On Friday, shortly after he orchestrated the firing of manager Gabe Kapler, Phillies owner John Middleton met with reporters (including Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer) to discuss the move and what’s ahead for the team. Kapler was only on the job for two years, seasons in which the Phillies came out of the gate well before faltering in the summer months. In the end, Middleton couldn’t get past those late-season meltdowns.
“Those September collapses. I kept bumping up against them,” said Middleton. “I couldn’t get comfortable or confident enough that if I brought him back we wouldn’t run into other problems and therefore I made the decision I did.”
The Phillies went a middling 161-163 under Kapler, but they were a far worse 20-36 during the pair of Septembers in which he oversaw the club. That was clearly enough for Middleton to put an end to Kapler’s tenure with the organization, but it wasn’t the Phils’ owner who selected him in the first place. Rather, general manager Matt Klentak was responsible for the hiring of Klentak, though it doesn’t seem Middleton’s confidence in the exec has wavered.
In assessing Klentak, a fourth-year GM, Middleton stated: “Nobody bats 1.000 in hiring decisions. I haven’t. So it’s early in his career, but I would also point out he’s made lots and lots of really good hiring decisions, too. I think what this should be is a learning experience, candidly. What’s happened in other businesses we’ve run and gotten into this kind of situation, people learn from it.”
Middleton showed plenty of confidence last winter in Klentak, awarding him a three-year extension in the wake of an offseason spending bonanza for the club. With Klentak having brought in the likes of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and David Robertson, Philadelphia expected to push for the playoffs in 2019. But the club stumbled to a mediocre 81-81 record instead, leaving Kapler on the outs and the duo of Klentak and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail to find a more qualified replacement.
With the Kapler era in the rearview mirror, Philly’s now likely to seek a manager who blends “analytics and tradition,” writes Breen, who suggests longtime MLB skippers Buck Showalter and Joe Girardi are near the head of the team’s list. Showalter, a three-time Manager of the Year who previously helmed the Orioles from 2010-18, goes back a ways with ex-O’s executives Klentak and MacPhail. In fact, it was MacPhail who hired Showalter in Baltimore.
Girardi’s connection to MacPhail isn’t as strong, though he was a catcher with the Cubs from 2000-02 when the latter was in the team’s front office. Since his playing career ended after 2003, Girardi – like Showalter – has established himself as one of the most accomplished managers in recent memory. He earned Manager of the Year honors in his lone season with the Marlins, 2006, and then led Yankees teams that regularly contended from 2008-17. Girardi was atop the ’09 New York club that knocked off Philadelphia in the World Series.
With eight teams currently on the hunt for new managers, it’s no surprise the well-respected Showalter and Girardi have come up quite a bit of late. Showalter is on the Angels’ list of candidates, and he may emerge as a serious possibility for a Mets team that’s set to interview Girardi in a matter of days. Girardi already sat down with the Cubs earlier this week.