Tag Archives: Gabe Kapler

Phillies owner John Middleton shows he is clearly not “a potted plant”

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Gabe Kapler was fired after two seasons as Phillies manager

 

On Friday, October 11, 2019, less than two weeks after their once promising season came to an end with a final disheartening defeat that left the club without a winning record for an eighth consecutive season, the Philadelphia Phillies held a press conference.

The purpose of the presser was ostensibly to address the firing of manager Gabe Kapler. However, as principal owner John Middleton sat down at the dais, flanked by general manager Matt Klentak to his right and Phillies president Andy MacPhail to his left, there was clearly an even broader agenda.

The goal of Friday’s session was undeniably to put out the fires now raging throughout the Phillies fan base. That flame sparked as the club slowly fell out of contention over the final two-thirds of the season, then completely collapsed over the final weeks for a second straight year.

But the flames are not out. In fact, judging by the response on both traditional and social media, those flames are only burning hotter today.

The bottom line appears to be that not only did the fan base want Kapler gone, but Phillies fans also wanted to see Middleton turn the page on what has thus far been a failed MacPhail-Klentak regime.

That will not be happening – at least not for now. Logic would appear to say that, now readying for the third manager during their term, both men are now squarely under the spotlight themselves, about to face increased scrutiny from the owner.

If the failures of the first four full years under MacPhail and Klentak continue next season, it would be absolutely negligent for Middleton to allow them continued management roles with the team.

The biggest takeaway from the show was that Middleton himself is clearly the man who will have the final say in every important matter as this organization attempts to reach its goal of becoming a long-term contender.

Middleton is involved. Not just in the way that an owner is usually in charge. He is going to not only be intimately involved in the biggest big-league talent acquisitions, but also have the final say in a new manager and other key personnel moves.

MacPhail opened the press conference with a statement in which he laid out Middleton’s decision-making process in releasing Kapler with one year to go on the manager’s contract.

The club president provided that, on the recommendation of he and Klentak, the owner had undertaken a wide-ranging, week-long process of evaluation which included receiving positive feedback on Kapler from a number of sources. However, MacPhail then stated the following:

What John didn’t hear was any explanation of why we were 20-36 over the last two Septembers. Or more importantly, what was gonna be in place to ensure that didn’t happen again.

What MacPhail never once addressed was his own role in the failures of those two September collapses. It is the job of he and his hand-picked GM Klentak to provide the players, in both minor league depth and big-league talent, for the manager to have as resources to compete and succeed at the highest level.

As the second questioner from the local media called upon, Howard Eskin of SportsRadio 94 WIP FM and sports director at WTXF-TV wasted no time in asking the question of Middleton that was on the minds of most fans:

John, when you fired (former Phillies GM) Ruben Amaro, you said it’s a results based business…Gabe Kapler took the hit. And I’m wondering why it was just Gabe Kapler? And I, among other people, are wondering why…those two gentlemen are sitting with you today?

Middleton then went on a minute and a half spiel in which he questioned Eskin back, then tossed out some statistics showing improvement in the bullpen over the last couple months of the season. Bottom line, the owner failed to address the pivotal question directly.

MacPhail then jumped in, attempting to justify his and Klentak’s low-rated minor league system. The club president made excuses regarding picks lost due to free agent signings and the selection of high school players, and hung his hat on two or three recent draftees ranked by many services as among the top 100 in the game.

The fact remains that it was MacPhail and Klentak’s decision to select those high school players, including Mickey Moniak with the first overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft, over talented older prospects who have already impacted the big-leagues for other organizations, players who came from those same drafts.

Alec Bohm (34), Spencer Howard (88), and Bryson Stott (89) rank among the current top 100 prospects in baseball per MLB Pipeline, while Baseball America ranks just Bohm and Howard on their top 100 prospects list.

The draft is an inexact science, and teams are going to have hits and misses, even near the top of the first round. But talent comes to a Major League Baseball organization from more than the draft.

Despite four years of those drafts and four years signing international and other free agents to the minor league system, the Phillies organization is ranked among the bottom one-third in depth of minor league talent by nearly every reliable evaluator.

Baseball America had them at #25 back in mid-August. Fangraphs currently ranks the Phillies at #23 overall among MLB organizations. While MLB didn’t provide a recent full ranking, the Phillies were not listed among the top half of organizations back in August of this year.

When MacPhail took over as club president and hired Klentak as his general manager in the fall of 2015, the Phillies were clearly in rebuilding mode. They also had one of the top-ranked farm systems in baseball. Today, after four years, the club has still not registered even a winning season, and the farm season has virtually collapsed.

Both MacPhail and Klentak mentioned that outfielder Adam Haseley, the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, and pitcher Cole Irvin, the club’s fifth rounder in 2016, have already impacted the Phillies big-league roster.

Haseley slashed just .266/.324/.396 over 242 plate appearances this season, but did play solid defense. Irvin had a 5.83 ERA and 5.06 FIP while surrendering 45 hits over 41.2 innings in which he struck out just 31 batters this season. That is hardly a duo to hang your hats on as you try to defend your record in talent evaluation.

In response to a question posed by Kevin Cooney of PhillyVoice and Forbes, Middleton made it clear that the search for the new manager would be conducted by Klentak. But that would happen only after the GM sat down with he and MacPhail and laid out a profile of what to look for in a candidate.

Middleton will then be presented with the final name for an interview and evaluation. Clearly, the owner will have the final say on who is hired as the next Philadelphia Phillies manager.

During the course of the press conference, it was pointed out that the Phillies front office was “allowed to play the long game” by making the decisions not to give up young talent at the trade deadline in order to help the 2019 team reach the postseason. Meanwhile, Kapler was forced in the shorter term to try and compete with a lesser roster.

To that, Middleton stepped in with a matter-of-fact response: “That’s the inherent nature of the business. And it’s been that way for a hundred years, and it will likely be that way a hundred years from now. That just goes with the territory. And if the manager doesn’t like it or can’t handle it, then the manager shouldn’t be the manager.

What the owner was saying is a baseball truth that was known well to Kapler: managers are hired to be fired. The list of big-league skippers who get the job and then remain in the same position with the same organization over the long haul, eventually leaving or retiring on their own terms, is extremely short.

As the press conference wound towards a conclusion, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com questioned Middleton directly regarding the owner’s assertiveness in getting intimately involved in matters over the last year.

Especially, Zolecki questioned Middleton regarding any concerns that the owner may have that, had he not gotten so involved, things would be even more troubling today under the MacPhail-Klentak management team.

I’d like to think I actually bring value to an organization. That I’m not a potted plant sitting in the corner…This is what CEO’s do. You wouldn’t have a need for a CEO if everybody in that organization made every decision correctly every time.

Middleton never addressed, at least not in any way that will be accepted by the fans, the status of MacPhail and Klentak. But that is a bit telling in itself. If the two men do not see themselves as now more on the hot seat with the owner than even the new manager will ever be, they are sorely mistaken.

There is one man in charge of the Philadelphia Phillies these days. That man decided that it was time to change managers – again. It will be that man, John Middleton, who will now have to answer to his fan base should his decision to keep this upper management team in place backfire.

With Gabe Kapler out, what’s next for the Phillies?

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Kapler was let go after two seasons as the Philadelphia Phillies manager

 

Under tremendous fire from their fan base after a disappointing 2019 season, the Philadelphia Phillies had to make some type of change at the management level. Today, that change was announced.

The Phillies have fired manager Gabe Kapler after two seasons as the skipper and with one year remaining on his contract. The club went 80-82 in 2018 and then finished at 81-81 in the recently completed campaign under his guidance.

Telling in the decision is that it reportedly did not come from club management in the front office, but instead was made by ownership.

Per Bob Nightengale and Chris Bumbaca of USA Today: “The decision was made by Phillies owner John Middleton, and not general manager Matt Klentak, a high-ranking Phillies executive told USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity.

Middleton then released a statement himself, as reported by ESPN:

Several years ago, I promised our loyal fans that I would do everything in my power to bring a world championship team to our city. I will never waver from that commitment. … I have decided that some changes are necessary to achieve our ultimate objective. Consequently, we will replace our manager.

Just last week, I wrote that the Phillies should bring Kapler back. I felt that, while he indeed made mistakes, the injury situation was bad enough that he should be given the final year of his contract in 2020 to see if he could push the club forward.

However, Middleton reportedly took the time to not only consider the situation in his own head, but also sought out the opinions of a number of his team’s key players. It can now be assumed that those players did not aggressively back their manager.

So, the owner made the decision that most of the problems with the 2019 Philadelphia Phillies were in the clubhouse and the dugout, and not in the front office. That much became clear when Middleton also let it be known that Klentak would “lead the search” for the new manager.

Be sure of this, while Klentak sorting through the candidates during the search and lining them up for interviews may indeed be the case, no manager will be hired at this point without input and likely final approval from Middleton.

I believe you can also be sure of another thing as well – the new manager will have some real experience in that role, unlike Kapler when he was hired.

That would leave out candidates such as former Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez and the recently retired Carlos Beltran, two hot names being bandied about to fill one of the open MLB managerial positions this off-season.

While I believe he would make a perfect candidate, I do not believe that Joe Maddon will be the man. A big-league skipper for parts of 16 seasons, Maddon has an overall 1,252-1,068 record.

He has taken his teams to the postseason eight times, and won a World Series with the 2016 Chicago Cubs. Maddon was also the Tampa Bay Rays manager when they captured the American League pennant in 2008 before dropping the Fall Classic to the Phillies.

However, Maddon is widely seen as the front-runner for the open managerial position with the Los Angeles Angels. He has history there, spending more than three decades from 1975-2005 as a player, coach, scout, minor league manager, and big-league coach.

Maddon also served previously as the Angels interim manager in both 1996 and 1999. It is hard to believe that he wouldn’t take that job, hoping to help make Mike Trout and company into legitimate contenders.

So, let’s get right to it. Who do I see as the leading contenders to become the new Philadelphia Phillies manager beginning with the 2020 season? I have three leading candidates.

Buck Showalter

Now 63 years of age, Showalter has been the manager with four different organizations: New York Yankees (1992-95), Arizona Diamondbacks (1998-2000), Texas Rangers (2003-06), and Baltimore Orioles (2010-18).

Showalter has an overall record of 1,551-1,517 and won a division title with three of the four clubs. However, his teams had winning seasons in just 10 of the 19 full years that he was at the helm, and only reached the postseason five times.

It may be in his favor that he was hired for the Orioles managerial job during the time that current Phillies club president Andy MacPhail was serving in that position with Baltimore and while Klentak was their Director of Baseball Operations.

Joe Girardi

Turning 55 years of age this coming weekend, Girardi was the man in the dugout as the New York Yankees skipper when the Bronx Bombers took out the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. He put together an overall 910-710 mark in the Big Apple over 10 seasons from 2008-17.

Girardi’s teams reached the postseason six times, and reached the American League Championship Series four times. Just two falls ago, his Yanks held a 3-2 lead in the ALCS vs Houston before the Astros rallied to win the final two games.

He also won three World Series rings as a member of the Yankees late-1990’s dynasty. Girardi was the NL Manager of the Year with the Florida Marlins in 2006 after keeping a low-budget team in Wildcard contention for much of the summer. But he was fired following that one season after clashing with owner Jeffrey Loria.

Mike Scioscia

A local product who was born in Upper Darby and attended Springfield High School and Penn State University, Scioscia will turn 61 years of age in late November.

He was the manager with the Angels for 19 seasons from 2000-2018, leading that franchise to their only World Series championship in 2002. During his tenure the Angels won six AL West Division titles, including over five of six seasons between 2004-09.

Scioscia had an overall 1,650-1, 428 record at the Angels helm and seven of his teams reached the postseason. However, despite having the game’s best player in Trout for most of that time, the Angels made the playoffs just once over his final nine years.

He had a 13-year playing career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was the starting catcher on their 1981 World Series championship team. Scioscia was an NL All-Star in both 1989 and 1990.

Other possibilities who fit the bill of an experienced big-league manager who might be open to consideration for the position would include John Farrell, Dusty Baker, John Gibbons, Clint Hurdle, Brad Ausmus.

Whomever gets the job of trying to guide the Philadelphia Phillies back to the postseason from inside the locker room and dugout, both Klentak and MacPhail should now consider themselves as being squarely on the hot seat.

The Phillies have not only failed to reach the postseason during the four full seasons of the MacPhail-Klentak front office regime, but the minor league system is widely regarded as among the weakest in the game.

That comes after four years of their leading the draft and international signing process. If the Phillies cannot become winners on the field, and should that minor league organization not begin to display legitimate depth of talent, heads in the front office should be the next to roll.

Philadelphia Phillies 2019 season review and player grades

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The 2019 season did not play out as hoped for Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies

 

The 2019 season opened with great expectations and much fanfare for the Philadelphia Phillies. After suffering through seven consecutive non-winning campaigns, this one was finally going to be different.

Phillies owner John Middleton opened up the purse strings in the off-season, allowing for the signing of big ticket free agents Bryce Harper, David Robertson, and Andrew McCutchen.

General manager Matt Klentak swung a few key trades, including a pair especially aimed at improving the everyday lineup by landing a pair of all-stars in shortstop Jean Segura and catcher J.T. Realmuto.

The season began with an exhilarating sweep of the defending NL East Division champion Atlanta Braves in front of raucous crowds at Citizens Bank Park. More than 41,000 showed up for each of those opening series victories.

After the Phillies took all three games by a combined 23-11 score, they appeared to be off and running towards greatness. Following a 7-2 start the club began to level off, finishing April with a 16-13 mark. But that still left them in first place with a one game lead.

In May, the Phillies picked up the pace a bit. They would go 17-11 in the month, and began the month of June still on top of the division while holding a three-game lead.

However, storm clouds had begun to roll in to South Philly. A bullpen that would become decimated by injuries was already weakened by the loss of Robertson. The veteran free agent signing, one of the top relief pitcher in baseball over the previous decade, would appear in just seven games, none after April 14.

Coming off a road trip to Chicago and Milwaukee in which the Phillies went 4-3 against a pair of tough opponents, center fielder Odubel Herrera was arrested for domestic assault on his 20-year-old girlfriend at an Atlantic City casino hotel. Herrera would end up suspended for the season by Major League Baseball.

Less than a week later in the finale of a series in San Diego in which the Phillies were swept by the host Padres, McCutchen suffered a torn left ACL and would also be done for the year. Within a matter of days, the Phillies had lost two-thirds of their starting outfield for the season.

That sweep in San Diego began a June swoon in which the club went just 11-16. Included was a seven-game losing streak during the middle of the month that would be the Phillies longest losing streak of the year. It was part of a stretch of 11 losses in 13 games that dropped them from first place with a two game lead to second place and 6.5 games behind the surging Braves.

The Phillies stabilized a bit in July, going 12-11 over the course of the month. But they were establishing a roller coaster pattern of wins and losses, never able to put together a five-game winning streak all year long.

On the fourth of July, the Washington Nationals pushed past the Phillies in the division standings. By the end of the month they were a half-game behind the Nats in what was becoming a multi-team battle for one of the two National League Wildcard playoff berths.

August was just more of the up and down ride on the 2019 roller coaster. The team went 13-14 during the month, only losing as many as three in a row on one occasion, but unable to win more than four in a row themselves.

The high-point of not only the month but the entire season may have come on August 15. It was certainly the most memorable game and moment.

The Phillies trailed the Cubs by 5-0 into the bottom of the 8th that night at Citizens Bank Park. They got on the scoreboard with a run, but still trailed by 5-1 as the game went to the bottom of the 9th inning.

The club pushed two runs across to make it a 5-3 game, and Harper stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and a chance to play the hero. Did he ever, delivering a walk-off grand slam home run for a 7-5 victory to pull the Phillies within a game of the Cubs in the Wildcard race.

However, they were unable to build any momentum from the uplifting victory. After dropping three of four to end August, the playoff berth that appeared a given during the season’s first couple of months was in serious jeopardy. In fact, the New York Mets had taken their turn in getting hot, pulling within a half-game of the Phillies in the standings as the month ended.

Still, the Phillies entered September with a legitimate chance. They still could have gotten hot – finally – and fought into the postseason. The club began September just three games behind the Chicago Cubs for the final Wildcard spot.

The Cubs would collapse to an 11-16 finish over that final month. Unfortunately, the Phillies would go just 12-16. Following a September 18 victory over Atlanta, the club was still six games over the .500 mark and now within two games of the final playoff berth.

Instead of surging, they slumped. The Phillies dropped eight of their next nine games to fall below the .500 mark for the first time all season and drop completely out of the playoff race. Winning two of their final three, the club would up with an eighth straight non-winning season, finishing exactly at 81-81.

The culprits? The major injuries to the bullpen and outfield were certainly significant contributors. Both the offensive attack and starting pitching were inconsistent all year long. Klentak’s inability to add an ace-level starting pitcher by the trade deadline was also a factor.

With the disappointing finish, the job security of Klentak, club president Andy MacPhail, and manager Gabe Kapler came into question. Many fans called for the heads of one or all of them on the internet and local sports talk radio.

Earlier this week, I gave my opinion as to what I believe Middleton should do in the Kapler and Klentak situations. I had already commented on MacPhail earlier in the summer. You can read each of those pieces at the links following this piece.

This should have been not only a winning season, but a playoff season. Now, whatever management team is in place will need to fill the holes and attempt to position the Phillies for a winning 2020 season.

The following are my grades for every player who appeared with the club during this 2019 campaign. I factored in not only statistical performance, but also the expectations for the player when the season began.

GRADE: A

Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto

GRADE: B

Aaron Nola, Drew Smyly, Adam Haseley, Andrew McCutchen, Scott Kingery, Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez, Nick Vincent

GRADE: C

Rhys Hoskins, Cesar Hernandez, Jean Segura, Maikel Franco, Zach Eflin, Ranger Suarez, Adam Morgan, Blake Parker, Seranthony Dominguez, Jared Hughes

GRADE: D

Andrew Knapp, Jay Bruce, Sean Rodriguez, Roman Quinn, Phil Gosselin, Jake Arrieta, Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, Edgar Garcia, Mike Morin, J.D. Hammer

GRADE: F

Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Jason Vargas, Juan Nicasio, Nick Pivetta, Cole Irvin, Austin Davis, Pat Neshek, Edubray Ramos

GRADE: I (incomplete)

Nick Williams, Logan Morrison, Jose Pirela, Deivy Grullon, Mitch Walding, Dylan Cozens, Rob Brantly, Enyel De Los Santos, David Robertson, Drew Anderson, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano, Fernando Salas, Yacksel Rios

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES STORIES:

 

What the Phillies should do with Matt Klentak for 2020

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Klentak traded for Realmuto prior to the 2019 season

 

The Philadelphia Phillies announced in late October 2015 the hiring of then 35-year-old Matt Klentak as their new general manager. Despite his relative youth, Klentak had an impressive volume of experience in baseball.

Like many of us, he played the game as a kid. But he was also good enough to continue in the game at the collegiate level, playing all four years at Dartmouth, including the final three as their starting shortstop.

After graduating with his Economics degree, Klentak was hired by the Colorado Rockies in 2003. The following year he moved on to work in the Labor Relations Department of Major League Baseball.

In 2008, Klentak was hired by the Baltimore Orioles as their Director of Baseball Operations. That hiring was made by the Orioles then-President Andy MacPhail, whom Klentak had impressed while helping work on the 2006 MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Neither MacPhail nor Klentak had their contracts renewed by Baltimore following the 2011 season. However, Klentak was not out of work for long, hired that off-season by the Los Angeles Angels as their assistant general manager.

The Halos had a chance to hire Klentak as their GM when the position opened in the midst of the 2015 season but opted to go in another direction. During that same summer, MacPhail joined the Phillies organization.

When that 2015 season ended, MacPhail ascended to the team president position with the Phillies. One of his first orders of business was to hire his old Orioles protege Klentak as the Phillies new general manager.

During this past summer it was revealed in the media that both MacPhail and Klentak had recently received contract extensions. Those extensions would keep MacPhail in his role through 2021, and Klentak in his position through the 2022 season.

Despite those contracts there has been a vocal backlash against both MacPhail and Klentak from an increasingly frustrated Phillies fan base.

Calls have grown over recent weeks as the team fell out of playoff contention for a complete change in the Phillies decision-making regime. Those changes included not only the president and GM, but also on down to manager Gabe Kapler, whose situation I addressed in a piece just yesterday.

I already addressed the situation regarding MacPhail months ago and have repeatedly and publicly called for his ouster. No change in either the GM or managerial positions is going to matter in improving the club over the long haul without a change at the very top.

So, the question today is, should the Phillies retain Matt Klentak as their general manager?

In evaluating Klentak’s job performance, it is important to understand that the position includes a number of responsibilities that few fans ever see or care about. Let’s assume he is experienced enough to handle those responsibilities competently.

What matters to the fan base is how Klentak performs in actually bringing talent to the baseball organization, especially to the team at the big-league level. In a city like Philadelphia, winning is what matters more than anything.

Most successful rebuilding operations take roughly four years before yielding success. In the four years of the MacPhail-Klentak regime, the Phillies have accumulated an overall 298-350 record. They have not enjoyed a single winning season, let alone reached the MLB playoffs.

Not only that, but the organization appears to have deteriorated at the minor league level as well. In the summer of 2015, the Phillies were widely considered to have a top ten organization where minor league talent was concerned.

This summer, after four years of the MacPhail-Klentak regime making picks in the MLB Draft and bringing in prospects to the system through other methods including via trades and the July 2nd international signing period, the Phillies system is rated near the bottom by most respected evaluators.

Not all of that failure is on Klentak. The fact is that he is restricted in some ways by the need to answer to and coordinate with MacPhail and the scouting staff on the draft and amateur signings process.

There was also a reluctance by Middleton, as advised by MacPhail, to make money available for signing big-name free agents during those first few years.

However, that financial restriction was very publicly lifted last fall when Middleton announced that the Phillies were, as reported by ESPN, “…going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.

So, let’s simply evaluate Klentak on his actual performance since that time in adding talent to the big-league club, and then in reinforcing the team when talent shortfalls became obvious and injuries struck.

The off-season prior to 2019 was considered a success after Klentak signed free agents Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen for the outfield and traded for shortstop Jean Segura and catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Those four moves dramatically increased both the experience and leadership levels of the ball club, as well as the proven talent level available to Kapler in the everyday lineup.

Klentak did not entirely ignore the pitching situation either. He made an astute under-the-radar trade early last December, swapping out relief pitcher Luis Garcia to the Angels for southpaw reliever Jose Alvarez.

Also, in the Segura trade to Seattle, Klentak received veteran right-hander Juan Nicasio, who had briefly pitched with the Phillies in the 2017 campaign.

Finally, in early January he signed one of the best and most consistent relief pitchers of the last decade as a free agent in David Robertson.

The Phillies roster was obviously improved as the regular season got underway, and with the new offensive firepower and deeper bullpen, the club was picked as a postseason favorite by many prognosticators.

Almost from the outset, that bullpen depth was tested by repeated injuries. At various points over the next few weeks and months the Phillies would lose a parade of relievers for the season.

Robertson, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Victor Arano, Seranthony Dominguez. All were expected to be key contributors. The five would combine for just 52 total appearances, less than a full season worth of work.

In late May, Odubel Herrera was lost in a completely unexpected manner after he was arrested for domestic battery on his 20-year-old girlfriend in an Atlantic City hotel room. Herrera would be suspended by Major League Baseball and was done for the entire season.

Within days of that blow to the lineup, the Phillies would also lose McCutchen for the season due to a devastating knee injury and subsequent surgery. They would receive a combined 98 games worth of play from their anticipated starting left and center fielders.

Klentak tried to help fix the Phillies bench with the addition of veteran Jay Bruce.

Klentak did make various moves over the course of the season in attempts to bolster his bench and then cover for those losses to the starting lineup. Those included trades for veteran outfielders Jay Bruce and Corey Dickerson, the purchase of utility man Brad Miller, and the signing of free agent Logan Morrison.

Unfortunately, both Bruce and Dickerson would be lost to the team for large chunks of the season after each initially provided valuable contributions to the club as it struggled to remain in contention.

It would also have been Klentak’s decision to allow rookie Adam Haseley, the club’s first round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, an opportunity to go from Double-A to the big-leagues at age 23 in just his second full year of professional ball to help cover for those outfield injuries.

There were offensive inconsistencies in both approach and results from the players who were actually in the lineup. Klentak acted to address that situation with the removal of hitting coach John Mallee in mid-season.

Trying to cover for the bullpen losses, Klentak purchased reliever Mike Morin, picked up Jared Hughes off waivers, and signed free agents Blake Parker, Fernando Salas, and Nick Vincent.

Salas pitched in just three games. But the other four became key members of the bullpen, generally making solid contributions over the season’s final couple of months. The foursome combined to pitch in 91 games, allowing 72 hits over 90 innings with an 83/26 K:BB ratio.

The one area of the ball club that was never properly addressed was the starting pitching rotation. Management, including Klentak, made a bet on the incumbent group of pitchers to improve in the 2019 season. It didn’t happen.

Aaron Nola failed to reproduce his Cy Young contending season of a year ago. Jake Arrieta just plain failed, and then was lost due to injury after 24 starts.

Vince Velasquez was again unable to maintain consistency in a starting role, especially in lasting deep into his outings. Nick Pivetta pitched so poorly that he was eventually relegated to the bullpen on a full-time basis. Jerad Eickhoff returned from injury, then got injured again.

Perhaps the one starter who exceeded expectations was Zach Eflin. Around a horrendous six-start stretch from late June through late July that got him also relegated to the pen, Eflin provided an impressive opening and closing stretch.

Lefty Drew Smyly was a mostly positive addition to the Phillies rotation by Klentak.

Klentak attempted to cover for the losses of Arrieta and Eickhoff and the ineffectiveness of Pivetta by signing Drew Smyly and trading for Jason Vargas in July. That pair of left-handers would make 23 combined starts with the Phillies over the last two months.

Together, Smyly and Vargas went 4-6 and allowed 122 hits over 118 innings with a 111/45 K:BB ratio. Essentially the two provided back-end rotation production when what the team really needed was at least one ace-level starter for the playoff push.

The failure to add at least one high caliber starting pitcher, and more preferably two, was perhaps the single most important and decisive factor in the Phillies ultimately falling short of a 2019 postseason berth.

The loss of McCutchen and Herrera to the lineup, and later of Bruce, Dickerson, and Roman Quinn. The losses of Robertson and the others in the bullpen. Backslide seasons from Nola, Pivetta, Rhys Hoskins, and Maikel Franco. The mediocre production provided by Segura. You simply cannot put any of that on Klentak.

You cannot make a valid argument that the GM didn’t make moves trying to plug the holes in the lineup, on the bench, and in the bullpen. The one area where you can legitimately criticize is the starting rotation. Vargas just wasn’t good enough.

Dallas Keuchel went to division rival Atlanta for reasonable money as a free agent. Marcus Stroman went to the division rival Mets for a reasonable return that the Phillies may have been able to beat earlier by putting a package together led by pitching prospect Adonis Medina.

You can make a legitimate argument that even had they landed either of those two arms rather than doing the Vargas deal, the Phillies might still have fallen short of the postseason. Perhaps. But they would have enjoyed a far better chance.

The argument that over four years, Klentak has failed to put together a winning organization at the big-league level is a legitimate one. However, that it didn’t happen this year was largely due to situations beyond his control. His efforts to plug those holes were largely commendable.

However, the failure to build a farm system that is not ready to inject talent in waves to the Phillies, or to be used as truly enticing trade assets, is problematic. That is especially so when considering the young talent amassed by all of their rivals in the National League East Division.

For me, the time is now for change at the top of the Philadelphia Phillies organization. That begins with club president Andy MacPhail. But it also extends to general manager Matt Klentak. As the top decision makers, they have failed the organization. Both need to go.

Philadelphia native Chaim Bloom of the Tampa Bay Rays would be my choice to run the Phillies baseball operations.

My choice to replace MacPhail would be Philly native Chaim Bloom, a longtime executive with the consistently over-achieving Tampa Bay Rays organization despite being just 36 years of age.

My gut tells me that Middleton won’t be able to admit his mistake in granting them both an early contract extension and throw in the towel on either at this point. Fans will be disappointed by the return of the entire Phillies decision-making regime for 2020.

However, if there were to be such a change at the top, you would likely see Kapler either go as well, or find himself seriously compromised as a new regime took control, perhaps wanting to bring in their own man to take over in the dugout.

There is simply too much talk about the Phillies front office and management in the media and among the fan base for Middleton to leave the situation go unaddressed. Expect there to be some announcement this week or next on the 2020 status of MacPhail, Klentak, and Kapler.

What the Phillies should do with Gabe Kapler for 2020

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The Phillies have gone 161-163 during two seasons under manager Gabe Kapler

 

The Major League Baseball postseason begins on Tuesday night with the Washington Nationals hosting the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wildcard Game.

For an eighth consecutive October, there will be no playoff baseball drama and excitement at Citizens Bank Park. That seemed an almost ludicrous possibility when the season opened back in late March with a home sweep of the division-rival Atlanta Braves.

This was the second year for the club under 44-year-old manager Gabe Kapler. He still has one year remaining on the three-year deal given when he signed to take over a team believed to be in the final stages of a rebuilding program for the 2018 season.

Under Kapler’s guidance, the Phillies surprisingly fought their way to the top of the National League East Division during his first summer at the helm. They were in first place as late as August 12.

From that point on, the club collapsed to a 15-30 finish over the final seven weeks of the 2018 campaign. Still, the ultimate 80-82, third place finish was better than many had expected when the season began.

Everything changed during the winter prior to the 2019 season, however. The Phillies, spurred by owner John Middleton, opened up their wallets in free agency and became more aggressive in the trade market.

The result was a far more experienced and dynamic starting lineup entering the 2019 season thanks to the additions of Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen on the outfield corners, shortstop Jean Segura, and catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Those four would join a returning core of first baseman Rhys Hoskins, center fielder Odubel Herrera, third baseman Maikel Franco, and second baseman Cesar Hernandez.

Once again, the Phillies got off to a strong start. Following an 11-4 victory over the Saint Louis Cardinals on May 29, the club sat a season-high 11 games over the .500 mark and held a 3.5 game lead in the division.

As late as June 11, the Phillies remained in first place. But then it all suddenly fell apart. Losses in 11 of 13 games were low-lighted by a seven-game losing streak.

It all coincided with a winning stretch by the defending division champion Atlanta Braves. By the time the losing skid was over, the Phillies had not only lost their division lead, but had fallen 6.5 games behind the surging Braves.

From June 8, the last time that the Phillies reached 10 games over the .500 mark, until the end of the season, the team played to a 44-54 mark.

On Independence Day, they fell out of second place for the first time, passed by a red-hot Washington Nationals club. On August 10, the New York Mets slipped past them, dropping the Phillies to fourth place.

Still, the Phillies managed to hang around in the race for the second and final National League Wildcard playoff berth. As late as September 10 they were just two games off the pace.

Unfortunately, they could never sustain enough of a winning streak to seriously push themselves back into the race. They never won five games in a row all year long, and finished up by losing nine of their final dozen games.

The 2019 Phillies spent just one day all season – September 26 – below the .500 mark. Aside from that June swoon slump, they never fell into a deep enough skid to get knocked completely out of the race. Until the final two weeks that is.

There are a number of reasons that the Phillies finished the 2019 season just one game better than the 2018 season. The first and most obvious is key injuries.

McCutchen was lost for the season as June got underway. Jay Bruce stepped into the starting lineup and provided a power lefty bat and veteran presence. Until he was injured, missing roughly 50 games over the final three months.

Herrera didn’t get injured, he injured someone else, getting himself arrested in Atlantic City following a domestic assault on his 20-year-old girlfriend. He would ultimately be suspended for the season by Major League Baseball.

His replacement, Roman Quinn, did what Quinn does. He looked dynamic until he got hurt, playing in just 44 games all year and ending the season on the IL, to no one’s surprise.

But it was the bullpen where injuries struck hardest, quickest, and most often. Tommy Hunter, David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek, Victor Arano, Adam Morgan, and Jerad Eickhoff would all succumb to various injuries.

The rotation was healthy for much of the year, they just were never consistently effective. Aaron Nola, the presumptive ace who was a 2018 Cy Young Award finalist, was simply very good for much of the year, pitching more like a solid #2 starter.

The rest of the rotation members enjoyed what can only be described as a roller-coaster campaign. Veteran Jake Arrieta, in the second year of a big free agent contract, was pitching like a back-end starter before going down for the year after 24 starts.

Kapler began the season using a mostly set lineup in the early going when the team was winning. But it seemed that as soon as there were struggles, he abandoned that, returning to his troubling rookie managerial season habit of a new lineup nearly every day.

Not only did Kapler come up with some new configuration on a game-by-game basis, but he also was juggling players in and out. He continued to shuffle Scott Kingery all around the diamond. And Franco just seemed to fall completely out of favor with the skipper at one point, getting sent to the minor leagues.

So, where does all of this leave Kapler? Frankly, in my opinion, there is no way that you can possibly pin all – not even most – of the Phillies struggles in 2019 on him.

Kapler managed the 25 players, a few more in September, who he had available to him on any given night the best that he could. This is where the big question comes in – is Kapler’s best good enough?

Back in mid-August, with the Phillies struggles to put together a consistent winning stretch becoming more apparent with each passing week, Kapler appeared in a revealing radio interview at local sports talk 94 WIP FM. In that interview he stated the following:

“…the life of a baseball manager is that you manage until the day that you get fired and almost everyone gets fired at some point. I guess I’d say this, I’m not going to manage scared. I didn’t play scared. I fought and gave everything I had every single day. You’re going to manage in the same way. So, if I get fired I do and it’ll be a hard day for me to deal with, but I’m not going to waste a single ounce of my mental or emotional energy thinking about myself when I could be thinking about how I could help us win tonight’s game. The players, those 25 men battling out there, those are the ones that matter.”

When I see what happened to the 2019 Phillies and think about a managerial change, one question that comes to mind is, could anyone else have done better, based on the circumstances?

Two days ago, I ran a poll at my Twitter feed, asking fans who should be the Phillies manager in 2020. I gave four choices: Kapler, Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon, or “Other”, asking fans to comment if they had a different preference.

Over 18 hours, the poll received 463 votes, and results were as follows:

The comments yielded other names: Mike Scioscia (4), Clint Hurdle (2), Dusty Wathan (2), Buck Showalter, Raul Ibanez, and even Charlie Manuel.

So, I am left to consider whether experienced big-league skippers like Girardi, Maddon, Scioscia, Hurdle, and Showalter or any of the other names could have done better this year than Kapler.

Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that they could. Every one of these men is out of a job right now, and there are any number of reasons for that fact. Mostly because they simply weren’t getting it done where they were.

Kapler rubs many Phillies fans the wrong way. They dislike what is often seen as a Pollyanna style of backing his players in public, rarely willing to criticize those players even when they repeatedly fail.

He has also battled from behind from the very beginning for many of those fans due to his physical fitness, his personal blog which described his preference for coconut oil during certain activities, and especially his heavy reliance on analytics and statistics.

I was asked frequently over the last month what I thought should happen with Kapler in 2020. I repeatedly said that I was waiting until the season was over before revealing my opinion.

The fact is that I had my own bottom line. The Phillies had to finish with a winning season in order for Kapler to return in 2020. A total collapse to a losing season and there was no doubt that I would be recommending a change.

But neither happened. The Phillies finished at .500, the only team in Major League Baseball to finish with a dead-even 81-81 record this year.

I publicly criticized Kapler’s often head-scratching lineup choices on a frequent basis over the last few months. But his “style” never bothered me the way that it seemed to bother many other fans.

When evaluating Kapler, I harken back to Terry Francona, who was fired after four years as the Phillies skipper on this very date in 2000.

The Phillies were Francona’s first managerial opportunity, just as they are Kapler’s first chance to lead from the dugout in the big-leagues. After being fired in Philly, Francona went on to become one of the best and most respected managers in Major League Baseball.

His teams won 744 times over eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox. He guided them to the playoffs five times and won two World Series titles. Francona has now won 638 games over the last seven years with the Cleveland Indians, with four playoff appearances and an AL pennant.

I think Francona was a good manager in Philadelphia, albeit a bit inexperienced. But he was one without a lot of experienced, championship-caliber talent. I see no reason that he wouldn’t have eventually won here as the talent improved.

Manuel was not embraced at first by Phillies fans, but grew to become beloved. (Keith Allison)

As Kapler gains experience with another year at the helm, could a Phillies pitching staff improved by some key off-season additions this winter and just a little more luck with health in 2020 make his perceived eccentricities more palatable to the fan base?

I remember when Manuel was first hired with the Phillies. The majority of fans wanted former Pirates and Marlins skipper Jim Leyland to get the job. They saw Manuel as some country hick who would never last in Philadelphia.

Today, Manuel is the beloved ‘Uncle Charlie’, the man who guided the Phillies to five consecutive NL East titles, two National League pennants, and the 2008 World Series championship. He is a Wall of Famer who will be popular with fans until the day he dies and beyond.

Now, I don’t know whether Gabe Kapler will ever accumulate the kind of records that either Francona or Manuel have in the future. What I do know is that fans were far too quick to go negative on those two managers.

This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, based on what I am reading on social media and hearing on the radio. But emotions aside, I don’t think that any of the alternative names above can necessarily be counted on to do a better job.

I think that Kapler should come back for the 2020 season as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. I firmly believe that he does everything within his power to win every game.

It appears to me that he does everything in his power to keep his players looking ahead. I have no problem whatsoever with his trying to keep the atmosphere as positive as possible, no matter the circumstances.

Kapler has one year left on his contract. See how things go next year. Give him the final year on his deal to see if he can be a part of turning things around.

Now, if in the coming days, the Phillies decide to go in another direction, that is fine. But the real problems with the organization lie higher on the food chain for me. If they simply fire the manager without making changes higher up, nothing will really change as far as long-term contention.