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After two years, how is Phillies GM Matt Klentak doing on the job?

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On Episode 158 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis talks to The Athletic’s Kevin Cooney about the job Matt Klentak has done his first two years in the big chair, and what his greatest challenge is to come.

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MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Now, this stuff gets real.

It’s not that Phillies general manager Matt Klentak hasn’t been doing anything the last two years. Taking over in the middle of a rebuild is no easy task, and important decisions had to be made in order to keep this rebuild on track.

Klentak’s mandate over the last two years was to avoid doing anything that would hurt the rebuild and limit the team’s roster flexibility. He was charged with trying to improve the team on the field with players who were only signed to one-year deals because he knew the prospects were coming.

That’s why the Phillies signed Michael Saunders. That’s why they traded for Howie Kendrick. That’s why they got Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

Some of these moves have worked out. Some have not. But Klentak has not been able to take off the reins off thus far. He has had a limited framework in which to work, and all in all, he’s done OK.

But now, it’s on. Klentak himself noted the Phillies have “turned a corner,” thanks to the impressive play by late-season call-ups Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro. The continued progression of Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr were extremely good signs, and the team has a bona fide top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher in Aaron Nola, as well as some interesting young bullpen pieces.

And while this may not be the off-season the Phils open the checkbook fully, Klentak will be able to sign some pitchers and make some trades beyond the limitations he was required to live under during his first two years in office. So can we trust his judgment.

Let’s take a look at the major moves he’s made in previous seasons.

His biggest move was the Ken Giles trade in which he acquired Vince Velasquez, Tom Eshelman, Mark Appel and Brett Oberholtzer. The deal was looking like a clear win for the Phillies after Velasquez’ 16-strikeout shutout in his second career game with the team, but his struggles since then have cast the wisdom of the trade in doubt. He made just 15 starts in 2017, threw just 72 innings, put up a 5.13 ERA and saw his K/9 fall from 10.44 to 8.50.

Appel went 5-4 in AAA in 17 starts, but he pitched just 82 innings and had a 5.27 ERA and a 5.42 FIP. And while Eshelman had a great season in the minors, 10-3 in 18 starts with a 2.23 ERA and a 3.20 FIP, he's mostly seen as a No. 5 starter in the Majors. Meanwhile, Giles appeared in 63 games, saved 34 of them, and had an ERA of 2.30 while striking out 11.92 K/9 this year.

It’s also not if, had he waited, whether Klentak could have gotten more for him by waiting until the summer. That was the trade deadline where Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Mark Melancon all got moved, and for big prices. Giles is not of the caliber of Chapman or Miller, but the demand seemed to be much higher then than it was four months before.

The deal doesn’t look too good right now, but if I was given the option of a do-over, I probably would do it again. If Velasquez can figure things out either as a starter or a reliever next season, the trade is at least a push, and even if Appel turns out to be a bust, Eshelman looks like he could provide some amount of MLB value, too.

Klentak also traded for Jeremy Hellickson and got one and a half seasons of good starting pitching out of him, then traded him to Baltimore this summer. It still probably would have been better to trade him last summer, but not knowing what offers Klentak fielded for him, it’s impossible to say.

The trades for Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz both backfired because of season-ending injuries suffered by both hurlers. Sometimes a GM runs into bad luck and that’s what happened here. Morton was throwing well before tearing his hamstring broke, and his outstanding performance in Houston this season could have happened in Philadelphia last year.

He signed a bunch of one-year, defense-first outfielders last year like Peter Bourjos, David Lough and Tyler Goeddel (Rule 5 pick), none of whom were with the team this year. But then again, they weren’t supposed to be. Some bullpen moves worked out (Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit were both flipped at the deadline for lottery ticket prospects), and some did not (hello Andrew Bailey!).

He traded for Howie Kendrick, who was very good when healthy, which wasn’t often, who he then flipped to Washington for a prospect. Daniel Nava was a nice signing and had a very productive season.

His biggest bust was free agent outfielder Michael Saunders, who was just awful, hitting .202/.256/.344 in 73 games before being DFA’d. Of course, the whole reason Klentak wanted Saunders over someone else (and likely, better) was because Saunders could be easily removed from the team when a minor league prospect like Williams was ready. Had he signed someone better to a two or three-year deal, we likely wouldn’t have seen as much of Williams this season.

So it’s impossible to say Klentak has done either a good or a bad job. Thus far, he’s fulfilled his mandate and has the team ready to take advantage of it’s wealth of prospects and hefty checkbook.

Now, the real job begins. On Episode 158 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis talks about this, as well as the latest on the Phillies’ managerial search, a radical plan for MLB realignment, and why postseason games are taking so long.

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