Though the Cleveland Indians, like the Philadelphia Phillies, missed the postseason in 2019, they did so while winning 93 games. And Carlos Santana, in his first season back in Cleveland, made his first career All-Star team, while slashing .281/.397/.515 with 34 home runs, 93 RBIs and a 4.4 fWAR. The Phillies traded Santana last December, but his bounce-back (and the fact that he had six hits in three games when the Phillies visited Cleveland in late September) didn’t help him to be out of sight, out of mind in discourse about the team.
There’s been quite a bit said about Gabe Kapler’s managerial style since the disappointing 2019 season concluded. Perhaps the strangest came from Jake Arrieta – who hasn’t pitched since mid-August after having season-ending elbow surgery to remove a bone spur in his pitching elbow. Arrieta called Kapler a “great manager,” and in referencing the infamous incident of Santana smashing TVs in the Phillies clubhouse late in the 2018 season because he thought teammates were too focused on playing the video game Fortnite while they faded out of the playoff picture, Arrieta seemed to take a shot at Santana.
“Well, the culture was better here this year without him [Santana],” Arrieta said to Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I can tell you that.”
“Why it was better without Santana? We had better guys in the clubhouse,” Arrieta said. “That’s it. A lot more veteran presence.”
It is true that the Phillies focused on character when making additions to the team after the 2018 season. Andrew McCutchen has about as good of a reputation as anyone in baseball. David Robertson came from a culture of success in New York with the Yankees. Matt Klentak cited Jay Bruce’s reputation when the team traded for him in early June. When you add Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto to that mix, it’s not hard to imagine the Phillies clubhouse having a better environment in 2019 than it did in 2018.
That said, it seems strange that Arrieta didn’t talk about an improved clubhouse environment without dissing someone that wasn’t involved in the 2019 season. Whether the two had a good relationship or not, from here, this quote feels like the latest that Arrieta probably could have kept to himself.
There is perhaps something deeper here, though. Santana came from (and has since returned to) Cleveland. The Indians have averaged 91 wins per season since Terry Francona took over as manager in 2013, and are largely viewed as one of the most well-run organizations in baseball. RADIO.COM MLB Insider Jon Heyman suggested Monday that some in the organization think that the Phillies have become too loose under Kapler. Matt Gelb of The Athletic wrote Sunday that while there was strong camaraderie between the 2019 Phillies and they like Kapler as a person, “they liked playing for Kapler because he let them do whatever they wanted to do.”
Is it possible that the 2018 Phillies had a different clubhouse dynamic than what Santana was used to in Cleveland? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean that Kapler’s style couldn’t produce success – Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year World Series drought in 2016 while being led by Joe Maddon, who certainly has perhaps a looser clubhouse environment than some other successful managers. But there do appear to be some in the Phillies organization that are skeptical about whether Kapler’s clubhouse managerial style could produce a team that becomes a consistent playoff force.
And so, we continue to wait on the Phillies to make a call on Kapler, who is under contract for 2020. The decision on whether Arrieta – who could opt-out of a guaranteed $20 million in 2020 – will return seems a lot less climactic.
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