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June 04, 2019

Al Morganti: Matt Klentak must wheel and deal to pick up Gabe Kapler, slumping Phillies

Opinion Phillies
120718_Gabe-Kapler_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak is now charged with cranking up his texting thumbs to get in touch with whatever team it takes to make a few deals to improve the team – and quickly.

The irony of the situation is that Klentak had a remarkable off season, netting a remarkable collection of talents including Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto and Jean Segura. However, if Klentak can not make the additions the Phillies need it that whole bounty of talent will somehow make the GM look bad.

Klentak’s new charge is to finish the job. The finishing touches must include additions to the starting pitching staff, the bullpen and the bench. Klentak has already built a very good and what should be stable starting lineup, but there is an increasing concern for lack of depth and pitching.

The Phillies have already had a seemingly endless injury bug bite again as Andrew McCutchen is gone for the year with a torn ACL. The bizarre injury came on a run down and was caused when Jean Segura slipped in the batter’s box and aborted his run toward first base.

The net result was that McCutcheon got trapped when second baseman Kinsler wisely let the ball hit the ground, setting up the easy double play. It was both an unlucky and lazy play by Segura, but the real problem was manager Gabe Kapler’s protection of Segura after the game.

Kapler resorted to his default mode of covering up for mistakes by players when he went out of his was to praise Segura’s usual effort level as he discussed the obvious mistake. He would have been better served to simply bemoan the bad luck and lackluster effort of Segura and leave it at that.

The biggest complaint with Kapler last season was his insistence on always putting on the positive spin. Almost certainly that works within a locker room, but it doesn’t always play nearly as well with a fan base. It just sounds hollow when the team is literally losing by a lack of effort, and then the manager goes out of his way to praise a player’s overall effort.

Mind you, Kapler has made the usual questionable calls involving the use of his bullpen, bunting situations and defensive shifts. The criticism of those decisions is pretty much connect-the-dots for any fan base.

It is not so much the decisions that drive Phillies fans crazy so much as the discussion after the fact. The new Kapler of April and half of May has turned back into the former Kapler.

It might be time for team president Andy McPhail to give Kapler another nudge about how to address some situations. Nobody wants Kapler to come down and hammer his players, but it would be nice if he simply subtracted the praise when a mistake is made, especially when it involved lack of effort.

Having stressed all of that, Kapler’s biggest problems are real baseball issues, and the man with the answers has to be Klentak.

The Phillies lineup was supposed to be led with its bats, and those bats have not produced as expected. Harper has been his usual hot and cold, and Rhys Hoskins has not provided the offense that was expected.

Overall, the Phillies are not the offensive machine that was expected. Part of that is the whole Odubel Herrera mess, and it can just be assumed that Herrera will never again play for the Phillies. Separate to the abuse case, Herrera was struggling in the lineup over a long period of time, and the Phillies were probably near the end of patience with his sloppy play.

However, the Phillies have a responsibility beyond just talent in this case. The Phillies simply need to make a statement that they have a zero tolerance policy toward physical abuse and quickly move on from Herrera.

Given the lack of offense, the Phillies have done well to keep their spot at or near the top of the division. They have also done this while the club’s number one starter Aaron Nola hasn’t performed at anywhere near the level that was expected.

The most remarkable statistic of the season to this point is that Nola was 6-0 before taking the loss Monday night in San Diego. Despite his lack of killer stuff, Nola has benefited from an offense that suddenly perks to life for most of his starts.

If the Phillies are really going to be serious contenders for the postseason Klentak has to use the start of June as the start of trade season. It should be a hat trick of starting pitcher, reliever and bench depth, and it should start quickly.

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