Two Octobers ago, the Philadelphia Phillies fired manager Gabe Kapler after his second season at the helm, with managing partner John Middleton citing the team’s September collapses as a reason that he didn’t believe it was in the best interests of the organization to have Kapler return for a third season.
So here we are, two years later, and the problem doesn’t seem to have been fixed by a managerial change. The Phillies went 13-17 in September of 2021, failing to reach the postseason, despite there being eight spots up for grabs in the National League during the pandemic-shortened season. The Phillies are 4-8 in the first 12 games of September 2021, which puts them on the cusp of missing the playoffs — and potentially posting a non-winning season — for the 10th consecutive year.
If the Phillies are unable to avoid a fourth consecutive September swoon, what would it mean for Girardi’s future? NBC Sports Philadelphia‘s Jim Salisbury recently discussed that with Corey Seidman:
“…The other piece of all of that is whether upper management even wants him back. He’s had a tough year — he hasn’t done a great job, he hasn’t done a bang-up job. You look at the record … you look at some of the moves in the bullpen that make you scratch your head.
“But all that said, I put it more on that he hasn’t had enough performance from the players. I think injuries have played a factor, though that’s not an excuse. But when you look at the personnel he puts on the field night after night, a lot of times it just doesn’t measure up to the other teams. It measures up at the top, with [Bryce] Harper, [Zack] Wheeler and [J.T.] Realmuto, but there’s a big dropoff after that. I think their struggles at 72-72 have been a complete team effort — everybody has had a hand in it.
“But as far as Joe’s future … as I sit here on September 14, I believe he will be back next year. I believe that strongly. I don’t believe he’s had a good year, but I don’t believe he’s the sole problem. I still think he’s a good manager, I just don’t think he’s had a good year.
“I ask these questions periodically, to try to keep my finger on the pulse of it. And every indication that I have received is that he will be back next year, that they are planning to have him back next year. That said, there are 18 games left and I have not seen a lot of fight in this team, so I guess anything can happen over the final 18 games and minds can be changed. But, as we sit here on Sept. 14, every indication that I’ve received is that he indeed will be back for the final year of his contract.”
When Girardi was hired as Phillies manager, he received a three-year contract. He’s about to finish his second season, and the presence that he was supposed to provide to fix issues that plagued Kapler’s teams hasn’t shown itself.
As Salisbury noted, there’s no doubt that the biggest issue in Philadelphia remains the inability to consistently develop talent internally.
At one point in Tuesday’s loss to the lowly Chicago Cubs, seven of the nine players on the field for the Phillies were ones who hadn’t come through the team’s farm system. Andrew Knapp — a backup catcher who has seen a regression after a strong 2020 season — was one of the two home grown players on the field. The other was Freddy Galvis, and even he was acquired externally in July to come back to the organization he began his career with.
It won’t matter if Connie Mack is reincarnated and put in the dugout, if the Phillies don’t begin to consistently develop talent — rather than building teams of mercenaries without much of a real connection to the organization or each other — it’s going to be hard to have success year in and year out.
That doesn’t, however, mean that you can’t evaluate the job that the manager is doing and make a change if you believe he’s no longer the right voice to lead the team. The Phillies fired Charlie Manuel, Pete Mackanin and Kapler knowing that there also needed to be a drastic improvement in the internal talent available to the manager each season.
Remember, Girardi was hired when Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak were at the forefront of baseball operations, as opposed to now where Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld are in charge. Middleton remains the final voice on all matters if he chooses to be, but this front office may not have the same loyalty to Girardi that its predecessor may have had, even though there’s definitely respect there.
If Dombrowski determines that he thinks changing managers would be best for the Phillies, well, he was brought in to help fix an organization that’s in the midst of one of its worst 10-year stretches in an over 130-year history.
One other angle to consider is that Girardi, at various points in 2021, has seemed exasperated. The bullpen talent he’s had to work with in his two years has been embarrassing. The issue with developing talent internally will potentially be corrected by scouting director Brian Barber and whoever Dombrowski tabs to be the new farm director, but that will probably have little impact on the 2022 and 2023 teams, at least. The Phillies finally reached an 85% vaccination rate Tuesday, but only after multiple players missed extended periods of time with COVID-19 and the organization seemingly struggled to get buy-in from portions of the clubhouse on getting inoculated.
It hasn’t been a fun two years for the Phillies, whether you’re the manager, the players, an observer or a fan. Is it possible that Girardi is burnt out after this season and decides to walk away from his final year? Salisbury noted that for as frustrated as Girardi has perhaps been at points, he’s a competitor and he’d be walking away from quite a bit of money. He’s also not guaranteed to ever get a chance to manage in the big leagues again, something he was desperate for at this time two years ago. A resignation feels pretty unlikely to happen.
And if right now the Phillies seem unlikely to fire Girardi, that would suggest that the 56-year-old is probably going to be back for 2022. Of course, there was a report in August of 2019 that the “prevailing belief” within the Phillies organization was that Kapler would return for a third season. But by October of 2019, Kapler was looking for a new job, probably in large part because the Phillies went 12-16 in September, crawling to the finish line. If something like that takes place this year, all bets on Girardi’s future are off.
One interesting thing to consider is that Girardi’s three-year contract, per Matt Gelb of The Athletic, includes a fourth-year club option. It would be interesting to see how the Phillies responded if they intended to bring Girardi back for 2022, but the former World Series-winning skipper only wanted to return if he wasn’t a lame duck and the option was picked up.
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