Matt Klentak is no longer the team’s general manager, but has also been moved to somewhere else in the organization. We are not made privy to exactly where yet, but it doesn’t really matter. The deed is done and the team is now looking for a new person to help guide the team back towards the playoffs.
On Saturday, John Middleton stepped in front of a camera and tried to explain himself and decisions that went into Klentak stepping down. In doing so, Middleton left many people with a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to the hopes that the team has the right people leading the organization.
The biggest move of all, the one that has the potential to damage the team both on the field and at the box office has to do with J.T. Realmuto. During his press conference, Middleton answered some questions from the media, but with the team staring down the barrel of one of the major decisions that will shape the free agent market, he left people wondering if the ability to sign Realmuto is even there.
John Middleton says the organization expects J.T. Realmuto to reach free agency. He says it "of course" is a priority to retain him, but also says uncertainty about fans and revenues makes it unclear how much they'll be able to spend.— Tim Kelly (@TimKellySports) October 3, 2020
It should not come as much of a surprise that Middleton, while not throwing cold water on the mere idea of re-signing Realmuto per se, certainly seems to be turning the faucet a little more towards the blue than before. After all, this is a team that, like many other teams in MLB, is about to let go lots of employees due to the lack of revenue in 2020 thanks to the pandemic not allowing fans to go through the turnstiles. The bigger issue is that you can already feel the team crying poor while simultaneously shaking hands with cable networks over multi-billion dollar television deals. It isn’t exactly the best look for owners and Middleton will likely have to face the wrath of fans and players alike when it comes to answering questions why he cannot afford a great player in his prime. We don’t know how that money is distributed to teams, how it is spent on the team, etc., but with an owner as concerned with the optics of his moves (see: autographs with the Phandemic Crew), this certainly is a bad look.
Now, running that idea back a bit, it certainly seems likely that at the time trading Sixto Sanchez, new Marlins ace, for Realmuto, Middleton had to be talked into the deal.
John Middleton looks back on #Phillies trade of minor leaguer at the time, P Sixto Sanchez for Catcher JT Realmuto. Doesn’t like way it turned out and know now JT will enter free agency. @SportsRadioWIP pic.twitter.com/kakH5hDtiw— Howard Eskin (@howardeskin) October 3, 2020
As rough as that sounds, it’s also somewhat reassuring that the owner, even despite his own attitude towards the trade, allowed the people he hired to do the job they were hired for. He said as much, noted by Matt Gelb in his piece about this situation on Sunday:
“One of the problems I have — I think most owners have — is we’re not baseball people...We’re not scouts for three or four years. We don’t then go into the farm system for three or four years because that’s really the way you learn a business. That’s the way I learned the businesses that I ran. I started working in our factory when I was 16 years old. I was a salesman for a period of time. That’s how you have to learn...So I tend to listen to the ‘baseball people.’ You let them guide you because that’s what you pay them for.”
A lot of times, people get upset at meddling owners, preferring them to stay in their boxes and sign the checks. Right across the street, Jeffrey Lurie is praised constantly for being the anti-Jerry Jones, hiring people and letting them work (current roster construction notwithstanding). So, in a sense, it is nice that Middleton allowed Klentak to work, but as we see the trade get closer and closer to becoming a disaster, moves have been made and people have been held accountable with their jobs. That’s the job of the owner after all.
But it’s possible that the team will have to expand the front office shuffle if they want to hire someone who can come in and make a real impact. Again, from Gelb:
In this case, by offering a president of baseball operations title, the Phillies could reach those hypothetical candidates.
That person would not replace MacPhail, at least not initially, but Middleton hinted that these kinds of conversations were happening.
“He and I have been talking for two years, since he signed his extension, about what the world looks like when he steps down,” Middleton said. “We’re not sure when he’s going to do that. It’s a conversation we’ve had multiple times, and we’re talking about it even now.”
So if the team wants to swoop in a poach an executive who is highly regarded in baseball circles, they’ll have to offer up the job that Andy MacPhail currently holds. So why then does he remain? Why is he going to be allowed to head up the group that starts the search?
For now, Middleton said MacPhail will be involved in the search process. So, too, could Pat Gillick and Terry Ryan. Ryan, the former Twins GM, has served as a Phillies scout for the past few seasons. Gillick, the 83-year-old Hall of Famer, is not a candidate to fill any position — even in the interim — Middleton said. Two hires, with MacPhail transitioning to retirement, is not the only possible scenario. The Phillies could hire one person, a traditional GM, then revisit the team president position after 2021 when MacPhail retires.
On the surface, again, it’s understandable. You have a president of baseball operations that is under contract, hasn’t been fired, so you’d assume he will be involved in selecting the next general manager. Yet Andy MacPhail has been as “hands off” as a president could be these past few years, earning a contract extension for God knows what reason and is now going to pick the next general manager.
The wisest move by Middleton would have been to just write the check and start fresh, looking for a president and/or general manager. As Gelb wisely states, the team needs to be able to attract the best and brightest in the game and without that president of baseball operations title to dangle right away, they’re putting themselves at risk to miss out on a potential top name. Remember, the Mets up north just got themselves a new owner and we still aren’t sure if they’re going to be looking at hiring someone themselves.
Instead, it feels like slightly concerning that Middleton is beginning to inject himself more and more into the baseball team. Owners of course have the final say in who is hired to run his/her franchise, but seeing the Phillies’ owner becoming more and more vocal about more specific moves like trading for Realmuto is a little concerning.
The team is making a critical decision with the general manager’s spot. Whether or not Ned Rice keeps it or the team looks for someone from the outside, it’s important that they nail this one. But the concerns remain with who is running the ship. MacPhail has instilled almost no confidence in the people that watch the team and Middleton’s goodwill that he earned when he signed off on Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler is almost evaporated. Until it’s proven they made the right moves, the concerns will remain in place.