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August 13, 2019

Kevin Cooney: Phillies' decision to bring back Charlie Manuel leaves more questions than answers

From Kapler finding himself in a no-win situation to the ripple effects throughout the rest of the organization, this is hardly a small move.

This was not Milt Thompson getting the hook on an airplane in the middle of the night somewhere between St. Louis and Philadelphia during the summer of 2010.

After all, Greg Gross was a solid Phillie but wouldn’t be considered a franchise legend.

In other words, he was no Charlie Manuel.

The winningest manager in Phillies history — one who has a World Series ring on his resume, one that would place him as one of the great teachers of hitting in the game – returned to uniform for the first time since 2013. He will replace John Mallee as hitting coach in a last gasp effort to save a once-promising season with under 45 games to go.

There are so many questions that come from this one move. An organization that has preached calmness and stability — of everyone rowing in the same direction without much resistance — threw a giant stone and created a ripple effect it hopes will carry it to playoff shore.

Here are a few that immediately came to our mind...

Who really made the call?

In a press conference on Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, general manager Matt Klentak said that it was a “collaborative” decision that included team president Andy MacPhail and managing partner John Middleton, among others.

Given what the tone of the conversation was over the past few months and the words of patience that came out of both Klentak and MacPhail’s mouth on various topics, it certainly doesn’t feel like a stretch to believe that this move had Middleton’s fingerprints all over it.

Seriously, think of the words that have been used by Phillies executives in the recent weeks, from the infamous “if we don’t, we don’t” from MacPhail in mid-July to Klentak’s “this is what we’ve got” at the trade deadline.

Now, contrast that with Middleton’s “damn trophy” comment from a decade ago and his notorious feistiness that has been exhibited towards this rebuild. Look at Klentak’s sudden “we’re not dead yet” speech on Tuesday, spoke like a man who just learned a “playoffs or bust” edict had been handed down from the guy who signs the checks.

It may have been a group decision. It’s probably easier to make that call when the money guy in the group makes it known what he wants the decision to be.

What’s does this mean for Gabe Kapler?

Given that Kapler is a glass-half-filled kind of guy, the most positive news out of Tuesday is the fact that he’s probably completely safe through the final day of the season. After all, this was the in-season trump card that the organization played as its biggest move to save a season.

Kapler is on full notice that his job is now on the line in the final seven weeks of the season. After all, that’s what the purpose of an in-season coaching change usually is intended for. At the same time, Kapler suddenly becomes placed in the ultimate no-win situation.

Let’s be real on how different scenarios like this play out. If the Phillies offense takes hold to Manuel’s style, gets red hot and makes the playoffs, then this was yet another miracle run lead by Charlie Manuel — not Kapler and Klentak.

If the Phillies offense takes hold but falls a few games short of a playoff spot, then the natural question will be asked why a move wasn’t made sooner to send Mallee packing from an offense which had underachieved from Memorial Day onward and over the course of two seasons. And ultimately, that blame will fall on both Kapler and Klentak for not being proactive.

And if the Phillies flounder again and plummet to the depths that they look possible to falling, all blame goes on the regime in charge for the bulk of the season.

When you look at it that way, it is nearly impossible to see a way where this turns out well for Kapler.

How about for Klentak and the organization’s analytic driven philosophy?

That’s the larger issue moving forward and perhaps where the real shift of attention now turns beyond the manager’s office.

Yes, Klentak did get a contract extension back in the spring glow after the signing of Bryce Harper and the best offseason “since Branch Rickey” that was declared by everyone wearing a fashionable powder blue golf shirt with the old fashioned “P” on it in Clearwater. But the stark reality of what has taken place here underlines the serious problems within the organization.

The farm system is almost bare, which lead to a quiet trade deadline that failed to address massive pitching shortfalls.

While Klentak tried to spin the swap of Mallee/Manuel as not the grand “new school/old school” exchange that some were making it out to be, it is clear that approaches between Mallee’s information overload style and Manuel’s “grip it and rip it” approach stand in direct contrast. One scout in a conversation a few weeks ago called the Phillies’ organizational hitting philosophy — one that had been implemented up and down the system — as “teaching advance calculus to kids still trying to learn basic addition and subtraction.” It should be noted that philosophy has some highlights (Reading and Clearwater both have posted great team hitting stats at Double A and Single A Advanced) and lowlights (Lakewood is last in the South Atlantic League in hitting.)

Either way, it will be fascinating to see if the organization’s mindset through the minors will change. They hired a bunch of Mallee disciples to coach through the system in a steady manner that would carry over through the upper level last off-season. It will be fascinating to see how that changes.

Ultimately, does this all matter?

That’s the great unknown. The fact that the National League is so awful means the Phillies still have a chance. However, the Phillies pitching is so God awful — could they call Rich Dubee back if they were heading "Back to the Aughts?” — that it still makes that elusive five-game winning streak that would propel them back into the race seem extremely elusive.

It would almost be better served if Manuel’s role was similar to an adviser who is taking notes towards 2020. If the Phillies come around, that’s great and should be viewed as an added bonus. However, the problems that many of the hitters have carried for five months are not likely to fade away in six weeks.

Since this position player roster will likely not change that much over the winter, having Manuel write prescriptions on approaches and other notes that can remain in a hitters file heading into Clearwater next year could be huge for the organization.

Then again, it is fair to wonder who will be trying to correct those hitters next spring. Because after the moves on Tuesday, any off-season changes would appear to be in play.

MORE: Kevin Cooney: Ignore the standings, this Phillies team isn’t close to being ready to win again

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