The Philadelphia Phillies have announced that Matt Klentak has stepped down from his role as general manager of the team. Klentak will remain with the organization in a different role and assistant GM Ned Rice will serve as interim, according to a press release from the Phillies.

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This was a move that should have happened last year. Klentak’s fate was all but sealed after he was overruled by owner John Middleton on the fate of Klentak’s hand-picked manager, Gabe Kapler. Frankly, it also should have happened last week when the season ended. Nevertheless, it was the correct move.

The press release may say Klentak “stepped down,” but make no mistake, he was essentially fired in everything but name. His new role will most likely be ceremonial and he will just exist until his contract expires in 2022. Perhaps there was some credence to the idea that Middleton didn’t want to buy out the remaining years of Klentak’s contract. 

Klentak’s legacy

The Phillies never finished over .500 in Klentak’s five years as GM, amassing a total record of 389-481 over that span. They finished exactly at .500 once in 2019. Klentak has overseen a team that collapsed in epic fashion three years in a row. Those collapses have extended the team’s postseason drought to nine years, longest in the National League and second only to the Seattle Mariners. Klentak was never really able to put together a competent pitching staff despite devoting large amounts of resources to doing so.

However, Klentak does get some credit for helping to establish an analytics department that was nonexistent before his arrival. The Phillies, namely Middlton, committed to entering baseball’s modern age after dismissing Ruben Amaro Jr. and his old-school baseball ways. Klentak brought in a much more analytics driven mindset to an organization that sorely lacked it. But in the end, Klentak was too lax at addressing major roster holes as well as clinging to organizational philosophies that appeared to be stunting player development. 

What happens now?

Middleton announced that president Andy MacPhail will remain in his role and be involved in the GM search, according to Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

MacPhail remaining in place makes little sense, as he was the one who hired Klentak. It’s fair to question whether he is the right man for the job considering his hand-picked GM was just removed. It’s also fair to question just exactly what he has done since joining the Phillies in 2015.

As for the GM search, the Phillies have essentially two ways in which they can go. They can go old-school with someone like Dave Dombrowski, most recently of the Red Sox, or they can continue trying to get on the cutting edge with someone like Erik Neander of the Rays. The Phillies decided to go from inexperienced to experienced when shifting from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi. They may look to do the same with their new GM. Girardi is an old-school manager who is not opposed to using some of the newer approaches. The Phillies will most likely look to find a GM that helps add to the blend of old and new school.

How attractive is the job?

It has never been more obvious that John Middleton is the man in charge here. He has been very outspoken about his desires to win at any cost. However, actions speak louder than words. It appears now that the Phillies are up against the luxury tax, that cost seems to have been set. Look no further than the fact that the Phillies appear to be letting J.T. Realmuto reach free agency. If Middleton is serious about backing up his words, the Phillies need to use their most abundant resource- cash.

The Phillies currently have a core of players in Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Rhys Hoskins, and Alec Bohm that will be attractive to many GM candidates. The real deciding factor will be if the new GM is able to tap into Middleton’s deep pockets to continue to improve the organization as a whole. Attractive candidates currently working in a small market team almost certainly dream about what they could do with a $200M+ payroll. 

It is up to Middleton whether or not those dreams can become reality.