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September 24, 2019

Paul Hagen: Should Kapler be back? And other random thoughts on the now-eliminated Phillies

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Phillies-Kapler_092419_usat Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler argues with home plate umpire Alan Porter during Tuesday's game against the Washington Nationals.

And that’s the ballgame...

So here’s a special elimination edition of Random Thoughts after a 4-1 loss at Washington in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader made it official. Including the out-of-sight-out-of-mind outfielder, whether or not manager Gabe Kapler should be back, what former NFL great Joe Theismann can teach top prospect Alec Bohm and putting Bryce Harper’s season in perspective.

There’s been a lot of focus on all the relievers the Phillies lost this season. What’s gotten far less attention is how the outfield has had to evolve — and what it could mean looking ahead.

Harper was the only OF on the Opening Day roster to make it to June 1. Aaron Altherr was waived. Nick Williams was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Andrew McCutchen was lost for the season following a freakish knee injury. And Odubel Herrera... more on him in a minute.

A case can be made that the Phils are already better fortified going into 2020. Harper will be back, of course. So will McCutchen. There were some who wondered if a three-year, $50 million commitment to a guy five years removed from his NL MVP with declining production made sense, but he made a positive impact before going on the IL. Yes, he’ll be 33 and coming off a serious injury when next season opens at Miami on March 26, but two of the three outfield spots are taken.

General manager Matt Klentak also traded for Jay Bruce who a) Was really good and b) Is under contract for next year. Adam Haseley, the 2017 No. 1 draft choice, made his debut. Scott Kingery, pressed into service, added outfield to the list of positions he’s proven he can handle. Corey Dickerson, another Klentak acquisition, opened eyes. Although he’s a free agent who will likely look for an opportunity to play regularly, which the Phillies probably can’t guarantee, he theoretically remains at least an option.

And then there’s Hererra who will be reinstated after missing the final two-thirds of the season following allegations of domestic abuse. He was suspended by Major League Baseball even though charges were dropped.

Under terms of the 2015 Domestic Violence Policy, the Phillies can trade him. What they can’t do is release him because of that incident. They can, however, cut ties if they can make a compelling case that they’re doing so strictly for baseball reasons.

And, one way or the other, the outfield depth the Phillies have now makes it that much less likely Herrera will ever wear a Phillies uniform again. 

*  *  *

The future of manager Gabe Kapler is, understandably, a hot topic. He’s become a polarizing figure in his two years on the job. Two thoughts on whether he should return:

1. It doesn’t matter what I think. In fact, the only factor that should be considered is whether whoever makes the final call – managing partner John Middleton, president Andy Mac Phail or Klentak – has gotten everything he could out of the players he was given.

Everything else is eyewash. Without being around the team every day, without having access to what goes on behind closed doors, without the ability to solicit honest answers from players, it’s impossible for an outsider to get a grip on whether Kapler did or did not achieve that bottom line duty.

2. If the conclusion is that he didn’t, the fact that he has a year left on his contract shouldn’t keep the Phillies from making a change. And if the judgement is that he did, he should be extended. Because going into a season as a lame duck can only undermine a manager’s authority and that’s not fair to anybody.

*  *  *

Bohm was at Citizens Bank Park during the last homestand to receive the Paul Owens Award as the best position player in the farm system. (Ethan Lindow was honored as the top pitcher.)

Which triggered a memory. In 1970, before Joe Theismann’s senior season at Notre Dame, legendary sports information director Roger Valdiserri called him into the office and asked him how he pronounced his last name.

THEES-man, he said. Not anymore, he was told. From now on it’s THISE-man. To rhyme with Heisman Trophy.

So here’s a modest proposal. Bohm, pronounced BOME, should from this point forward pronounce his last name to rhyme with BOMB. Perfect for a third baseman who hit a total of 21 of them in the minors this year and is projected to develop into a legitimate power threat.

*  *  *

Asked recently to assess Bryce Harper’s season, Klentak said: “Bryce is so electric. On the field and off. In everything he does, whether it’s social media or the clothes he wears, it’s followed by millions of fans. I was very pleased with his on-field performance. But as much as anything, I’ve been very pleased with how he’s connected with the city. With the fans, with the culture, with the ballpark, with everything. He hustles on every play. His helmet is flying off. He plays with emotion and passion and really is an ideal fit for this franchise.”

I tend to agree with all that. I do have to point out one thing, though.

With six games left to play, Harper had 33 home runs. That’s pretty good. He’s only hit more twice in his career: 42 when he won the MVP in 2015 and 34 last season. But that’s become such a warped stat that it’s almost impossible to put it in the proper perspective.

Just four years ago, Harper’s 42 homers tied for third in the big leagues. In 2018, 34 tied for 16th.

Going into play Tuesday, 33 was tied for 30th. That’s just another reminder of how quickly the game has changed.

*  *  *

Going into the nightcap Tuesday, the Phillies are two games over .500 with six to play. So the final team goal has to be finishing with a winning record.

Needless to say, it would be a huge disappointment if they don’t. Especially considering that they were 11 over as late as May 29 and in first place as late as June 11.


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