Almost two full weeks after their season ended, the Phillies finally chose to fire manager Gabe Kapler on Thursday. But if GM Matt Klentak had his way, there wouldn’t have been a change. Klentak wanted to keep Kapler for 2020, though owner John Middleton ultimately made the decision to take the club in another direction, Meghan Montemurro of The Athletic reports (subscription link).
Kapler’s ouster appears to be the second time Middleton has directed a coaching decision in recent months, as he drove the team’s call to replace hitting coach John Mallee with Charlie Manuel in August, according to Montemurro and Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer. When the Phillies made Kapler’s exit official, Middleton released a statement expressing confidence the Klentak-led club “will find the right person to lead us.” However, if Middleton truly did determine the fates of Kapler and Mallee, it seems possible he could overrule Klentak during the team’s hiring process. If so, it may call into question Klentak’s long-term future with the franchise.
Klentak – whom the Phillies hired four years ago – will at least stay in place for a fifth season, as there haven’t been any indications they’ve considered moving on from him, Montemurro hears. The Phillies awarded Klentak with a three-year contract extension through 2022 last winter, though that won’t necessarily save him if the team falls flat again next season.
This year was one many consider a dud for the Phillies, who entered the campaign with playoff aspirations after a winter rich in big-ticket acquisitions. Middleton signed off on a spending spree for the Phillies, whose offseason was headlined by their signing of Bryce Harper to a history-making 13-year, $330MM contract, though their aggressiveness only led to mediocre results. The team finished 81-81, a meager one-game improvement over its 2018 record, and missed the playoffs for the eighth year in a row.
Kapler wound up taking the fall for the Phillies’ failures this season, but it could be Klentak on the outs a year from now if the club doesn’t make a clear improvement by then. Upgrading the Phillies’ roster will obviously be Klentak’s main priority over the winter, but for now, there’s pressure to find a better manager than his previous selection, Kapler. That individual will join a franchise whose management team “appears to be at odds” and may be “in a state of dysfunction” after Middleton overpowered Klentak on Kapler, Lauber observes.