Former Phillies exec’s hire by NL rival makes zero sense

Former Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak shakes hands with J.T. Realmuto (Photo by Miles Kennedy/Philadelphia Phillies/Getty Images)
Former Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak shakes hands with J.T. Realmuto (Photo by Miles Kennedy/Philadelphia Phillies/Getty Images) /
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Just one question for you, Milwaukee Brewers:

Why?

The Milwaukee Brewers have hired former Philadelphia Phillies GM Matt Klentak

With one year left on his contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, Matt Klentak is leaving for Milwaukee. He will be a special assistant with the Brewers, though his specific duties and/or focus have yet to be made public.

While Klentak has nearly two years of MLB experience between several clubs and MLB’s Labor Relations Department, his tenure in Philly was largely disastrous. Hired in 2015, mid-rebuild, the Phillies continued to flounder and fail under his guardianship. They never had a winning season, let alone made the playoffs. The farm system remains depleted, one of the worst in the game.

Klentak was ‘demoted’ in October 2020, and Dave Dombrowski was announced as the new President of Baseball Operations that December.

Phillies fans were quick to weigh in on the Klentak hiring, with mixed reactions that ranged from “whatever Klentak says, do the exact opposite,” to pointing out some of the better decisions the former GM made, including signing Zack Wheeler and trading for J.T. Realmuto.

Klentak’s front office certainly made a slew of bad decisions, including sticking with Vince Velasquez for as long as they did, signing Jake Arrieta, trading Nick Pivetta, and that only covers the starting rotation. Don’t even get me started on signing Scott Kingery to a massive deal before he’d ever played in a big-league game.

However, while there is a small avalanche of evidence to critique Klentak, it’s hard to judge the totality of his Phillies career while several of his decisions are still playing out. Bryce Harper is in the early years of a 13-year deal signed during Klentak’s tenure, but the first three seasons have been stellar, including an NL MVP year in 2021.

When Alec Bohm wasn’t included in the J.T. Realmuto trade and then finished his debut season as NL Rookie of the Year runner-up, Klentak looked savvy for keeping him. It didn’t feel as savvy when Bohm had a terrible sophomore slump in 2021. If he rebounds in 2022, vindication for Klentak once again.

The hiring and firing of Gabe Kapler is another complicated issue, for which many fans unfairly blame Klentak. The erstwhile GM wanted to keep Kap in 2019, but Phillies principal owner John Middleton overruled him and fired the skipper after only two seasons. Kapler won NL Manager of the Year in 2021, and his San Francisco Giants set a new franchise record by winning 107 regular-season games en route to taking the NL West from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The key failing during Klentak’s tenure was in the player development side. The Phillies made questionable draft picks like Mickey Moniak, inexplicably taken as the first overall pick in 2016, and seemed to be incapable of developing players from prospects to big-leaguers. As a result, they have essentially been forced to spend big on free agents every year, because they have so little in-house.

It’s also fair to discuss luck, and the fact that Klentak had so little of it during his time with the Phillies. When he tried to build a better bullpen in 2020, every move he made seemed to make the team worse. Some of that was poor decision-making, and some of it was terrible luck.

All this to say, Klentak’s tenure in Philadelphia was both not as bad as it seemed, and exactly as bad as it seems, maybe even worse, in retrospect. A lot of baseball is like that.

And of course, “special assistant” could be more of a total vanity title, it varies from organization to organization. Either way, good luck, Brewers.

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