October 23, 2017
The major league managerial carousel grew more crowded before the start of the weekend and then less crowded by the end of the weekend, but the Phillies search will continue this week with no conclusion expected before the World Series.
The Phillies have conducted their interviews quietly, first with a trio of in-house candidates (Juan Samuel, Dusty Wathan, Jorge Velandia two weeks ago) and then with with a few external baseball men (including Mickey Callaway, the Cleveland Indians pitching coach prior to today, and Dodgers director of player development Gabe Kapler, a name we first mentioned here as a candidate the day after Mackanin was fired and a candidate MLB.com first reported having interviewed last week).
Callaway, for one, is no longer in play. He is being announced as the new manager of the New York Mets at Citi Field this afternoon. Callaway’s hire brings the number of managerial vacancies inside the National League East down to two, as the Nationals joined the club on Friday when they announced that Dusty Baker would not return in 2018.
While the Nationals are just beginning their own search, the Red Sox, like the Mets, reached a conclusion on Sunday when it was announced that Houston bench coach Alex Cora will depart the Astros after the World Series to become Boston’s new manager. The Detroit Tigers concluded their own search last week when they hired former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
The Callaway and Cora hirings are interesting because they both seem to fit the demands of their new employers fairly well.
Callaway emerged as a popular first-time manager candidate after his success in extracting the most out of the Cleveland Indians young and talented assembly of arms in recent seasons (including the growth of former prospects Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco). The strength of the Mets major league roster is obviously their own depth of young starters, a majority of them who have taken a step back (mostly related to health issues) since the team’s appearance in the World Series two years ago, and so Callaway's appointment fits.
Cora has been lauded for his work with the Astros this season (his first as a major league coach). But he also meets an important criteria for the place he’s headed – baseball-crazed Fenway Park – as a player who was on Boston’s roster immediately after the 2004 World Series through the 2008 season, when the expectations only grew with each passing year and when the Red Sox met them by winning a second World Series in four seasons after going nearly a century without a title.
So if Callaway and Cora were seemingly the perfect fits for the Mets and Red Sox, respectively, who would best fit the Phillies job?
Since Matt Klentak and Co. are doing an admirable job of conducting their interviews in secret, it’s difficult to do a whole lot more than speculate on the confirmed candidates and re-hash the words spoken by both the general manager and his boss, team president Andy MacPhail, when the manager search began.
"Managing today, more so than ever, is a custom fit,” MacPhail said earlier this month. “Long gone are the days when 25 players had to find a way to get along with one manager. That is history. I've been on the Hall of Fame veterans committee forever it seems like and a couple meetings ago we put three managers in the Hall of Fame: Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. Looking at them, they had two things in common, they won a World Series and they'd all been fired before. So why can a guy be widely successful in one area and then struggle in the other? What changed? The environment changed, the personnel changed.
“I think back on my own experiences with Tom Kelly. Tom Kelly was one of the best managers I ever had the pleasure of being in an organization with. We also interviewed Joe Torre for that job. He goes on the to be a Hall of Fame manager with the Yankees. If Tom Kelly had to manage the New York Yankees at that time, I don't think he would've been that successful and the reverse with Joe Torre. It's a custom fit. You've got to put the right guy in the right spot."
And from Klentak, on the day he announced Mackanin would not return:
“I think a new voice in the dugout and a new style is necessary.”
One translation for the latter: we’re seeking a younger, more progressive person who hasn’t been managing like the majority of also-rans and experienced big league managers for the last 30 years, someone who is open to, say, bringing their best reliever into a game in a high-leverage, non-save situation, and who will be open to the inclusion of more advanced-metrics data and less influenced by gut feel and old-school norms.
All of that is why we included Kapler in our initial dozen names the Phillies could consider. The runner-up for the managerial job with the Dodgers two years ago, Kapler still found a home in the analytics-friendly Dodgers front office (headed by former Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president and general manager Andrew Friedman).
Kapler’s work as a coach or manager has been limited to one year in the World Baseball Classic (Israel, 2013) and another in rookie ball (Low-A Greenville Drive, 2007). But he made a name for himself in his post-playing career for his interests in analytics and nutrition, among other things, and surely has a progressive mindset.
Here’s an interesting excerpt from a blog he wrote on leadership less than two years ago:
“Caring too much about what others think of you stifles your ability to take risks. That football coach has to decide between being popular and winning more games. If you want to be average, continue doing what everyone else does. Being better than the pack requires doing something different.”
According to MLB.com, Giants third base coach Phil Nevin and Oakland third base coach Chip Hale, the latter who managed in Arizona in 2015 and 2016, have also interviewed with the Phillies. On Monday, philly.com reported that Manny Acta, a former manager in Washington and Cleveland, had also interviewed.
Among the internal candidates, Jorge Velandia has been seen as an intriguing candidate as he already has worked with the current Phillies front office (he was a special assistant to Klentak in 2016) and with many of the current players (his work as the general manager for LaGuaira in the Venezuelan Winter League played a big part in the Phillies selecting Odubel Herrera in the Rule 5 Draft three years ago).
With the World Series set to begin tomorrow night (and Major League Baseball often frowning on teams making news during its marquee event), the Phillies could conduct second interviews with finalists in the coming week and perhaps reach the finish line on their managerial search before the end of next week. An announcement prior to the first full week of November would make sense in that it'd give the Phillies brass and their new hire a week's worth of time to prepare for the unofficial beginning of the MLB offseason at the General Managers Meetings (Nov. 13-16).
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