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Free agents? Trades? One thing is certain: Phillies GM Matt Klentak is on the hot seat



Perhaps Matt Klentak should be making decisions as if his job depends on it. After all, shouldn’t his job depend on those decisions?

Major League Baseball’s off-season “Hot Stove” began to heat up in front offices all across the game this past weekend. Dozens of players became free agents eligible to negotiate with all 30 clubs at that point.

Over three days beginning today in Carlsbad, California the MLB general managers are meeting. While most of the work they undertake will be of the procedural type not directly involving player movement, the groundwork for future deals can certainly take place here.

The Phillies and their fans need look no further than their last World Series champions for proof that important deals can actually get done at the MLB General Manager meetings.

It was 11 years ago tomorrow, on November 7, 2007 at these very same meetings that Phillies GM Pat Gillick swung a deal with Houston Astros GM Ed Wade. Gillick obtained closer Brad Lidge and infielder Eric Bruntlett in that trade in exchange for pitcher Geoff Geary and a pair of prospects, outfielder Michael Bourn and infielder Mike Costanzo.

Flash-forward just over a decade later, and it’s general manager Matt Klentak who will be attempting to either swing such a deal or lay the groundwork for one that he hopes will prove just as beneficial for today’s version of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Klentak is clearly on the hot seat this off-season. If not with Phillies ownership, then certainly with the club’s fan base. Since being hired to the position in October 2015, his moves have proven to be a mixed bag to this point.

“I’m not going to make decisions because of what they mean to me for my job security”

~ Matt Klentak, September 2018

To be fair, the team that he inherited was a disaster. Three straight losing seasons, each worse than the last, had left the Phillies as the worst team in baseball when he arrived.

However, it is arguable as to how much the situation has actually improved on his watch. While the Phillies reached the 80-wins plateau for the first time in a half-dozen years this past season, it was a sixth consecutive losing campaign, the third in a row under Klentak.

It would be difficult to take an objective look at the Phillies anticipated regulars for the 2019 season at this point and find any homegrown position player who looks to have their lineup spot secured for years to come.

Rhys Hoskins, drafted under the regime of previous GM Ruben Amaro, should have such a claim to the first base position. However, Klentak went out and spent $60 million unwise dollars on an aging Carlos Santana last December, presumably relegating Hoskins to an out-of-position role in left field for the foreseeable future.

Carlos Santana was signed to a three-year deal last offseason. (Photo by Arturo Pardavila III)

Klentak made what seemed an astute move back during spring training of 2018, signing the club’s top prospect Scott Kingery to a team-friendly six-year contract with three additional club-option years.

Kingery, another Amaro draftee and a minor league Gold Glove second baseman, was then switched to shortstop at the big-league level. It was a position where he had played just two games over three minor league seasons, and he struggled mightily both at the plate and in the field.

Klentak also handed a $30 million contract guaranteed over five years to Odubel Herrera, a player whose baseball brain betrays him far too regularly, and whose play has steadily deteriorated since signing the deal.

I applauded when Klentak signed free agent pitcher Jake Arrieta in spring training. The club clearly needed a reliable, proven, veteran winner.

But the right-hander’s performance during his age 32 season was uneven at best. His 6.35 ERA and .867 OPS-against over his final nine starts beginning in early August certainly helped contribute to the team’s collapse.

In the 21 trades which he has made to date, Klentak has not acquired a single player who can be considered an impact piece going forward. Only Vince Velasquez, obtained as the lead piece in the trade of Ken Giles to Houston, still has any such hope.

Heading towards the 2018 MLB non-waiver trade deadline, Klentak had a surprising first place team. He had the chance to add impact shortstop Manny Machado, though it certainly would have cost him something of real value.

Trade deadline acquisitions such as Asdrubal Cabrera did nothing to help, and may have actually hurt the Phillies chances in the end. (Arturo Pardavila III/Wikimedia Commons)

Instead, Klentak went the cheap route. He brought in a handful of players at a variety of positions who simply failed. Wilson Ramos. Asdrubal Cabrera. Aaron Loup. Justin Bour. Luis Avilan. Jose Bautista.

None made an impact as the team began to free-fall out of first place, out of a playoff spot, out of second place, and ultimately out of any shot at a winning record. And now, all but Bour are gone as free agents, and he will soon be a tough arbitration decision.

It is still too early to tell how his draft record will play out. The three picks in the first round which Klentak has made during his first three drafts are now the club’s top three position player prospects.

Will any ever pan out, how much impact will they have, and how soon will they arrive? Anyone’s guess regarding Mickey Moniak (2016), Adam Haseley (2017), or Alec Bohm (2018) who were taken first, eighth, and third overall in their respective MLB Drafts.

Right now, at this point in their development, the Phillies should be coming off the first full big-league seasons for Hoskins at first base and Kingery at second base. They have Kingery signed long-term, and they should have been looking to do the same with Hoskins.

Instead they have the Santana contract and lineup albatross hung around their necks. All that Klentak’s decisions over this past year have done is hinder or confuse the development of what should be three-quarters of his infield going forward: Hoskins, Kingery, and Maikel Franco.

It has been just over three years now since Klentak was hired. I am a realist. I know just how bad it was when he arrived. He took over a mess, so he deserves more time to continue trying to build it back to consistent contending status.

But the clock is running. Phillies fans have waited through those six losing years. Klentak has not done a single thing to this point to elicit their confidence. His statements so far this off-season, and those of club president Andy MacPhail, have done nothing to excite them.

Klentak is on the hot seat during this “Hot Stove” season. If he isn’t with controlling owner John Middleton, then you have to question the owner’s judgement as well. It is time for this entire Phillies management group to come through big.

I’m not going to make decisions because of what they mean to me for my job security,” Klentak said as the 2018 season wound to a close per Jim Salisbury at NBC Sports Philadelphia. “That’s not my job. My job is to make decisions for the good of the Philadelphia Phillies’ short- and long-term health. And that’s what we’re going to do.

Perhaps he should be making decisions as if his job depends on them. In fact, his job should depend on those decisions. If management fails this off-season, and if 2019 is another losing year, they will continue to lose the interest and the disposable dollars of large chunks of what was a passionate, park-filling fan base just a little more than a half-decade ago.

 

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Andrew R.

    November 6, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    You really delegitimize your knowledge of baseball every time you bash the carlos Santana signing. As soon I see that, I dont even finish the article. I should just know not to read any article you publish at this point. Where would the team be without Santana? Williams and altherr all year in the outfield corners? Wow. There wouldn’t be 80 wins on the ledger for sure with that alignment.

    • Matthew Veasey

      November 6, 2018 at 6:11 pm

      Thanks for sharing your opinion – and the idea that I “delegitimize” my knowledge is indeed just that, and only that – your opinion. The Santana signing was, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, a disaster. Where would the Phillies be without Santana? They would have their future 1B, Hoskins, playing much more comfortably at the only position he can do a half-decent job at defensively. They would have $20 million more to spend in each of the next two seasons. And whether they win 80 games or the 69.2 they averaged over the prior five years means little in the end. The club finished in third place this year, and only avoided fourth because the Mets suffered major injuries. Given another couple weeks, they would likely have fallen past New York as well. If you “should know not to read any article” that I publish at this point, then you should listen to that instinct.

      • Andrew R.

        November 6, 2018 at 9:46 pm

        That’s funny, because how were we going to sell any free agent that we were poised to contend with 69.2 wins? Who would take us seriously? And I find it funny that you are so concerned about the alleged $20M we can or cannot spend for the next two years. Worrying about Middleton’s wallet? How nice of you. I’m sure he appreciates that. For years, all I’ve heard about is how Middleton wants to win, and “#bebold.” But now, the Phillies are going to be constrained due to finances? Gimme a break. If that’s the case, than Middleton is full of shit. And by calling Hoskins a “half decent” first baseman is kind of funny. He goes from horrible outfielder to below-average first baseman based on defensive metrics which may not be entirely accurate. So I take them with a grain of salt.

        I’m not a fan of Hoskins in left field. But using that as the basis of your argument as to why Santana being signed was a failure is just wrong.

    • schmenkman

      November 6, 2018 at 9:38 pm

      Yep, I don’t get the Santana bashing either.

      They came into the season with a lot of question marks in the OF (Williams’ and Altherr’s bat, Quinn’s and Altherr’s health), and had seen that Hoskins could play LF passably.

      That allowed them to leave Hoskins in LF and add another proven hitter in Santana.

      He did a bit worse than his usual, but was a good addition to the lineup and the clubhouse, and an asset to the team.

      Now if they sign Harper or another outfielder and can move Hoskins to first, it makes sense to try to trade Santana.

      • Andrew R.

        November 6, 2018 at 9:49 pm

        Right. Hoskins looked passable. According to advanced metrics, he was putrid. But the only way of knowing of that was to have him go out there and try it for a full season. Santana added much-needed legitimacy to this team.

        What Veasey forgets, is that last November, Macphail came out and said there will be few free agent signings and that a lot of money will be directed towards ballpark amenities. And then, Neshek, Hunter, Santana, and Arrieta were all signed. Our front office makes it so obvious to trust them to do the exact opposite of what they say.

  2. Craig Glessner

    November 7, 2018 at 10:24 am

    You guys are right that Santana signing was amazing. He not only made the team worse defensively but offensively as well. But hey at least we didn’t pay him too much. So now it is OK by your standards to trade him well guess what nobody is going to take on that contract for 2 years. Quit saying he was a proven hitter his lifetime average is 247 and he isn’t getting any younger why do you think the Indians just let him go. If Andrew isn’t worried about$20 million he can call Middleton and tell him to just release Santana. You can pull up whatever fancy numbers you want he hit 229 last year MLB has always had one real measure of how well a hitter is doing and batting averages don’t lie.

    • schmenkman

      November 7, 2018 at 11:24 am

      No need for the sarcastic tone.

      Batting averages don’t lie (no stat “lies”), but what they say about a hitter is woefully incomplete.

      • schmenkman

        November 7, 2018 at 11:40 am

        To elaborate, this is really baffling to me.

        We’re all fans, we all know that not all hits are the same, and that some hits are better than others for scoring runs.

        Also, we all know how walks can hurt. We’ve seen our pitchers walk a guy who eventually scores the winning run.

        So then, why do some fans cling to the idea that ignoring all of that, and focusing only on batting average, is a smart way to measure a player’s contributions in generating offense?

        Again — just baffling.

        • Andrew R.

          November 7, 2018 at 10:16 pm

          A hitter’s objective is to not make outs. Santana was one of the best on the team in not making outs. And nobody said the signing was amazing. I’m just saying it wasn’t a failure for all the reasons I mentioned above. And I love it when fans think that there is some kind of hard salary cap on a team. Ask the Red Sox if going over it by $40M was worth it this year.

  3. Steve Bosell

    November 7, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    I wouldn’t be in a hurry to sign Hoskins to an extension. He tanked over the last two months in addition to disappearing in May. There’s no harm in waiting another year or two. I don’t see any skills so far that make him a guy to build around.

  4. Ryan M

    November 7, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    Anyone that has commented in the article, tell me if you would have any confidence in Santana getting a base hit runners in scoring position during a game. The guy has the longest swing I have ever seen and made numerous mental errors at first that cost games. Klentak signed this guy too also be one of the leaders of the ball club; you can tell by his mental errors (not knowing how many outs in the inning or not running out a ball) that this again was another terrible signing by Klentak. This team needs professional hitters, guys that have an approach up at the plate. The biggest issue is the management and staff of the organization.

    • schmenkman

      November 8, 2018 at 11:41 am

      His approach is exactly why he was signed.

      There are obviously two things you need to score runs: 1) get on base, and 2) move them over/driven them in.

      1) get on base — even Santana’s harshest critics would concede he does this well: .363 career OBP, .352 in 2018

      2) move them over/driven them in — some fans see all the walks and think he doesn’t put the ball in play, which isn’t true since he strikes out relatively little.

      He was 6th in the NL this year in productive outs, and he was #1 in the NL in scoring runners from 3B with less than 2 out.

      As to your specific question, he only hit .229 with RISP, but he had an .847 OPS. In the end though, if the objective is to score runs, he delivered:

      Out of 32 hitters who came up with RISP at least 60 times in the cleanup spot, Santana was 11th out of 32 in his average number of RBIs per plate appearance.

      In any case, maybe cleanup isn’t the best spot for him, but that’s not his decision.

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