By STEVE KRAH
Contract negotiation, data analysis and event management are three skills Matt Kleine wields in his role with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Dating back to his first summer as an associate scout (2007), Kleine has held various roles in scouting and baseball operations for the Brewers and completed his first year as director of player operations for the Major League Baseball club in October.
While still in high school, Kleine saw that his on-the-field time was not likely to extend past college. So he began to look for ways to stay involved in baseball.
“I knew I really wanted to pursue a career on the front office side of things,” says Kleine, who graduated from Hamilton Southeastern High School in 2004.
Kleine, who was born in Indianapolis and moved to Fishers, Ind., prior to kindergarten, enjoyed his time as a baseball player.
Swinging and throwing from the left side, the outfielder played travel ball during his high school and college summers for USAthletic and coach Rob Barber (one of Kleine’s teammates was Jeff Mercer, now head baseball coach at Indiana University).
Kleine competed at Hamilton Southeastern for former University of Texas pitcher Curry Harden and at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for Matt Walker.
Harden taught Kleine and the other HSE Royals about discipline and approaching each game with a tenacious attitude.
“You had to bring your ‘A’ Game’ everyday,” says Kleine.
His off-field baseball career got a boost when writer Will Carroll came to speak at DePauw. A relationship was formed that led to a three-plus years as an intern with Baseball Prospectus for Kleine, who produced Carroll’s weekly radio show.
On the diamond, Kleine was a four-year letterwinner and three-time team MVP and all-conference selection for DePauw. He was team captain as a senior. He knocked in 120 as a Tiger. At the time his career wrapped that was a school record.
Kleine was a Management Fellow and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication in 2008.
He became an associate scout with the Brewers before his playing days were even complete. Kleine had taken pitching lessons as a youngster from Mike Farrell so he approached the then Brewers area scout (Indianapolis resident Farrell now scouts for the Kansas City Royals) to learn the ropes and evaluated players between his summer collegiate games.
Kleine also served as a media relations intern with the Houston Astros.
Once in Milwaukee, he earned a Juris Doctorate from Marquette University Law School and his certification in Sports Law from the National Sports Law Institute.
He has was the president of Marquette’s Sports Law Society, a member of the Sports Law Review and a volunteer in the school’s legal clinic.
Through his research, he found that the common denominator for most of the baseball jobs that interested him were held by people with a law degree or other post-graduate education.
Knowing about analysis and critical thinking has helped Kleine in salary arbitration for the Brewers.
Since earning his law degree, Kleine has served as volunteer judge for the Marquette University Law School Intramural Sports Law Negotiation Competition and Tulane International Baseball Arbitration Competition.
According to MLB, “Players who have three or more years of Major League service but less than six years of Major League service become eligible for salary arbitration if they do not already have a contract for the next season.
“Players who have less than three but more than two years of service time can also become arbitration eligible if they meet certain criteria; these are known as ‘Super Two’ players. Players and clubs negotiate over appropriate salaries, primarily based on comparable players who have signed contracts in recent seasons.
“A player’s salary can indeed be reduced in arbitration — with 20 percent being the maximum amount by which a salary can be cut — although such instances are rare.”
Management will use comparable players — aka “comps” — as well as statistics and performance data their evaluation.
“We try to tell the people side of the story,” says Kleine. “We don’t get overly complicated or get caught up in fancy (sabermetric) acronyms. “Who is this player and where do they fit within the market?.
“We have a dialogue with the players’ agent. Hopefully, we arrive at a compromise. A very small percentage of arbitration eligible players end up in a hearing room.”
If an arbitration hearing is necessary, the proceedings will be attended by several people.
“It’s certainly a unique process,” says Kleine. “It’s like performance review in front of up to 50 other people.
The hearing features a panel of three arbiters (judges) who listen to the arguments of both sides and come to a decision.
The session will also be attended by representatives of the involved club, league office, players association, support staff and other observers, including reps from other clubs.
“By and large, the are respectful and professional proceedings,” says Kleine.
As baseball’s Winter Meetings approach (Dec. 9-13 in Las Vegas), the Brewers and MLB’s 29 other franchises are focused on free agency or possible trades while finalizing their major league and minor league staffs for 2019.
“That’s one thing about the MLB calendar, there’s always something going on,” says Kleine. “It just depends on the time of the year.”
In season, baseball operations and field staff like manager Craig Counsell and bench coach Pat Murphy collaborate with the help of advance scouts.
“We’re attacking opponents weaknesses and identifying our own strengths,” says Kleine. “Once the game starts, it’s up to Craig and the coaching staff how to deploy the roster.”
Mike and Toni Kleine are Matt’s parents. His father runs a State Farm Insurance agency in Fishers. His mother is retired from teaching in the Carmel school system. Matt has a younger sister — Jordan.
Matt and wife Samantha live in St. Francis, Wis. The couple is expecting their first child in early 2019.
Matt Kleine, a graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind., DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and Marquette University Law School, is director of player operations for the Milwaukee Brewers.