The Philadelphia Phillies have announced that their general manager, Matt Klentak, will be stepping down after a disappointing 2020 season. The Phillies once again failed to make the playoffs, even with the expanded format this year. In fact, they lost more games than they won for the eighth straight season. So where did it go wrong for Matt Klentak?
Klentak took over as general manager in October 2015, after one of the worst seasons in franchise history. By 2015 the Phillies had already been a sub-standard team for a couple of years, and they were looking to Matt Klentak to lead a rebuild of the franchise. A couple of years ago the Phillies seemed to be coming to the end of their rebuild and the future looked bright. Since then, the farm system has weakened, and the Phillies have acquired several expensive veterans. The makeup of the current roster suggests the Phillies should be at the peak of their powers, but they still struggle to compete with the best teams in Baseball.
The Atlanta Braves were in a very similar position to the Phillies as they were coming out of their rebuild. Unlike the Phillies, the Braves have gone on to become one of the best teams in baseball. The different approach from the two teams illustrates what went wrong for the Phillies during the Matt Klentak era. The Braves currently have a Lineup and rotation centred around players that were acquired during the rebuilding years. Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna Jr., Mike Soroka and Max Fried have all proved that they are all good major league players. On top of this the Braves have other high potential prospects still coming through such as, Ian Anderson, Cristian Pache and Drew Waters.
In contrast to the Braves situation, the Phillies have had just two players come through their farm that have managed to consistently perform at a high level. The Phillies’ also do not have prospects with the same sort of upside as Anderson, Pache and Waters waiting in the wings.
Some of this divergence between the Braves and Phillies is down to luck with prospects developing. For example, the Phillies have been giving major league starts to Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin for a few years, with the hope that their electric stuff would convert into consistent pitching performances. Nick Pivetta was also given regular starts until he was traded this year. All three of these pitchers have struggled to be consistent and have been prone to bad starts that do not give their team a chance to win. Whilst Matt Klentak may lament his bad luck with cases such as these, most teams have prospects that don’t pan out as planned and it is the GM’s job to deal with it.
With some players Klentak perhaps showed too much patience. However, his biggest failing was a lack of patience. Once, the Phillies had decided that the rebuild was over they proceeded to tear down the farm system that had taken years to rebuild and started throwing out big contracts to veterans such as, Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen. This approach reduced the window in which the Phillies can expect to be competitive and lowered the ceiling on how good this Phillies team could be.
Whilst the Braves slowly brought their high-value prospects into the major league team, the Phillies traded them for veteran all-stars in an attempt to be competitive more quickly. Most notably, they traded J.P. Crawford for an ageing Jean Segura and traded Sixto Sanchez in the J.T. Realmuto deal. J.P. Crawford has yet to break out in the majors, but he was once a top 10 prospect in baseball and the Phillies’ top prospect. Sixto Sanchez has been considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball for a few years and is pitching for the Marlins’ in the playoffs in an impressive debut season.
These are the sort of prospects that the Phillies should have been building around but they also traded away many lesser prospects over the past few years. Any of these prospects may have one day become useful major league players for the Phillies. With a now depleted farm system the Phillies do not have much roster flexibility and it looks difficult for them to improve.
This should have been the beginning of a dominant Phillies team instead they are still yet to get close to a division title and they have been overtaken by the Marlins in the East. It is time for a new direction in Philly.