Phillies

The failed moves that cost Matt Klentak his job as Phillies GM

Phillies

Matt Klentak's dismissal as Phillies GM — phrasing be damned — was a result of too many decisions that failed, too many moves that proved ineffective or backfired.

Along the way, there were big signings like Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler and expensive trade acquisitions like J.T. Realmuto. There were a few shrewd, inexpensive additions like Jay Bruce or Corey Dickerson, but those moves were too few and too far between.

Under Klentak, the Phillies failed on multiple fronts. Key draft picks were misspent. Big money was paid to guys who didn't produce. Several coaching changes didn't work. At times, the rotation, bullpen and bench went ignored. Bad luck played a role, too, but every GM knows that's part of the job.

"Failure" is a strong word, but how else would you classify these last five years for the Phillies? They haven't been able to break their playoff drought, even as the field has expanded. They've gone from 25th to 10th to 6th in payroll the last three seasons without achieving a winning record.

Here are the most important moves that led to Klentak's ouster:

The Moniak pick

The Phillies had the first overall pick in 2016, Klentak's first draft as GM.

They went with high school outfielder Mickey Moniak, who was not the consensus top pick. There was no consensus top pick that year. The Phillies liked Moniak and also liked the fact that they could sign him underslot, freeing up more money to go overslot to sign their second- and third-round picks, pitcher Kevin Gowdy and shortstop Cole Stobbe.

 

Moniak is a career .256/.302/.390 hitter in the minors. He was called up this summer by the Phillies out of necessity, before he was quite ready, and went 3 for 14 with three singles, four walks, six strikeouts and a couple of misplays in left field.

Gowdy underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2017 and has made just 16 starts the last four years, all in 2019. He walked 51 batters in 77 innings and posted a 4.68 ERA in his return with Class A Lakewood. He turns 23 in November.

Stobbe has hit .222 with a .299 OBP and hasn't advanced past Class A.

So far, the first three rounds of that draft have been whiff, whiff, whiff.

Two picks after Moniak, high school pitcher Ian Anderson went to the Braves. He's already become a key part of their rotation. 

You cannot afford to miss when you have the first pick, no matter the circumstances.

"We just haven't produced the guys, we haven't produced the talent," Phillies managing partner John Middleton said Saturday night in relation to the Phils' struggles drafting and developing. "That's haunted us."

Not building a viable bullpen in 2020

The only reliever the Phillies signed to a guaranteed contract this past offseason was Tommy Hunter to a one-year, $850,000 deal.

The bullpen looked bad entering the season and it played out worse than anyone could have anticipated. Almost every reliever Klentak signed to a low-risk, minor-league deal (Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris, Anthony Swarzak, Drew Storen) was released before the season opened.

The trade to acquire Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from the Red Sox in late August backfired, as they were somehow even worse than what the Phillies had previously.

The Phillies' 2020 bullpen didn't have enough stuff. It didn't have enough experience. This should have been realized before another prime year of Harper, Aaron Nola and Realmuto was wasted.

Not finding meaningful rotation help at 2019 deadline

Jason Vargas and Drew Smyly don't count. The Phillies have collapsed in three straight Septembers, mostly because of a lack of pitching. 

A hesitance to exceed the luxury tax threshold played a large role in that but it doesn't make those collapses any easier to justify.

Arrieta's contract

The Phillies bit on a three-year, $75 million contract for Arrieta when it appeared his market dried up from initial six- or seven-year asks. In reality, the market was resetting across the board and Arrieta was one of the last pitchers who got paid strictly for past performance despite warning signs that were difficult to ignore. (The Diamondbacks are already paying the price for ignoring similar signs with Madison Bumgarner.)

Arrieta's contract hamstrung the Phillies these last two seasons in particular. Think of how many areas they could have upgraded for the $25 million AAV they paid Arrieta.

He had a losing record here with a 4.36 ERA that rose each season.

The inability to re-sign Realmuto

Whether this was a result of misreading the eventual free-agent market for Realmuto or just the bad luck of an unforeseen pandemic, the Phillies never wanted to get to this point. Middleton acknowledged that Saturday. He was on board with the Sixto Sanchez trade so long as Klentak found a way to extend Realmuto.

 

The Phillies are now in the unenviable position of needing to overpay or outbid huge spenders to keep their star catcher from leaving in free agency.

As many as three NL East teams could drive up the bidding for Realmuto this winter to put the Phillies in an even more difficult position.

Coaching decisions gone wrong

Chris Young was promoted to pitching coach and the experienced Rick Kranitz was fired from Gabe Kapler's staff after the 2018 season. Almost every Phillies pitcher was then worse in 2019 than he was in 2018, with only Ranger Suarez and Zach Eflin taking steps forward, Eflin because he veered away from the instructions he was given.

Meanwhile, Kranitz has been the pitching coach for the Braves, who have won the division two years in a row and overcome myriad starting pitching injuries.

Money misspent

Klentak gave Andrew McCutchen a three-year, $50 million contract a few days before Michael Brantley signed for two years and $32 million. Brantley has been the better player the last two years.

The Arrieta money was not well spent. The $60 million contract for Carlos Santana did not work out, even if it led to the acquisition of Jean Segura. 

Or how about the offseason before 2017, when $29 million was spent to acquire Clay Buchholz, Michael Saunders and Joaquin Benoit, all of whom lasted here no longer than half a season? That same offseason, Charlie Morton left the Phillies and signed a two-year deal that he vastly outperformed with the Astros.

All throughout Klentak's tenure, you wondered when he could find a diamond in the rough, uncover a player passed over by other teams. Middleton on Saturday defended Klentak's track record in free agency, but the good GMs find talent inexpensively, not just when the checkbook opens.