While looking to launch his career, Matt Klentak once received a good piece of advice: Do not leave a conversation without getting the name of at least one other person to talk to.
Klentak abided by that while trying to get a job in baseball, using a conversation with one team to eventually land a gig with another. That was the start of a career that has taken him through the Commissioner's office, Baltimore, Anaheim and ultimately Philadelphia, where he's been vice president and general manager of the Phillies since October 2015.
MLB.com caught up with Klentak at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla., discussing a variety of subjects including his unique relationship with Mets GM Sandy Alderson, how to trust the process -- a favorite phrase in Philly -- and why Klentak thinks Howie Kendrick and Clay Buchholz will be good fits for the Phillies this season.
MLB.com: How did you land your first job in baseball?
Klentak: When I graduated from college, I set out to learn as much as I could about the game and connect with as many people as I could. That ended up leading to some conversations with the Red Sox about an internship there right after Theo [Epstein] had become GM. That did not materialize, but the Red Sox guys were very helpful in putting me in touch with Thad Levine and some of the guys that worked at the Rockies at the time. One thing led to another and I ended up with an internship at the Rockies for the 2003 season. That was my first job.
MLB.com: You played four years at Dartmouth; you played with Bryn Alderson, son of Mets GM Sandy Alderson. Did you have a chance to meet Sandy in college and pick his brain about the industry?
Klentak: I did. In fact, Bryn is a year behind me, and I hosted Bryn on his recruiting trip. So I got to meet Bryn and Sandy even before Bryn ever enrolled. Sandy at that time was working in the league office and I guess had a bit more flexibility in the spring time, so he was a regular at our games. I'd see him a lot. I didn't really get to know him that well, but when I was a junior or a senior, I saw him out and we set up a breakfast on one of our road trips so I could pick his brain about the industry. At that point in my career, I was sort of resigned to the fact that I was not going to play any more beyond college, so I started looking for what the next steps might be. Sandy has been very helpful to me in my career; he's been a good resource.
MLB.com: You probably didn't expect back then that you guys would be division-rival GMs at some point.
Klentak: [laughs] No.
MLB.com: After your stint in the Rockies, you worked in MLB's Labor Relations Department for four years. You worked on the CBA in 2006. What did you learn from that entire experience at MLB?
Klentak: A lot. I think as a young person in this industry trying to learn the way that teams operate, learn the way the league operates, the LRD position is about as good a job as you can have in this industry just to get to know people and to know the way things work. We obviously in that role didn't get into quite the level of detail in terms of constructing a roster as anybody at a team would, but in a lot of ways, we were able to assess the approach that 30 teams took to the same issue.
You kind of adopt certain best practices from that, just learning the way different teams do things. The industry has evolved a lot since the time that I worked there, but as just a platform for me -- and really, there's a lot of us in the industry that started there -- as a platform for a career in baseball operations, I'm not sure there's anything better.
MLB.com: Was there a part of you that thought maybe you would have a life-long career in the Commissioner's office, or did you always want to go work for a club?
Klentak: I'm pretty competitive by nature and I love the game. I would have been happy to stay there as long as I was challenged -- which I was -- and as long as I enjoyed the work -- which I did. But when the right opportunity came up at a club, I was eager to jump at that. It was a great experience; I worked with a lot of really impressive people there and got to know a lot; they treated me very well. I look back really fondly on those four years.
MLB.com: And one of them is the Commissioner now.
Klentak: Exactly. It's always good to know the Commissioner.
MLB.com: You joined the Angels as the assistant GM after the 2011 season. You had a close-up view of Mike Trout every day; what is it like watching him on a daily basis?
Klentak: He's phenomenal. The thing that I liked that I think we all as baseball fans can and should appreciate is, obviously he's a good player, but just his work ethic, the type of person that he is and what a good ambassador he is for the game. We were very fortunate through all the years that I was with the Angels.
MLB.com: Three weeks after Billy Eppler was hired in Anaheim, you got the Phillies GM job, reuniting with Andy. What were those weeks leading up to your hiring like? Was there any anxiety?
Klentak: I had known Billy; he was one of the first people I knew with the Rockies. So I had known Billy 12 or 13 years at that point, so there was an immediate trust and comfort level between the two of us. He was awesome. Right when he assumed the job was when I was first contacted to come interview with Philadelphia -- and he could not have been more supportive. He obviously had just gone through it himself, so he knew what that entailed and the work that it entailed for me to prepare for that -- and that my mind would be in two places at once. He was as supportive and helpful as possible, made it clear that, 'We're rooting for you to get the job, and if you don't get it, we'd be happy to have you here.'
I felt like at that point, I was in a win-win situation. We loved living in California, I knew Billy, I loved working for the Angels and I was also seeking a job with the Phillies that I was really intrigued by, too, to go work with Andy [MacPhail] -- who I had already worked with [in Baltimore]. Really either way, I felt like it was going to be a win for me. I'm obviously happy with the way it shook out, but Billy was great.
MLB.com: There are some that believe sabermetrics are more important than scouting; there are some that believe vice-versa. Do you think the importance of analytics in general have caught up to the importance of scouting over the past 10-15 years?
Klentak: The biggest thing for me is there has to be a balance. Some teams may gravitate more towards one or the other, but to me, it's not really an either/or conversation. It's about all of the information that we can get our hands on; those are two of the primary ones, but there's more than that. You put that information together to make good decisions. Anybody who is just dismissing out of hand some piece of the puzzle is just making a mistake. That's been our message to our group for the last year and a half; let's try to collect all the information we can, put it into the machine, make decisions out of it, and hopefully we'll make more good decisions than bad ones.
MLB.com: MLB's Statcast™ has made some of these metrics more public to the fans over the past couple years. Do you think that has changed the way people look at the game?
Klentak: I think over time it will. I think baseball fans as a group are pretty sophisticated; that's been the case for a long time. Fans want to know about what's going on in the field, they want to be educated, they want to know about the players and they want to know why teams are making certain decisions.
Now that some of it -- Statcast™, for example -- is becoming more public, people are going to be curious about it and they're going to ask questions. Stadiums are going to start showing -- who knows? -- distances and launch angles and exit velocities and spin rates up on scoreboards or on the telecast, and fans are going to learn about it. I think that's really good. The more transparent we can be as an industry with our fans, the better connected we're going to be.
MLB.com: "Trust the process" has become a very trendy phrase in Philadelphia in recent years. As a GM, how important is it to develop a plan and have the discipline to stick with it regardless of the bumps along the way?
Klentak: I think it is critical. If you look at baseball over the last 10 years or so, the organizations that have really devoted themselves to a plan -- whatever that plan has been -- have been rewarded as long as they've stuck with it. Those that have changed course halfway through, for those organizations, sometimes it takes a little bit longer because you have to start over in some ways. As important as anything, we have our plan and we stick with it.
I have been very pleased and encouraged in my year and a half with the Phillies that from our ownership group to our president to me to our baseball operations group to [manager] Pete Mackanin and his staff, everybody is on board with that. That, to me, that's a sign of a healthy organization, when there's continuity in the direction we're trying to head. That's the main reason why I'm so bullish on our future.
MLB.com: Is balancing the present and the future the toughest part of this job?
Klentak: I don't know if it's the toughest, but it's certainly among the most important. Whether you're a win-now club or a building club, you always have to keep one eye on the present an one eye on the future. That's just the reality of our sport. We put a lot of focus on that and we're pretty open about that, too. When we communicate with our fans, we try to be very honest about our intentions. That's very, very important.
MLB.com: You have a history with Howie Kendrick from your days in Anaheim. How much does that help when you are considering bringing in a free agent?
Klentak: It's helpful for sure. When GMs or leadership positions turn over, there's usually -- especially in the early year or two -- there are more players from a former team that are brought in than otherwise. In Howie's case, we were looking for a couple things. We were looking for a professional hitter to hit in the middle of our lineup and help improve our offense; but we were also looking for someone who can serve as a mentor for our young players, whether that's vocally or just in terms of their work habits. Howie can do that.
Howie is among the hardest-working players I've ever been around. He's dedicated to his craft at the plate, he's one of the most disciplined hitters; you can see him always trying to stay inside the ball. With so many young players on the Phillies, just having somebody in the lineup that has had the success that Howie's had and does it the way he does it, we feel that creates a nice blend for our roster while at the same time -- and as importantly -- helps us to win more games.
MLB.com: Clay Buchholz was once considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but his time in Boston was a bit of a roller coaster. Do you think a change of scenery could help him?
Klentak: That's the hope. We scouted Clay quite a bit last summer, kind of knowing he had the looming option decision and not knowing which way it would go. We got a pretty good look at him and I think the guys in Boston -- Brian Bannister and their pitching group, and Clay himself in making some adjustments -- we hope that he turned a corner last summer.
We think some of the changes he made should be sustainable. We're excited; he's reunited with Bob McClure, who is our pitching coach and was Buchholz's pitching coach for a year in Boston a few years back. So far, his work habits, his understanding of what he's trying to do, has all been very good. We're hopeful he's going to have an impact season for us.
MLB.com: What's your assessment of the state of the National League East?
Klentak: I think the two teams that were in the playoffs last year made themselves better and are still going to be good teams. The other three, including us, have taken steps to improve as well. I think the division as a whole probably became more competitive. That's good; to become the best, you have to beat the best. We'll be challenged this season for sure.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.