The Phillies have a lot of offseason work to do if they’re going to break the second-longest postseason drought in the majors next season.
The first bit of work is identifying who will administer the effort.
Eleven months ago, general manager Matt Klentak warmed his own seat when he proclaimed, “No questions, it’s time to win now.” The 2020 Phillies, despite a club-record payroll and a generous eight-team postseason field, did not do that. They finished four games under .500 and have not had a winning season in Klentak’s five years.
Klentak has succeeded in constructing the analytics department that ownership wanted, but he has not delivered on his inauguration promise to build an organization “through waves of pitching.”
So, will he be entrusted with reconstructing one of the worst bullpens in baseball history this winter?
Will he be entrusted with leading the effort to re-sign free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto?
Will he be entrusted with patching a hole at shortstop (Didi Gregorius is also a free agent) and generally strengthening a serious weakness up the middle with the potential departures of Realmuto and Gregorius and uncertainty at second base and in center field?
It’s unclear when we’ll know the answers to these questions. Klentak’s fate is in the hands of managing partner John Middleton and he’s a methodical, detail-driven decision-maker. Witness last October when he spent 10 days gathering information in a deliberation process that ultimately led to overruling Klentak and dismissing manager Gabe Kapler.
Major League Baseball discourages major announcements during its postseason, which begins Tuesday and runs for a month. That makes Monday — today — a big day. The Los Angeles Angels have already announced the firing of their GM, Billy Eppler, after five losing seasons.
Middleton was not available for comment Monday, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t working through this situation. He had previously made it clear that he wouldn’t be happy if this club didn’t make the playoffs and his Monday is likely being spent asking piercing questions.
Klentak declined to discuss his performance or future last week but indicated he would after the season. It’s not clear when that time will come. General managers usually hold an end-of-season news conference, but the uncertainty of Klentak’s status could impact the timing of that.
Klentak does have two more years remaining on his contract and that could work in his favor. Ownership is on record as saying that the Phillies will lose well over $100 million because of the pandemic this year. The club promised to keep all of its full-time employees through October, but buyout packages have been offered and layoffs are possible. Would the club be willing to let Klentak go, pay him for two years and add a new, high-salaried GM in these difficult economic times?
Only Middleton can answer these questions, and he must do that at some point soon because Klentak’s status, either way, is a major issue as the team embarks on a crucial offseason.
Two notable members of the Phillies organization were asked about Klentak’s future after Sunday’s demoralizing season finale in Florida.
“I’m not an owner,” Bryce Harper said. “I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions.”
Joe Girardi, finishing up his first season as manager, offered a little more.
“I love working with Matt,” Girardi said. “It has been a real pleasure working with him, so I look forward to working with him next year and this offseason trying to get this thing right. He’s working just as hard as the rest of us.”
Girardi, who lives in Florida in the offseason, planned to be in Philadelphia this week to go over the season and help build an offseason plan.
Who will execute that plan?