Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler hardly had time to catch his breath after this afternoon’s 4-1 loss to the Washington Nationals that officially eliminated the team from postseason contention before questions began about his job status beyond this season.
Never mind that the Phillies will play the second-half of a day-night double-header at 7:05 p.m., the focus is now on the future of the second-year manager.
“We have games left to play,” Kapler told the collective media, including Matt Gelb of The Athletic. “Like I said, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to reflect. I love this organization. I love this team specifically. I love working for this front office. I love working for this ownership group. And look, I’m going to manage this club as long as I can, because I think I give us a great opportunity to win and I think because I care deeply about the success of this franchise.”
The Phillies had what general manager Matt Klentak called an “objectively great” offseason ahead of 2019, signing Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson to lucrative free-agent contracts, while acquiring Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto via trade. 2019 was one of the most anticipated seasons in Phillies history, but after Tuesday afternoon’s loss, the Phillies will miss the postseason for an eighth consecutive season. Failing to snap a streak of six consecutive losing seasons – the Phillies are currently 79-77 – would add insult to injury, but much of the damage is already done. If 2019 isn’t the most disappointing season in Phillies history, it’s definitely in the discussion.
Certainly, that doesn’t fall exclusively on Kapler – not even close really. Klentak’s decision to bet on Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez to make up three-fifths of the Phillies starting rotation proved to be disastrous. Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez are the only pieces left standing from the Phillies Opening Day bullpen, a unit that’s been absolutely crushed by injuries in 2019. McCutchen, who served as a catalyst in the first two months of his time with the Phillies, tore his ACL in early June. Odubel Herrera is serving a suspension after being arrested for domestic violence in late May. It’s fair to wonder if the organization overvalued Rhys Hoskins, who has hit under .200 since the All-Star Break.
There’s something to be said for the fact that the Phillies – who have a -19 run differential – were still in some sort of postseason contention into September, even if it never felt like they were serious contenders.
The Phillies, though, are two games under .500 in September after completely folding in the final two months of the 2018 season. It’s hard to point to any pieces that weren’t already established that got significantly better in 2019 – certainly Hoskins didn’t, and even Scott Kingery is hitting under .240 in the second-half of 2019.
From the second that Kapler pulled Aaron Nola with just 68 pitches in his managerial debut in Atlanta, the Phillies have lost the public relations battle with much of the old guard on the buzzword “analytics.” There is a legitimate discussion to be had about how to best implement analytics, both in terms of in-game strategy and player development, and to what extent new-school information should be relied upon. The decision to fire former hitting coach John Mallee and replace him with Charlie Manuel – a move that managing partner John Middleton reportedly led – suggests that debate has taken place in the organization in 2019.
There’s no indication that Manuel will prove to be anything more than an interim hitting coach. First-year pitching coach Chris Young – who was the Phillies assistant pitching coach in 2018 – hasn’t had much to work with. He, and the organization, also haven’t had success in 2019 (or the second-half of 2018) in getting young pitching to take notable steps forward. It’s unclear what his future will be beyond 2019 – whether Kapler returns as manager or not.
Klentak, who took over as Phillies general manager in October of 2015, almost certainly will return in 2020. He was extended through 2022 in March. That, curiously, was never made public until Gelb reported it four months later. For as eager as Middleton was to heap praise on Klentak after the Phillies won the Harper sweepstakes in March, the performance of the Phillies pitching certainly hasn’t reflected well on him in 2019. Right or wrong, it doesn’t reflect well on his front office that the Phillies haven’t been able to compete with the division-rival Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals in terms of talent development. And certainly, if a decision is made to move on from Kapler, who is currently signed through 2020, that wouldn’t be a good look for Klentak, who led the search that ended with Kapler being tabbed as the Phillies 54th manager.
President Andy MacPhail, per Gelb, was given an unannounced three-year extension through 2021 during the 2017 season. It’s hard to tell exactly how he fits into all of this.
There’s not an immediate indication about how the Phillies organization feels about Kapler moving forward. 2020, if he returned, would be a lame duck year. Would the Phillies bring him back – which would be a controversial decision in itself – without any security beyond 2020? In the coming weeks (and maybe coming days), this will start to be sorted out. The feeling here – fair or not – is that a frustrated fanbase that hasn’t seen postseason baseball since the first term of the Obama administration largely wouldn’t be content with just changing a few coaches on Kapler’s staff. That doesn’t mean the entire fanbase – and maybe some in the organization – believe Kapler deserves to fall for the Phillies shortcomings in 2019. But Klentak has two additional years of contractual security that Kapler currently doesn’t.
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