CLEARWATER, Fla. – Matt Klentak understands that climate change, at least based on his seat from the ballpark down on Pattison Avenue in South Philadelphia, is very real. As he begins his fifth season with the Phillies, the cushioned chair in the general manager’s suite at Citizens Bank Park is scorching hot, and with good reason.
It is no longer good enough to be the guy who oversaw the construction of an analytics department that has gone from a handful of mostly ignored employees to an army of advanced number-crunchers.
It’s nice that Klentak has been able to recruit some of the game’s best free agents in recent years with the help of the deep pockets of managing partner John Middleton and fellow owners Jim and Pete Buck. But the hope the acquisitions of Jake Arrieta and Bryce Harper created was followed by disappointing results on the field.
“I think we’ve made a lot of advances in the way we operate,” Klentak said Thursday during a news conference at Spectrum Field.
“I think through the support of ownership, they’ve allowed us to do a lot of things -- the creation of new departments, investments in new technology and nutrition programs and a lot of different areas -- that I feel like were necessary to … catch up with the rest of the league. We were behind in a lot of areas. What we’re focusing on now is trying to get ahead, so we can gain advantages and not just be on an even playing field with these other clubs.
“And then on the field, we were coming off the worst record in baseball in 2015 and we’ve risen to a .500 record, which hasn’t gotten us to where we want to go. We’ve come a long way and what I like is that we’ve been driven by a combination of factors.”
Asked about some of the things he might have done differently, Klentak immediately mentioned Charlie Morton, who pitched in only four games with the Phillies in 2017 because of a torn hamstring and then moved to the American League the following season after Klentak decided to exercise a $1 million buyout clause. In three seasons since his departure, Morton has gone 45-16 with a 3.24 ERA.
“There are certainly going to be examples like that, but every team is going to have that and you can’t really focus too much on that,” Klentak said.
Six months shy of his 40th birthday, Klentak has been responsible for a major makeover at One Citizens Bank Way, which was the mandate he was given by Middleton and team president Andy MacPhail. The only things missing, however, are the things that matter – a winning season and a postseason berth.
“I realize none of this really matters,” Klentak said before he reeled off the team’s list of accomplishments during his tenure. “The thing that matters most is winning, and I get that.”
In order to enhance Klentak’s job security, the Phillies need to win right now. Even though it was not his decision to fire manager Gabe Kapler after a second straight September meltdown, the fact remains that the Phillies are on their third manager in five years under Klentak and have yet to have a winning season.
That’s the kind of thing that reflects badly on a GM and often leads to his exit. In fact, you can chop off one of your hands and and still count the number of GMs who remain employed without posting a winning record during their first five seasons in the job during this century. The list: Dayton Moore in Kansas City, Rick Hahn with the White Sox, A.J. Preller in San Diego, and Mike Hill in Miami.
Klentak is in a bigger market than three of those four teams and the White Sox have almost always been No. 2 in the Chicago market.
So, yes, the stakes are high for Klentak to produce not only a winner but also a team that makes the playoffs. He likes the team the Phillies have put together, but knows there is no guarantee that is going to happen.
“I think we’ve made a ton of progress both on the field and off,” Klentak said. “I feel very good about that. I think we’re realistic about the division. The National League East is just about if not the toughest division in baseball. We have four teams that are going for it and you don’t often find that in any division, so there’s a little bit of a reality check about the competition level.
“But I said it at Joe Girardi’s press conference and I’ll say it again now: The last two years we were two games below .500 and then we were .500. It’s time to take another step forward and produce a winning season and play baseball in October.
"We have the talent. We’ve got a winning manager to do that. We’ve got committed ownership. We’ve added players to the roster this year to get us there. It’s what our fans want and I know that’s what our owners want and that’s what I want. Joe is here because that’s what Joe wants.”