto as their GM only a week or two later, the second call he made was to Klentak. (The first went to Scott Servais, who became his assistant GM to oversee scouting and player development and last week became his field manager with the Mariners.) Dipoto and Klentak met for an interview in a Milwaukee hotel and hit it off.

Success in L.A.

With the Angels, Klentak handled all rules administration and was heavily involved in trade discussions and contract negotiations, Dipoto said. In the spring of 2014, Dipoto and Klentak joined forces for about six weeks to work through every last detail of the club's six-year, $144.5 million contract extension with superstar Mike Trout.

Klentak, who has an economics degree from Dartmouth, where he played shortstop and was a team captain, also oversaw the Angels' arbitration process each winter. Over the last couple of years, he continued to develop his natural scouting acumen by getting out to ballparks and spending more time watching players.

"Matt was like my front office 'get back' coach. He kept me from stepping on the field and being run over by a defensive back," Dipoto said by phone from Seattle. "He was great to work with, and I enjoyed every minute of it."

Dipoto said Klentak understands the rules and nuances of baseball as well as anyone he has seen. When Dipoto resigned, former Angels GM Bill Stoneman returned to the role in the interim. But it was Klentak who led much of the day-to-day baseball operations until the Angels hired Billy Eppler earlier this month as Dipoto's successor.

Essentially, Klentak has eight seasons of experience as an assistant GM. With Baltimore from 2008 to 2011, he and MacPhail rebuilt a club that was coming off nine consecutive losing seasons when they arrived. Both executives left after four more losing seasons, but their acquisitions - trading for Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Chris Tillman and drafting Manny Machado chief among them - resulted in the core that has averaged 88 wins over the last four seasons, and twice competed in the postseason.

MacPhail, hired in June as the Phillies' new president, first encountered Klentak during 2006 labor negotiations, although they didn't have all that much contact throughout that period.

When MacPhail opted to hire a No. 2 with the Orioles, Klentak's name was on his list. They met at that year's winter meetings - in Nashville, also the site of this December's meetings - and "it was clear to me halfway through the interview," MacPhail said, "he was interviewing me more than I was interviewing him."

'Graduate school'

Levine, who hired Klentak as a Rockies intern, said the Phillies' new GM has the people skills to match his intelligence. In the early 2000s, Colorado treated its internship program as if it were "graduate school for baseball," Levine said. The club's previous intern had been Jon Daniels, now the Rangers' GM. It took only a few phone conversations before Klentak was headed west from his hometown of Medfield, Mass.

"Matt's intelligence is palpable when you speak to him on the phone and when you meet with him, but he married that up with a great feel for people and a feel for the game, which is very unique," Levine said. "He really stood out at that time for those reasons."

The Rockies didn't have a full-time position available for Klentak at the end of his internship, so then-general manager Dan O'Dowd set him up with a job in baseball's labor relations department. "I was sorry to lose him," O'Dowd said. Klentak spent four years building his foundation in the commissioner's office before MacPhail lured him to Baltimore.

Although a common assumption is that the Phillies hired Klentak because of his analytical background, baseball's newest GM stressed a balanced approach in his first day on the job. Dipoto, a former major-league pitcher, said he doesn't think Klentak "has one serious bend" toward modern or more traditional means of roster building.

"I know somehow at 47 years old with a dozen years of playing experience I've been categorized as this generation's Bill James," Dipoto quipped, "but Matt is very well balanced, and I think that was something that was an attraction. . . . He came in [to the Angels front office] with a balanced skill set, and he left with a more balanced skill set. That I have no doubt."

Similar to when Klentak's role only increased after Dipoto left the Angels, Klentak acted more or less as the Orioles' de facto GM in 2011 during the month between MacPhail's departure and Dan Duquette's arrival that November. Klentak and manager Buck Showalter were tasked with maneuvering the 40-man roster.

It was then that Klentak made what Dipoto labeled "one of the real sneaky good acquisitions of the last five years or so." Darren O'Day, a submarining righthander, was coming off a season with Texas in which shoulder and hip injuries limited him to a measly 162/3 innings. Even though the pitcher was owed $1.35 million the following season, the Orioles claimed him off waivers. He has been a crucial part of their bullpen ever since and was an all-star this past July.

"It takes a degree of acumen," Dipoto said, "to make moves like that when it's not every man's pick."

MacPhail, 62, and a baseball lifer, came to rely on Klentak over their four seasons in Baltimore. Part of that trust, MacPhail said, stems from knowing Klentak will articulate a difference of opinion when necessary. Klentak's array of experiences provides him with "different frames of reference" as he arrives to the Phillies, MacPhail said.

"All of those things I think are very helpful," MacPhail said. "Nobody is 100 percent ready for this job when you get it. You've got to sit in that seat, make those decisions and live with them and deal with the consequences. But as far as a resumé is concerned, he's done everything that you need to do to get that opportunity."