Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak issued a vote of confidence for Gabe Kapler Wednesday, saying that his hand-picked rookie manager will return in 2019. That doesn’t, however, mean that there isn’t frustration internally about some decisions that Kapler has made during his rookie season.
In fact, Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports says that while Phillies brass doesn’t seem to want a mulligan on their decision to hire the former outfielder as their manager, some veteran players aren’t as keen on the job Kapler has done this season:
Rumblings are being heard from veteran players that there’s some disenchantment over rookie manager Gabe Kepler. However, Phillies management remains steadfast in their strong support of Kapler, believing that he has built strong relationships and proven to be an extremely hard worker, very good in-game manager, and perhaps most importantly, top execs don’t believe the team was either 1) great or 2) underperformed (in fact, the Phillies matched or beat predictions/expectations). They understand the clubhouse is down following a brutal stretch to finish the season and aren’t under any illusions that he’s been perfect but tell people they had to expect some “growing pains” in what they believed all along was a transition year. The issue ultimately was the roster they built, Phillies execs admit. To this point there also haven’t many a flood of complaint calls (or even one) to their offices over their manager.
To be fair to Kapler, the Phillies entered their Thursday afternoon game with the Colorado Rockies having lost seven games in a row. They were outscored 34-4 in the first three games of a four-game set with the Rockies. After a 53-42 start to the season, the Phillies are just 25-38 since the All-Star Break. Given that the Phillies bought prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and entered August in first place in the National League East, there’s going to be frustration with how the season has concluded. That doesn’t necessarily mean a change needs to take place at manager.
In fact, one veteran, Carlos Santana, has been rather vocal in his support of Kapler this season. Santana called Kapler “a guy you want to play for” in an extended look at Kapler that Bob Nightengale of USA Today did in early May. The 32-year-old natural first baseman, while acknowledging that Kapler is “a little different,” told Matt Gelb of The Athletic this week that he’s “enjoyed” playing for Kapler. Santana, who is viewed as one of the best clubhouse presences in the sport, spent the past five seasons playing for Terry Francona in Cleveland. He knows what a successful organization looks like.
Another veteran baseball man who has worked with Kapler side-by-side this season is bench coach Rob Thomson. Thomson spent the past decade working on the staff of Joe Girardi for the New York Yankees. Though Heyman did publish a rumor in May that there were some in the sport that thought Kapler had become the “puppet” of Thomson, Thomson himself said in June that he believed that Kapler was doing a fantastic job.
Kapler’s first season has, however, felt like one of the longer Phillies seasons in recent memory, despite it being the most successful one in terms of wins since 2012. The Phillies got off to a rather disastrous 1-4 start to the season, one that Pat Neshek later said caused quite a bit of confusion in the team’s clubhouse because games during the first week of the season were being managed like Game 7 of the World Series. (Neshek did add that Kapler met with him early in the season and praised Kapler for his willingness to listen, something most managers wouldn’t have done.) An anonymous Phillie told Heyman after the slow start that the team would turn things around, so long as “the manager got out of the way.” Nick Williams, perhaps jokingly, blamed “the computers” when Aaron Altherr got the bulk of playing time over him in right field to open the season, referring to Kapler’s analytical background. Jake Arrieta, a former Cy Young Award winner in his first season with the Phillies, publicly criticized the Phillies shifts in early June and called for accountability.
The Phillies went 66-96 under Pete Mackanin in 2017, including a 6-22 month of May. It didn’t feel as though there were as many trials and tribulations in 2017 – or even 2015 – as there have been this season. As I wrote about upon the hiring of Kapler, he wasn’t exactly without detractors in Los Angeles, though to be fair he had some supporters in high places, including president Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi. A source with knowledge of the situation told PhilliesNation.com that both Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez – two veterans – pushed back against the idea of Kapler replacing Don Mattingly as Dodgers manager prior to the 2016 season. That nugget has also been reported by Heyman. Additionally, Kapler was believed to a candidate to join Dave Roberts’ coaching staff after Roberts was hired as the manager, but there was again pushback to that idea.
People can grow. If there’s been one indisputable part of Kapler’s first season in Philadelphia, it’s that he’s worked hard to improve as a manager everyday. That’s backed up by this Heyman report, by the fact that he was willing to meet with veteran players early in the season, by Thomson’s quotes and by Kapler sending out requests for anonymous performance reviews. That’s an admirable trait, one that even detractors have to acknowledge. Whether it leads to him ever finding a sense of stability as Phillies manager remains to be seen.
The Phillies – even beyond Kapler – seem to be an organization in need of a quiet offseason. At the same time, the second-half of the season has shown that the Phillies can’t afford a quiet offseason. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be free-agents. Though he may remain in left field, Rhys Hoskins has posted the second lowest defensive WAR of any qualified fielder in 2018. Four-fifths of the team’s starting rotation entered Thursday with an ERA north of five since the All-Star Break. Instead of a quiet offseason, the Phillies appear to be facing one of the most crucial offseasons in the history of their franchise. The Eagles faced that in the 2016 offseason when they hired Doug Pederson to be their head coach and traded up twice to draft quarterback Carson Wentz. The Phillies probably aren’t as close to winning a championship as the Eagles turned out to be, but they can only hope that their crucial offseason goes as well as the Eagles did and leads to organizational stability.
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