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September 30, 2019

What they're saying: How will the Phillies' front office handle Gabe Kapler decision?

The 2019 Phillies season — a season that started with sky high exceptions only to see them dashed and re-calibrated several times — mercifully came to an end on Sunday with a 4-3 loss to the Marlins at home. And, as is often the case when a team falls short of expectations, the real work might be just beginning. 

For starters, the Phillies have several positions on the roster to address this offseason, like the woeful starting pitching they failed to address during last winter's shopping spree or the futures of several long-time position players, like Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez. But before they get into any of that, the team — and specifically owner John Middleton — will need to decide who will be managing the Phillies next season.

Sure, there's a chance it's still Gabe Kapler stays, though some are acting like his dismissal is a foregone conclusion. And given his contract status — he has one year remaining — the Phillies' decision gets even more difficult. If they decide to bring Kapler back, not only would they have to announce that decision, but that announcement would also likely come with news that Kapler has signed a contract extension. Why? Because even if next year is do-or-die for Kapler, it benefits no one to have a manager working on a lame-duck contract. 

There's also an argument to be made that Kapler was set up to fail this season, and that's for several reasons. There were those lofty expectations, the lack of pitching help we already mentioned, and several injuries along the way. Add to that the fact that the front office had a chance to beef up the roster at the trade deadline but instead opted to add marginal players that everyone knew weren't enough to get the Phillies to the postseason. 

This is not to say there aren't plenty of reasons for the team to part ways with Kapler and venture in a new direction, it's just a reminder that not every bad that happen to the Phillies this season was a direct result of some ill-timed pitching change or questionable lineup decision. 

Still, Kapler has had two season with a much-improved club compared to the years leading up to his arrival. And he's failed to finish either season over .500. So, if the Phillies do decide to part ways with their manager, it would be hard to argue with that decision. 

And that — the arguments for and against firing Kapler, as well as how that decision could play out in the coming days and who could ultimately replace him — is what we'll focus on in today's Phillies edition of What They're Saying... 

Klentak still in Kapler's corner

Todd Zolecki |

Here's the latest from beat writer Todd Zolecki, who sums up the looming decision for the Phillies nicely and says that "change is likely." When that change comes — and who it involves — remains to be seen, but Zolecki has previously reported that it might not happen for a few days. 

The feeling throughout the organization is that a change is likely, although the front office has pointed to injuries as an explanation for the team’s fourth-place finish in the National League East. If Kapler remains, it is probably because the organization believes the injuries were too much to overcome.

It also might mean that Phillies general manager Matt Klentak convinced managing partner John Middleton to stay the course. It is believed that Klentak still thinks Kapler is the right man for the job, but Middleton puts winning above everything. He spearheaded the negotiations to bring Harper to Philadelphia. Middleton pushed for the front office to dismiss hitting coach John Mallee. He discussed replacing pitching coach Chris Young, too, though he remained on staff.  []

Kapler's future in Middleton's hands

Matt Gelb | The Athletic

John Middleton only stepped into the limelight as the face of Phillies ownership a few years ago. Before that, the average fan didn't know who he was. Now, he appears to be the one with final say over all matters within the organization, including player personnel. That obviously includes Kapler, and according to Matt Gelb of The Athletic, the front office is split over how to handle their manager situation. 

The Kapler decision, according to multiple team sources, is in Middleton’s hands. The owner was present last week for organizational meetings held in a conference room outside of Washington while the team was in town. There is division within the front office about whether Kapler should remain manager. His apologists point to meaningful adjustments Kapler made this season. His detractors wonder if the manager’s message is ignored inside the clubhouse and cite the team’s lack of urgency as a reflection of Kapler.

It is telling that the Phillies have not yet issued a definitive statement about Kapler’s future.  []

Gelb also pointed to the fact that if the Phillies do make a change, they'll hardly be the only team looking for a new manager, although there should be several big-name options on the market, including Joe Maddon, Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter — all three of whom Kevin Cooney named on Sunday in his look at who might replace Kapler if/when the Phillies make a move.

In face, Maddon's name has come up several times, but once again, the Phillies likely wouldn't be his only suitor, and the longer the Phillies wait to make their decision, the further behind they become in their search for and recruitment of Kapler's potential replacement. 

So what might the Phillies be looking for in a manager? Well, Maddon, aside from his experience, isn't all that different from Kapler. But that experience would give him a lot credibility to do some of the same things Kapler did without driving the fanbase absolutely insane. Especially if the team is winning. 

When baseball teams make a change, they often search for the opposite of what they are replacing. But, if the Phillies hired Joe Maddon or Joe Girardi or Buck Showalter or Dusty Baker, they would ask that experienced manager to incorporate data into his personnel decisions. (Maddon, for what it’s worth, follows many of the same principles that Kapler does. He’s just done it longer.) That will be a hallmark of this organization so long as the current regime remains in power.

More than anything, the Phillies must ask themselves why a revamped roster that featured an improved clubhouse culture and a manager who learned from his initial mistakes failed. They will blame injuries. But there is a good core group of players who played a lot in 2019 and they were inconsistent. How can the Phillies bring the best out of them?  []

This is why we boo

David Murphy |

Over at, David Murphy wondered how much fan noise — or, as the season went on, the lack of it down at the ballpark — could contribute to the Phillies' decision on Kapler. And given what that could mean to the team's bottom line, especially a team who has seen its payroll greatly increase, it might make Middleton's decision a little bit easier. 

Consider the attendance for Sunday’s season finale, when the Phillies drew 31,805 fans, compared with 34,202 last season. In last year’s final home series, against the Braves, they drew 89,000-plus over three games. This year, against the Marlins, that number fell to less than 84,000.

For a city desperate to rekindle the energy and passion that filled the ballpark during the Phillies’ run atop the NL East from 2008 through 2011, the malaise that has surrounded this team over the last month represents a significant step backward.

From a revenue perspective, there isn’t a sport that is more reliant on the health of its nightly gate than baseball is. If these fans have decided that they cannot muster the energy to get behind a team with Kapler at the helm, then John Middleton’s decision really shouldn’t be difficult at all.  []

Analytically speaking

John Stolnis | The Good Phight

John Stolnis of The Good Phight took a look at a number of questions facing the Phillies this winter, and Kapler is right at the top of that list. He, like others, also points out that if you think this team's love of analytics is going to disappear with Kapler, then you're greatly mistaken. 

Kapler was hired, in part, because he buys into an overall organizational philosophy regarding analytics, and with Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail likely remaining, that philosophy isn't changing any time soon. 

If the Phillies feel there is an option out there that makes them better, they should pursue it. After all, that’s what general manager Matt Klentak did when he hired Kapler and fired Pete Mackanin after a second half in which a bunch of young players who were getting their first big league experience went 37-38 in the second half of the 2017 season.

Kapler is still learning on the job, which is tricky given the expectations placed upon the team. Klentak said in a recent Entercom podcast that his manager made great strides this season and noted the team did improve on defense and running the bases. Those are not small things. But Kapler has been a lightning rod of criticism and has never been able to win over the majority of Phillies fans since the terrible first impression he made after his very first game at the helm.

If the Phillies make a change don’t expect them to bring someone aboard who’s going to eschew analytics. The Phils have invested millions of dollars on becoming an analytically-driven team and they aren’t throwing that away by bringing in a Dusty Baker-like manager. But it’s clear the team needs some help in knowing what data to use, how to use it, and how to teach their players to use it, too.  []

Did Kapler ever really stand a chance?

Scott Lauber |

For all of the reasons I outlined in the intro, it's a fair question to ask. That, however, doesn't mean that Kapler would've thrived had a few things broke the other way. If nothing else, it's fair to say that once the trade deadline passed — and the team knew how bad its starting pitching was and how desperately they needed outfield help — the Phillies' front office had given up on the season. And almost anything that happened after that can't solely be placed at Kapler's feet. 

But before Kapler gets run out of town, as some within the game are speculating, let’s flash back to July 12. The Phillies were 47-43 and held a half-game lead for the National League’s second wild-card berth. But club president Andy MacPhail sat in the dugout before the first game back from the All-Star break and declared that the team wasn’t in position to make a bold addition before the trade deadline. General manager Matt Klentak seconded that notion roughly 10 days later. ...

When MacPhail made his infamous ["If we don't, we don't] comment [about possibly missing the playoffs], the Phillies had a 25.9 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, according to Fangraphs. After Klentak picked up other teams’ garbage (relievers Mike Morin, Blake Parker, Nick Vincent and Jared Hughes, lefty Drew Smyly, bench pieces Logan Morrison and Jose Pirela on minor-league deals, and a trade with the New York Mets for lefty Jason Vargas), their playoff odds were 23 percent.

Not exactly needle-moving additions.

Regardless, majority partner John Middleton endorsed management's conservative trade-deadline plan. He co-signed the front office's decision to take the long view rather than mortgaging a potential piece of the future for a shot at one guaranteed postseason game.

Two months later, though, Kapler might lose his job over a 2019 playoff miss. Seems incongruous, no?  []

So where do we go from here?

R.J. Anderson | CBS Sports

As we already mentioned, Kevin Cooney took a look on Sunday night at a few names who could make sense for the Phillies, and Joe Maddon's name keeps popping up (for good reason). R.J. Anderson over at CBS Sports ranked the Phillies as the second most likely destination for the former Rays and Cubs manager. And considering they don't even have a managerial vacancy yet, that's saying something... 

2. Philadelphia Phillies

Should the Phillies make a change, Maddon would make sense as Gabe Kapler's successor. He's from Hazleton, Pa. -- or about a two hours' drive away from Citizens Bank Park -- and he's accustomed to dealing with high-pressure environments, so having to manage the high expectations around the team wouldn't bother him. Maddon's quirkiness would probably be better received by the locals after two seasons of Kapler, too.  []

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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