It took mere minutes after the Philadelphia Phillies season-ending loss to the Tampa Bay Rays for the topic to turn to the future of general manager Matt Klentak.
Klentak was hired in October of 2015. He inherited an organization in a pretty bad spot, but the Phillies have now posted five consecutive non-winning seasons during his tenure. Perhaps more important is that 2020 was the third consecutive year that the Phillies collapsed in September, losing seven of their final eight games.
Following two straight September meltdowns, managing partner John Middleton said the difficult finishes were a major reason why he elected to fire Gabe Kapler as manager. It’s possible Klentak’s time leading the front office comes to a similar end in the coming days.
So what does Kapler’s successor, Joe Girardi, think about Klentak’s future after the conclusion of a 28-32 season that saw the Phillies miss the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season?
“I have loved working with Matt Klentak,” Girardi said Sunday evening. “I think we have an outstanding relationship, we talk about situations all the time – I have loved working with him.”
So if Middleton seeks out Girardi and asks him whether he wants to keep working with Klentak, he’ll say that he does?
“Yeah, and as I said, I’ve loved working with Matt and it’s been a real pleasure working with him. And I look forward to working with him next year and this offseason and trying to get this thing right.
“He’s working just as hard as the rest of us.”
Much will be made of Girardi talking about his relationship with Klentak in the past tense, but that wasn’t the intention of his comments. His comments should be taken as a public backing of Klentak. Now, he may say something differently behind closed doors. Klentak is a good guy, but maybe Girardi will tell Middleton that it makes sense to go in a different direction at the general manager position. Or maybe he’ll say exactly what he said publicly, and Middleton will decide a change needs to be made anyway. At the end of last season, J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper both voiced support for Kapler publicly, and Klentak did so even when the cameras weren’t rolling. The end result was still Kapler being dismissed.
Speaking of Harper, he spent much of his season-ending media availability talking about the importance of developing pitching from within and why the organization needs to re-sign J.T. Realmuto. He didn’t seem to have a strong opinion when asked about Klentak’s future.
“I mean, I’m not an owner, so I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions,” Harper said.
Jim Bowden of The Athletic wrote over the weekend that the expectation was that Klentak would be let go in early in the week if the Phillies missed the playoffs. Since publishing that report, the Phillies lost their final two games of the 2020 season, sending them home without a trip to the postseason.
Last week, Klentak was evasive when asked about his future.
“I think that right now, our focus is on the next seven games, and if we take care of business in the next seven games, I think then we can start looking forward to what will hopefully be an exciting October,” Klentak said. “After the season is over, we can look back and kind of go through the post-mortem.”
Well, the time for the Phillies to do a post-mortem has come. Whether Klentak will be a part of it or not remains to be seen.
If the Phillies do plan to make a change at general manager, they seemingly don’t have time to take over 10 days to come to that conclusion, as they did with Kapler last offseason. The Los Angeles Angels fired general manager Billy Eppler today, meaning there is already competition for the top potential candidates. Additionally, whoever the next general manager will be (if a change is made) needs to quickly formulate a plan for how to proceed with two major free agents – J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius – and how to rebuild one of the worst bullpens in MLB history.
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