The Philadelphia Phillies 2019 season has been over for more than a week now. They were eliminated from playoff contention on Sept. 24. It’s been a lot longer than that since the team was realistically viewed as a playoff contender. And still, there’s yet to be a resolution on the future of manager Gabe Kapler, who is under contract for the 2020 season.
In the latest development in Kapler watch, Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer says that managing partner John Middleton is seeking the input of some players. Exactly what players he’s interested in hearing from are unclear. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia described the weighing of Kapler’s future as being “in the red zone” Monday morning, meaning a final decision shouldn’t be far away. Then again, at this time a week ago, it felt the same way.
For what it’s worth, those players that seem likely to be polled on the future of Kapler have spoken highly of him publicly. Bryce Harper, who is entering year two of a 13-year deal, talked about the struggles Kapler had to navigate through when managing the bullpen. Jake Arrieta, shortly before reigniting tensions with former teammate Carlos Santana, referred to Kapler as a “great manager.” Perhaps the most vociferous backing of Kapler came from the team’s lone All-Star in 2020, catcher J.T. Realmuto.
“As of now, I expect to see him to be back here,” Realmuto said to the collective media, including Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We feel like he’s done a great job for us. He gets the guys to play hard. We all love playing for him. He’s been our manager all year and nobody’s had anything to say about it. We’re obviously had a rough last couple of weeks and fell out of contention. For me, Gabe’s our manager. He’s a guy that this clubhouse really respects.”
Any suggestion that Kapler is disliked by his players seems to be misguided. Perhaps players will dissent behind closed doors, but nothing they’ve said publicly has indicated that will be the case. The bigger question seems to be whether Middleton ultimately determines that Kapler’s clubhouse culture over the past two seasons has been too loose.
Jon Heyman of RADIO.COM hinted at there being a perception from some in the organization that Kapler hasn’t run a tight enough ship. Matt Gelb of The Athletic took things a step further, saying “They liked playing for Kapler because he let them do whatever they wanted to do. The players questioned some of his tactics and many were skeptical about how information was prioritized and disseminated.” It will be interesting to see if when asked, players whose legacies will ultimately be determined to some degree by the team success they have feel that the Phillies could benefit from a stricter manager. Very few people in any line of work jump at the idea of having a tougher boss, but sometimes additional accountability can lead to more productivity. Sometimes it doesn’t.
If the Phillies do ultimately retain Kapler, they’ll have to put together a hell of a public relations strategy to attempt to erase the past week. Large swaths of the fan base – right or wrong – haven’t been keen on Kapler since he took over. There would be anger, and ultimately some level of apathy, from some if he’s ultimately retained, especially after it was the worst kept secret in the world that Middleton considered making a change. From here, it’s hard to imagine Kapler not getting some form of extension if he’s kept as the team’s manager so the concept of him being a “lame duck” doesn’t hang over the entire 2020 season. But if the Phillies open the season with an ugly performance in Miami, extension or not, there will be discussion about potentially moving on from Kapler before the calendar turns to April. The prospects of erasing that reality feel daunting.
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