Despite Reports, Only One Phillies Voice Matters on GM’s Fate
On Monday, respected Philadelphia Inquirer writer Bob Brookover Tweeted something that got the attention of Phillies fans. "A team source said he does not think the Phillies will fire GM Matt Klentak", Brookover wrote. However, is what one team source "thinks" an indication of what will happen? At the end of the day there is one "team source" that is going to matter: CEO John Middleton. And we saw last season that Middleton is willing to act on his own.
One year ago, the Phillies finished the season 81-81, and missed the playoffs for the eighth straight season. After a week of waiting, Middleton stepped in and made a decision over the heads of the baseball operations folks: he dismissed manager Gabe Kapler. The outcry from the fans for 2020's 28-32 final result is likely to elicit another response from the CEO. The 2020 baseball season reportedly was going to create a $100 million-plus loss for the Philadelphia Phillies, and not making the expanded playoffs kept the Phillies from adding additional revenue. The Brookover report not withstanding, the baseball losses and financial losses seem to make it likely the Phillies would make a change.
Last season, Middleton described why he stepped in and made a decision over the heads of the baseball operations people:
"A CEO's responsibility is to ensure an organization achieves its strategic objectives, and everything I do every day is working toward that end."
It is fair to say that 2020's result was not that end.
According to Associated Press and many other sources, the Phillies front office wanted to keep Kapler, and there was "resistance" in the decision to make that move. But with a new, experienced manager in town in Joe Girardi, the true story would be told: is the problem the manager or is it bigger, such as roster construction? We can focus on the lack of a bullpen, which was near negligence on the part of baseball operations.
But more than just simply missing the playoffs in 2020 is the bigger picture. The Phillies began their roster teardown in 2015 under Ruben Amaro, Jr. Once Andy MacPhail stepped in, Amaro was gone and the organizational reconstruction began. That meant the hiring of Matt Klentak as general manager. That meant further rebuilding moves, such as trading Ken Giles for Vince Velasquez and others. That meant accepting losing for years, something not desired by Philadelphia fans.
Then finally came what was supposed to be contention. The Phillies traded top prospect Sixto Sanchez for the best catcher in the game in J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies spent $330 million to bring in Bryce Harper. As with any long-term deal, the Phillies knew that the best years of deals such as that one are in the beginning. The payroll reached and likely exceeded the Competitive Balance Tax threshold in 2020.
What do the Phillies have to show for it?
Fans have been calling for Klentak and MacPhail to be fired in recent days. They recognize that the rebuild they endured has not led the team anywhere. With five and a half years and $214 million of payroll in 2020 (later prorated), it is not an unreasonable expectation for the CEO to have the expectation that the Phillies make the 2020 expanded playoffs. Even if the Phillies made the playoffs and faced the juggernaut Dodgers, a first round exit likely was not enough for fans.
Middleton said in that same Associated Press piece that he does take the perspective of fans into account when making decisions:
"You have to know where your customers are and take their views into account," he said. "When I walked around the stadium and walked around the streets of Philadelphia and people come up to me, there were almost, if not as many people, in favor of keeping Gabe as there were telling me to make the decision I ultimately made. It wasn't as clear-cut as some people think it was."
In 2020, one is not likely to find supporters of Klentak and MacPhail like there were of Kapler in 2019.
From an outsider's perspective, it seems clear: Lost seasons and lost revenue are not something that can easily be overcome. Can this same set of eyes correctly evaluate the Phillies and send them to the playoffs in 2021? If they have not by now, I am not sure they will. Perhaps it is time for someone like Pat Gillick to come in and spend a few seasons righting the ship.
I say someone "like" Gillick as he himself is retired and unlikely to work in such a capacity again. But a seasoned baseball executive who found success with multiple franchises could be in order. Phillies writer Kevin Cooney was the first I saw to suggest the name Dave Dombrowski.
Dombrowski found his first success with the Montreal Expos constructing the ill-fated 1994 team before putting together the 1997 World Champion Marlins. Dombroski was with the Detroit Tigers and then joined the Boston Red Sox, putting together the 2018 World Champion team.
Despite all that experience, Dombrowski is just 64 years old. He has some more baseball life in him. In fact, there are already made rumblings about Dombrowski in relation to the Los Angeles Angels, who fired general manager Billy Eppler yesterday.
While I believe Brookover's report is true - that some in the Phillies organization believe Klentak will stay - there's only one voice that matters in the equation, and that is of John Middleton. At the end of the day, is he okay with the baseball losses and financial losses? Would 2021 bring more of the same? That is for Middleton to figure out. Surely it is on his mind.
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