Klentak proves himself patient and tough in Arrieta courtship

Scott Boras is used to getting his way with baseball’s teams and general managers.

But in a few weeks time, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak may have signaled the beginning of the end for Boras, and in the process, acquired an essential piece of the puzzle for the rebuilding of the Phillies in signing Jake Arrieta, considered to be the prize of this offseason’s free agent class.

Klentak played Boras like a fiddle through the last few weeks of the Phillies’ courtship of Arrieta. How did it happen?

Here’s what we know:

Matt Klentak is smart. (So is Boras.)

Matt Klentak is now going into his third season with the Phillies, practically making him a veteran general manager.

Matt Klentak has worked in three other front offices, giving him natural ties around the league.

Matt Klentak is going to do things his way with the blessing of the franchise. It’s not always going to be the conventional way.

The Phillies’ need for at least one more experienced starting pitcher was so glaring and borderline irresponsible, there was no way the Phillies could have gone into the season without significantly upgrading.

Now, knowing all of these things, I’m saying Klentak knew everything that was going to happen this offseason. He knew the free agent market would be cold as ice, he knew it would be so bad there would be talk of collusion, and he knew there would be some unemployed stars come March. He likely talked to enough general managers to have heard, “My owner isn’t letting me go past three years, those days are over” or “We’re not soaring above the luxury tax” dozens of times. Then he saw it actually happening.

He also heard Scott Boras talking tough with contract demands of seven or eight years for his star clients, including Arrieta. And because Boras put it out there, Klentak knew the super agent would go down to his dying breath waiting for the flimsiest, most needy team to cave until he had absolutely no card left to play.

Those teams never came around.

And once that happened, he knew Boras would have to come back to the teams that had any bit of interest to sit down and actually make good deals that made sense for the team. Boras wildly struck out in his representation of Mike Moustakas. He got lucky with Arrieta, but not by much.

Klentak waited. And waited. And in a stark contrast to his predecessor Ruben Amaro Jr., he decided to let the market come to him rather than setting it.

Boras probably dropped his initial seven-year demands to five. Then four. At which point, you can just see Klentak saying, “Ummmm, yeahhhhh. We’ll get back to you, Scott. (Faking covering his hand over his phone, so that Boras can accidentally hear) ‘Hey! Where did we put Alex Cobb’s number?'” It was a classic slow play that would have Phil Hellmuth jealous.

It paid off by only giving three guaranteed years to Arrieta for an affordable (by Phillies standards) $75 million. Options could take the contract to five years, but three is all that is guaranteed. It makes the Phillies instantly three or four wins better than they were Saturday, which puts them on the cusp of wild card contention. Make no mistake, it doesn’t make them a favorite, and it doesn’t make them bona fide contenders. There are too many holes in a lineup that is one of the youngest and inexperienced in baseball, and the starting rotation still has more question marks than answers. And no matter how much money they gave him, or how much money Boras thought he was worth, Arrieta’s body of work points to a pitcher in decline who by the end of those three guaranteed years may look closer to a fourth starter on a decent rotation than the Cy Young winner from 2015.

But in one signing, Klentak proved the Phillies will be players in the coming years in free agency. Better yet, he proved he’s going to do it on his terms. If the wild and mostly fruitless spending spree of the last 25 years in baseball is truly over, then Klentak has become one of the first GMs to announce to the world his spending intentions will truly be on his terms.

Klentak stood toe-to-toe with the biggest agent baseball has ever seen. And he won. He got the star starting pitcher the team needed for an affordable price. Of any move Klentak has made so far, this may be the one the reverberates the loudest and has the most long-lasting effects on his tenure.



  1. czontixhldr

    March 14, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    Nice writeup. I’m not sure that Klentak “knew” what was going to happen, but he sure as heck reacted to the initial market signals far more wisely and prudently than did Boras.

    As you noted, Boras attempted his same old game of waiting for teams to come to him, or, going around the GM to the owner. Fortunately for Klentak, Middleton was having no part of that and even made a public proclamation that money wasn’t an issue, but that the team was not going to do anything stupid – like signing a guy to a long term deal that made no sense. Kudos to Middleton for his proper support of Klentak.

  2. Vernon Dozier

    March 15, 2018 at 6:20 am

    I agree, in many ways Klentak navigated this market with the opposite approach of our old friend Ruben Amaro Jr.


    • Michael Sadowski

      March 15, 2018 at 8:32 am

      I know there were other more common nicknames for Rube, but mine for him was always, “Set the Market Amaro.” Of all his transgressions, this trait may have been his worst.

  3. Vernon Dozier

    March 15, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    A nice timeline of how everything came together: https://theathletic.com/273467/2018/03/15/an-oral-history-of-how-phillies-jake-arrieta-landed-in-philadelphia/

    Dave Hollins had a small role in starting the ball rolling.

    • Ken Bland

      March 16, 2018 at 1:10 pm

      Perhaps all others opened the link, and accessed the piece via subscription, but in case you weren’t aware, Vernon, you need a subscription to The Athletic to access the article. Tip of the cap on the intention.

      • Vernon Dozier

        March 16, 2018 at 2:43 pm

        I should have pointed that out, yes. I think they offer a one week free trial somewhere. I subscribed for $36 over 12 months, and it’s the best .70 cents a week I’ve ever spent. The coverage they provide is phenomenal…the best I’ve seen.

  4. Jeff Orbach

    March 16, 2018 at 9:56 am

    It was nice to see a Phillies GM not bidding against himself , like Rube did on so many occasions. The Papelbon signing being one.

    • Ken Bland

      March 16, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      Raul was another, and not that twice doesn’t start to warrant a reputation, but was there anyone else?

      Conversely, he didn’t go ahead of the field when Cliff came here as a free agent after leaving SEA.

      Klentak may have jumped ahead of the field on the Santana deal a la what Rube’s getting criticized for, but in the instance of Paps and Raul, those are excellent examples of Rube stepping away head of the field to set the market, and it’s hardly like he’s the only exec who has done that, both before, during and after his Philly tenure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Phillies Nation has been bringing Phillies fans together since 2004 with non-stop news, analysis, trade rumors, trips, t-shirts, and other fun stuff!

Browse the Archives

Browse by Category

Copyright Phillies Nation, LLC 2004-2018
Not Affiliated with Major League Baseball or the Philadelphia Phillies

To Top