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October 26, 2015

Phillies introduce new general manager Matt Klentak

Phillies president Andy MacPhail knows the assumption from the outside will be that he simply hired “his guy.” In fact, so does the club’s new general manager and vice president.

Matt Klentak received the all-important call on Friday morning, after interviewing in Philadelphia the previous day. And if you listen to the baby-faced 35-year-old who previously worked under MacPhail for four years in Baltimore, the final outcome felt like far from a sure thing. 

“My jaw dropped,” Klentak said. “It’s funny, [in regard to] the question earlier about Andy and whether this was a foregone conclusion: Trust me, I didn’t feel that way at all. When I got the call, I had no idea which way that call was going to go. It was surreal.”

Klentak comes to the Phillies with the experience of working in front offices that presided over drastically different situations. With MacPhail and the Orioles, he was part of a full-scale rebuild not unlike what the Phillies are going through now. The result, which neither MacPhail or Klentak stuck around to enjoy, was the most wins in the American League over the past four years.

“I think if we do our jobs right, we will turn this into a winner and it's going to be fun for a long time,” Klentak said.

“We were disciplined in Baltimore,” Klentak said. “We lost a lot of games, but we did that the right way and there was a goal. There was a target. Unfortunately, it occurred a year after we left, but it worked.”

Then, as an assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Angels from 2011 until today, Klentak was part of a team that had achieved some recent success. Working under Jerry Dipoto, the Angels front office was tasked with sustaining that success.

Klentak joked at his introductory press conference at The Bank on Monday that he wouldn’t leave Mike Trout in his prime if he didn’t believe the Phillies could win. His goal will be to combine what he learned at his previous two stops: Rebuilding the Phillies to contending status (Baltimore) and keeping them there (Los Angeles).

“I think if we do our jobs right, we will turn this into a winner and it's going to be fun for a long time,” Klentak said.

MacPhail mentioned that he was looking for a lot a qualities in a candidate: a shared vision with himself, high character, discipline, listening, fit within the Phillies’ culture, an open mind (analytics), and someone willing to disagree with him.

On the last point, Klentak had already proven himself in Baltimore.

“There were times, frankly, when I had to point to the media guide and tell him, ‘Look, my name is up here and your name is down here,’” MacPhail said.

Now, Klentak’s name is right below MacPhail’s and questions will remain about how open this search actually was. Around two and a half weeks ago, Klentak met with MacPhail in Chicago (where the Phillies GM had set up shop) for a one-on-one interview that lasted three hours.

And then he waited for two weeks, all the while working at his old job. Klentak was helping Billy Eppler, newly hired as Angels general manager just earlier this month, get settled in with his new club. He described the balancing act of both waiting and working as difficult.

Then last week, Klentak got a call from MacPhail. He was summoned to Philly last Thursday for a follow-up meeting with MacPhail, owners John Middleton, Jim Buck, Pete Buck, and COO Michael Stiles. According to Middleton, it was only after that meeting that the Phillies zeroed in on Klentak.

“The reality is you keep an open mind,” Middleton said. “I think one of the fundamental flaws in a hiring process is to become wedded to any candidate. It tends to blind you to inevitable weaknesses.”

Klentak will fly down to Clearwater for the beginning of organizational meetings today. Seven weeks ago, Middleton said that he wanted MacPhail to hire a younger version of himself. And just like MacPhail sounded when the Phillies initially hired him, Klentak says that at first, he will be doing a lot of listening.

“I will outline some of things much like I outlined here [at org meetings], but I’m going to do a lot of listening,” Klentak said. “I need to find out about these players, to know who they are, to know what they’re about as people.”

“Is that going to impact the timelines for their development? What is their development timeline? I need to get answers for those questions just like you want that answered from me.”

In an interesting twist, one of the first people that Klentak thanked is the man who he replaced. Specifically, he wanted to point out the “marvelous” job Ruben Amaro, Jr. did under “some very challenging circumstances” this summer after MacPhail was hired.

The most important move Amaro made during that lame duck period was the trade deadline deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers for five prospects. According to Klentak, his predecessor is the reason that he doesn’t have to start completely from scratch.

“Our timetable has already started,” Klentak said. “Let’s not forget that. That’s why I made a point of referring Ruben and thanking him earlier. This club has already begun that process.”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann