The Phillies got Joe Girardi, the guy they wanted. Now the real work begins

Jeff Neiburg
The News Journal

PHILADELPHIA – It never appeared to be a move Matt Klentak wanted to make. Not back in September, when he admitted that expectations changed when the Phillies ran into a wall of injuries.

Not as another September was nearing its end and another October without playoff baseball in Philadelphia was a reality.

And not two Fridays ago, when the general manager did very little talking while his boss, John Middleton, called Klentak's first failed managerial hire a "learning experience."

Klentak, until the bitter end, supported Gabe Kapler, the signature hire of his four-year tenure as GM of the Phillies.

The Phillies, who went 161-163 in Kapler's two seasons, lost most of their bullpen and had two of their three opening day outfielders lost for the year. Those reasons were enough, Klentak had indicated, that Kapler couldn't be fairly judged.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi, right, and General Manager Matt Klentak speak to the media at Citizens Bank Park Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.

Middleton didn't see it that way, and so Klentak was tasked with choosing his second manager in two years, a process that ended Thursday when the Phillies announced they had hired Joe Girardi. They introduced the new manager Monday during a press conference in a restaurant at Citizens Bank Park.

Girardi was brought here because of his experience, an about-face move to the one Klentak made in 2017, when he hired a young, first-time manager.

Both manager and general manager Monday said all the right things. Girardi endeared himself to his new city within minutes, cracking jokes and telling old baseball stories. Klentak spoke pointedly about processes and why Girardi was the best option.

It is fair for fans to feel relieved by both of those things. Kapler, fair or not, never figured out a way to connect with Philadelphia and Klentak sometimes can speak too generally and analytically for fans to get on board with his moves.

None of Monday makes any difference, though, if Klentak and his staff don't figure out a way to put a better team on the field in 2020. A new, experienced voice in the clubhouse is all well and good, but we don't have an accurate measurement at our disposal to say how that's going to translate into more wins. 

In baseball, wins and losses are determined more by roster construction than managerial decisions. Eight of the 10 managers that reached the postseason this year were managing their first teams.

So while Girardi's experience is all well and good, hiring him is only a net positive if Klentak is able to successfully rework the roster.

That means retooling a bullpen that lost almost the entire opening day staff to injuries. David Robertson won't pitch in 2020. Seranthony Dominguez's status is up in the air.

The starting rotation has maybe two reliable pitchers. Andrew McCutchen is coming off a torn ACL and it's unclear who will join him and Bryce Harper in the outfield. Where will Scott Kingery end up playing permanently? Will Klentak finally spend big bucks on a starting pitcher and go after Gerrit Cole? Will the Phillies make a run at NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon?

These decisions are much more difficult for Klentak to make, and they're undoubtedly more important than the one he and the rest of the Phillies' higher-ups made last week.

STAY OR GO: We asked you to decide the future of the Phillies

Monday, Girardi was asked what he thought the Phillies needed to do to take the next step. He's spent the last two seasons working as a television analyst.

"I think there's areas that Matt and the staff are going to address," said Girardi, who was in the broadcast booth for a few Phillies games this season. "One of the things is the bullpen needs to stay healthy.

"Every time I did a Phillies game – I did one in May, June and August – there was a whole different cast of characters. It's really hard to survive when your bullpen doesn't stay healthy. ... There are starters here that I believe have a lot of ability and it's our job to get the most out of them.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi, right, and General Manager Matt Klentak speak to the media at Citizens Bank Park Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.

"The greatest thing that you can have is competition at all positions. Guys trying to take each other's job. I look forward to spring training because I think that's when you really get to see the whole organization. You can see that. You get to preach that. 'Look, this young guy is coming to take your job. You better continue to improve and do your job.' Because we've been interviewing a lot, we haven't had a whole lot of time to sit down and talk about, 'Hey, this is what we're going to try to do.' Obviously, Matt is well aware of the areas that need to be addressed here and we will do it."

Easier said than done.

The main portion of Girardi's press conference ended some 30 minutes after it started. The new manager would be available for breakout sessions with writers and television stations a little later. The general manager? He couldn't leave the room fast enough.

The Phillies may have gotten their guy, but Matt Klentak's real work this offseason is only just beginning.

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Contact Jeff Neiburg at jneiburg@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.