Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak acknowledged Monday that the team only interviewed three candidates for their managerial vacancy before ultimately hiring Joe Girardi. While he didn’t say who the other two candidates were, they’ve been widely reported to be Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter.
When asked at Girardi’s introductory press conference why the Phillies only interviewed candidates with extensive managerial experience in this search, Klentak began by discussing Pete Mackanin, the manager he inherited when he was named general manager in October of 2015.
“The best way I can answer that is to kind of trace back a few years. And I think sometimes where you are as an organization will dictate the type of leadership that you want. I’ve said this at different press conferences along the way, first about Pete Mackanin. Going through the early stages of a rebuild, when we knew things were going to be very lean…we needed time to grow our farm system and let some expiring contracts roll off. We really placed a strong emphasis on leadership, accountability, on just maintaining that presence and that professionalism throughout. And Pete and his staff were excellent at that. We knew that we weren’t going to win that many games in those years, but it was really good to bring his perspective and his experiences to that group.”
Despite extending Mackanin in May of 2017, the organization ultimately didn’t bring him back for the 2018 season. Part of the reasoning behind that decision, per Klentak, was the success of younger players at the major league level, including Rhys Hoskins.
“All the while – in those first couple years of the rebuild – we were doing a lot of work behind the scenes to grow this organization forward. We had a long way to go, which many in this room will now. When that young group of players at the end of 2017 – Rhys [Hoskins] being one of them – came up, and started to show flashes that this team was ready to compete and grow at the major league level, that’s when we thought it was time to make that push at the big league level. And that’s when we opted to go with Kap, who was a first-time manager, as you know, to really help us push and catch up and make ground at the major league level. And I think we did.”
After deliberating for over 10 days, managing partner John Middleton elected to fire Gabe Kapler after two seasons at the helm. The Phillies went 161-163 over those two seasons, notably struggling in September, when they went a combined 20-36 between 2018 and 2019.
It’s one of the worst-kept secrets in the sport that Klentak, who led the search that ended with the Phillies hiring Kapler, would have preferred for his hand-picked manager to get a third season. Ultimately, he was overruled.
Still, while there may have been some internal disagreement about how to proceed with Kapler, there generally appears to have been agreement about the direction the Phillies would go in after the change was made. Perhaps Middleton pushed for the Phillies to hire a manager with prior experience, but Klentak did lead the search and Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer says that he ultimately agreed that Girardi was the best candidate interviewed.
Klentak, who is signed through 2022, didn’t mince words Monday when discussing the Phillies goals for the 2020 season moving forward. Perhaps he put a bulls-eye on himself, but ultimately, all the pressure has shifted to him. If the Phillies are holding a press conference again in the coming years to announced organizational changes, he’s likely to be among said changes. And that desire – and need – to win now culminated in Girardi being hired as the 55th manager in franchise history.
“I think now that our team is where it is and we added through free-agency or through players coming through our system…we’ve reached a place where it is time to win…no questions asked, it is time to win right now…that lends itself to bringing in a guy who has done that…who has won in the toughest of markets…with the pressures…and has hoisted that World Series trophy over his head.”
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