CLEARWATER, Fla. — The 35-year-old, first-year general manager handed his 64-year-old, first-time manager a new contract earlier this week, and the two baseball men tasked with the supervision of these rebuilding Phillies entered into a pact of trust. Read it over, Matt Klentak told Pete Mackanin, who had barely started the contract he signed six months ago.
“I only needed about 10 seconds,” Mackanin said. “I said, ’I’m good without reading it.’”
The Phillies did not have to rip up Mackanin’s one-year contract he signed last September, but Klentak saw symbolism in the decision. Less than two weeks before opening day, Mackanin signed a new deal that guarantees he will manage the team for the next two seasons.
It is a show of faith for the manager, who now has job security during a season in which progress will not be measured by wins or losses. Financial terms were not disclosed.
“Throughout the first few weeks of spring training, I started to realize how impressed I was with this guy and how comfortable I was with him,” Klentak said. “The relationship between a GM and a manager is a really important one for an organization. As I started to realize how solid our relationship was, it just became a natural step.”
The revised contract makes Mackanin manager for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The club holds an option for a third year. His original deal, signed at the end of last season before Klentak became general manager, was for one season with an option for a second.
Over the last few months, Klentak came to see what most in the Phillies organization, including the clubhouse, learned last season. The astute Mackanin, in his relaxed professorial manner, is an ideal manager for this team in transition.
Mackanin, a former Phillies bench player in the ’70s, was named interim manager last June when Ryne Sandberg quit. Team president Andy MacPhail made Mackanin the permanent manager with a contract at the end of the season.
It was the baseball lifer’s first managerial gig after two previous stints as an interim manager for Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Phillies fired Mackanin as bench coach after the 2012 season, and now Mackanin could have a chance to see the team’s rebuilding project unfold.
“I’m happy to put my stamp on it,” Mackanin said. “My mandate is to keep the guys positive, keep them playing with energy and keep them playing the game the right way.”
Mackanin has won favor with both veteran and young players in his clubhouse.
“I remember the first time that I met him,” catcher Carlos Ruiz, 37, said. “I was like, ’This guy is always happy.’ With that mentality, I feel like everyone is relaxed. That’s huge for the young guys and also the veterans, too. I’m really happy for him.”
“Awesome,” catcher Cameron Rupp, 27, said. “I think it’s awesome. He keeps us loose. We’re having fun on the field.”
Klentak and Mackanin did not meet until last Oct. 27, the day after Klentak was made the youngest GM in Phillies history. “He seemed,” Mackanin said, “to be a very likable guy and obviously extremely intelligent.” The two men, Klentak said, are aligned on what culture the Phillies must create.
They spoke of a strong rapport, one that will be tested once the real games begin.
Klentak came to the Phillies having witnessed one of the more dysfunctional front office-manager relationships in baseball. Jerry Dipoto resigned last July as Angels general manager when his rift with manager Mike Scioscia over the implementation of analytics intensified. Klentak was one of Dipoto’s top assistants and assumed a larger role, which involved more interaction with Scioscia.
The Phillies will employ more analytics to make decisions this season, but the trickle-down effect to the clubhouse will not be immediate. Part of that is developing a trust between new-age executives and old-school coaches.
In rewarding Mackanin, Klentak will look for open-mindedness later.
“The biggest thing that Pete and I have talked about all winter and here in spring training is about communication and environment,” Klentak said. “What I wanted to see was how that played that in a real-life setting here in spring training with a camp full of players. And, really, Pete couldn’t have shown me anything more.”