Are you kidding me?
That is the correct initial reaction to the news that the Phillies committed to unaccomplished general manager Matt Klentak through 2022 and to ineffectual president Andy MacPhail through 2021.
As meticulously detailed Wednesday morning on The Athletic website, and confirmed by a source, the Phillies erased their lame-duck seasons of 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Talk about “stupid money”, right?
Well, I guess it makes sense, actually.
This is the correct reflective reaction to the same news, upon rational reflection. If you’re going to rebuild, to which the Phillies committed when they dusted off MacPhail in 2015, you need stability. Phillies principal owner and managing partner John Middleton decided that MacPhail and Klentak had performed well enough and had the right plan going forward.
Besides, if Middleton hadn’t extended them, he’d have been admitting he was wrong when he coaxed MacPhail out of the mothballs he’d been reclining in for three years. He’d have been admitting that Klentak, 35 when he replaced Ruben Amaro Jr. in 2015, with scant experience in the trenches of negotiation and evaluation, wasn’t the Ivy League baseball genius Middleton had cast him to be.
Billionaires just hate to admit when they are wrong.
Timing made extensions inevitable: Anyway, timing made the extensions inevitable.
When the Phillies extended MacPhail after the 2017 season, they expected to make serious runs at big-name free agents such as Jake Arrieta, Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper; and, in their wildest dreams, they hoped somehow to coax the Angles to trade South Jersey native Mike Trout. They couldn’t very well pursue those big names without a steady hand on the rudder.
When the Phillies extended Klentak in March, they had landed Arrieta, in 2018; then, in 2019, they unsuccessfully pursued Machado and landed Harper. Yes, Middleton had to fly out and seal the deals. But their agent, Scott Boras, can be difficult and demanding, and it’s hard to imagine him negotiating $405 million worth of contracts solely with a 38-year-old, first-time GM and not involving the owner.
Recent moves: If you gagged on the news over breakfast Wednesday, that’s understandable. But your first reaction probably was rooted in recent bias.
In 2018, the Phillies signed Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract; signed Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million deal; and signed relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek to two-year deals worth $18 million and $16.25 million, respectively. The Phillies then held first place in the National League East as late as Aug. 11, but their veterans under-performed and the team staggered in August, and then lost 20 of its last 28 games.
This season, after trading Santana, the Phillies added outfielders Harper for $330 million over 13 years and Andrew McCutchen for $50 million over three years; added reliever David Robertson for $23 million over two years; and traded for shortstop Jean Segura and catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies then surged out of the blocks, stood 11 games over .500, and held first place by 3 1/2 games as of May 29.
Betrayed by their predictably poor starting rotation and crippled by injuries to Hunter, Neshek, and Robertson, they have since gone 16-24; stand three games over .500; trail the Braves by 8 1/2 games; and can’t seem to beat anyone except the Mets (which is a measure of consolation). They needed walk-off hits Sunday and Tuesday to cling to the second wild-card slot.
In the moment, it’s hard to watch Klentak’s club without holding your nose. So step back.
Phils not hopeless: The Phillies, who began to rebuild in 2015, hoped to rebuild as quickly as the Cubs and Astros, both four-year projects. In all likelihood, they won’t. That doesn’t mean they’re hopeless.
They control cornerstone slugger Rhys Hoskins, the most important player, and Aaron Nola, their No. 1 pitcher, and Segura, their infield foundation, through 2023. They control Scott Kingery, an elite second baseman who can play anywhere on the field, through 2026. Realmuto will face arbitration for a final time next year, but the Phillies will certainly lock up their only 2019 All-Star before it comes to that.
Granted, after three-plus seasons, Klentak’s farm system isn’t great. More concerning in the moment: Back-end starters Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez have failed to progress this season the way he’d gambled they would. His manager, Gabe Kapler, is in his second season and often seems to still be finding his way.
But Klentak has installed progressive initiatives in analytics, sports science, and system-wide nutrition — all Middleton mandates, all well-financed, and all in developmental stages.
Owner can fire them next year: Just like the team. Developmental.
“Matt Klentak is the general who engineered this,” Middleton gushed to 94.1-WIP in March, just before he rewarded him.
Should you be ecstatic that Middleton committed to this general? And this president? Not necessarily. But, really, he had little choice. So, they’re signed through 2022 and 2021. So what.
If they stink again, Middleton can always fire them next year.