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October 08, 2019

What's the latest on Gabe Kapler — and could Buck Showalter be the next Phillies manager if he's fired?

UPDATE [Wednesday, 10:27 a.m.] — Another day, another mention of Buck Showalter as the Phillies next manager should they fire Gabe Kapler. This time, it's from's Phillies beat writer, Todd Zolecki. Of course, Kapler is still the manager, but that could change at any moment as a decision from owner John Middleton is expected this week.


While the rest of the baseball world is sitting back and enjoying the postseason — or, at the very least, looking forward to next season — Phillies fans are stuck in a weird sort of sports purgatory. With a decision on the future of manager Gabe Kapler hanging over the city's head, the fanbase has been unable to soak in the drama and fun of the MLB playoffs and also unable to look ahead to next season, largely because they don't know who will be managing the club moving forward. 

The Phillies season came to an end almost 10 days ago, and the team still has made no indication as to whether or not Kapler will return for a third season after finishing Year 2 with an 81-81 record, despite a massive influx of talent this past offseason. 

By all accounts, the man making the decision will be John Middleton, and he's certainly taking his time. Reports on Monday suggested that a decision would likely be made by the middle of this week, so this could all come to an end at any moment, but with Middleton reportedly, flying around the country to talk to players about their thoughts on Kapler, it could just as easily drag on. 

According to The Athletic's Matt Gelb, Middleton had not yet made a decision as of Tuesday morning. Here's the latest:

The Gabe Kapler decision is Middleton’s decision and most inside the organization have attempted to broadcast that when possible.

It has created a dynamic that has sparked curiosity throughout the sport. Middleton has not made his decision about the manager, according to three sources. It’s not a matter of internal debate nor a power struggle. Middleton continued to do his due diligence on the matter Monday and it required a trip outside of Philadelphia.

Potential candidates to replace Kapler have engaged the Phillies — sometimes through back-channel communication — to gain a feel for what the club is thinking. No one but Middleton has a feel right now for what the Phillies are thinking. It’s very possible Kapler, who has one guaranteed year remaining on his contract, returns to manage in 2020. The Phillies, for now, have indicated through their inaction that they don’t feel pressured to act just because seven other teams have openings and a bevy of big-name managers are available.

Across baseball, the Phillies are viewed as a franchise either overthinking it, or practicing a thorough decision-making approach, or totally dysfunctional.  []

Gelb adds that the Phillies will be parting ways with longtime trainer, Scott Sheridan, who has been with the club for 13 years, and one of his assistants. Couple with that the recent dismissals of hitting coach John Mallee and pitching coach Chris Young, and now "there is a growing narrative the Phillies can deploy to justify Kapler’s return while still claiming change," according to Gelb.

But if the Phillies don't bring back Kapler, one name has been mentioned several times as a possible replacement: Buck Showalter. Not only does the former Yankees and Orioles manager have more than 3,000 games under his belt (and success at turning clubs around early in his tenure), but he also has a previous relationship with Andy MacPhail from their time together in Baltimore.

On the other hand, Showalter wouldn't be the same kind of players' manager that Kapler is known to be, and that could ruffle some feathers in the clubhouse, especially when it comes to Bryce Harper, as he even pointed to Kapler as one of the reasons he opted to sign with the Phillies in the first place.

According to Gelb, there is mutual interest between Showalter and the Phillies, should the Phillies actually ditch Kapler.

The Phillies have entertained hypothetical scenarios if Kapler is fired. But some potential manager candidates — especially ones with jobs — are less willing to campaign for a job that is not yet open. And the Phillies haven’t decided what it is they want; players have supported Kapler in part because he permitted the clubhouse to police itself. A more experienced manager might install a different kind of structure to the ground floor of Citizens Bank Park.

This all makes Buck Showalter an intriguing figure. While a search for a potential replacement for Kapler would not be limited to Showalter, the two sides have a mutual interest, according to multiple sources. There are no indications Showalter, 63, would be the leading candidate.  []

Gelb is hardly the only person mentioning Showalter's name, but he's the first to report that the two sides have a shared interest.

Over at NBC Sports, Craig Calcaterra had an interesting take on the Kapler situation, especially how it relates to the Buck Showalter report. Craig compares Kapler to Schrödinger's cat, in that he is in a sense both fired and not fired at the moment, and we won't know which one it is until Middleton opens his mouth. But since "Schrödinger's Cat" is a quantum physics thought experiment and isn't actually possible in real life with something as large as a cat, let alone someone as large as Gabe Kapler, the Phillies manager can't be employed and fired at the same time.

And when you combine the fact that this is a Middleton decision with the Showalter rumors, Calcaterra thinks this could be a signal that the end is nigh for Kapler.

Know what? Buck Showalter is a guy an owner calls directly. He’s not the guy a modern front office — the sort of which identified Gabe Kapler as their top candidate the last time around — goes for, I don’t think. He’s always had a great deal of power in any manager job he’s held and, I suspect, anything less than totally confident and seasoned GM would be a bit wary of bringing on a guy like Showalter if he could help it. As such, if there’s “mutual interest” between Showalter and the Phillies, I’m gonna bet the engagement is at Middleton’s level and that it’s been sought out because Middleton wants to kick Kapler to the curb, at least as long as he can get the guy he likes.

Which is to say, if I were a betting man, I’d say that Kapler is one dead cat.  []

That's a fair point, but given that Klentak and MacPhail have that preexisting relationship with Showalter, perhaps they're the ones reaching out to gauge his interest just in case, while Middleton focuses on the decision of whether or not to actually kill the cat fire Kapler.

Of course, the Phillies could just stay the course for another year. It's already been reported that if the Phillies don't right the ship in 2020, Klentak will be on his way out, so maybe they give Kapler another year to make the playoffs and tie his fate to Klentak's fate. If not, there's a very real scenario likely to play out next year where the Phillies fire Klentak and then need to hire a new general manager but are unable to allow him to hire his own manager underneath him. That, or they limit their GM search to candidates who would be OK with inheriting Showalter (or whoever they wind up hiring) to run their team.

Neither is an ideal scenario. And that's what's been so maddening about this whole thing. The longer it goes, the harder it seems for Middleton and the Phillies to find their way into a win-win situation. 

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