In the wake of Phillies managing partner John Middleton firing manager Gabe Kapler on Thursday, Matt Klentak should be firmly on the hot seat.
Yes, the way the Phils stumbled down the stretch didn’t seem to show the players were doing everything they could to save Kapler’s job.
An 81-81 record with an underachieving offense, a subpar pitching staff and few regulars — perhaps just Scott Kingery — showing clear signs of improvement essentially sealed Kapler’s fate.
That Middleton, team president Andy MacPhail and general manager Klentak committed $400 million to free agents prior to the 2019 season and only finished one game better than in Kapler’s first season here was another strike against Kapler.
That Kapler constantly played up the positives even when it was unwarranted annoyed the team’s fans, as did his penchant for relying on analytics. He appeared to alter his approach somewhat in both areas during the first half of the season before reverting to his glass-half-full ways as the losses mounted.
Kapler seemed like a decent guy. He grew more comfortable with the media in his second year, but this business is all about results.
Klentak must hire a candidate capable of winning in Philadelphia. That probably means somebody with a track record at the MLB level, which wouldn’t be a bad idea after bringing in a first-time manager Kapler. Among the prospective candidates could be Joe Maddon, Mike Scioscia, Joe Girardi and Buck Showalter, each of whom has won in the majors.
Regardless who the next manager is, Klentak must give Kapler’s replacement a much better pitching staff for the Phillies to be a playoff team in 2020.
Klentak relying on Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Jared Eickhoff to fill the final three starting spots was a decision worse than any Kapler made on the field. Eflin showed that he can be a starter at this level, but the other three continued to be maddeningly inconsistent.
Combine a second disappointing season from Jake “It’s Never My Fault” Arrieta before his season-ending surgery to remove a bone chip in his right elbow and a so-so start/finish from ace Aaron Nola and it’s a wonder the Phillies won 81 games.
Unless a team can develop quality starters from within the organization, the price tag on No. 2 and 3 tends to be steep. The Phils have paid Arrieta $55 million for 18 wins over the past two seasons.
If Klentak doesn’t want to dole out big bucks in free agency for one, he should consider making a trade. Dealing first baseman Rhys Hoskins for a reliable starter could be an option.
And Klentak should acquire multiple starting pitchers if he wants the staff to be legit and avoid having to stomach more of Velasquez’s 4-inning starts.
Don’t forget Klentak signed 30-something relievers David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter for last season. The injury-ravaged trio earned a combined $26.75 million and appeared in 45 games. That is not getting a bang for the buck. It also resulted in guys like JD Hammer and Edgar Garcia having to pitch meaningful innings out of the bullpen before they were ready to do so.
I’m not sure if Klentak did a worse job with the starters or relievers, which put the Phillies at a distinct competitive disadvantage.
You can make a strong case that Klentak should’ve been canned along with — if not before — Kapler.
While we’re at it, what has Middleton been doing? Why did he wait until the 11th day after the conclusion of another September swoon to make this move? Middleton should’ve been “talking to many people both internally and around the league” a month ago.
Kapler was heading into the final year of his three-year contract, so a one-year extension would’ve probably been in order if Kapler had stayed to avoid him becoming a lame duck. That would’ve been difficult to justify.
Middleton undoubtedly factored in the fans’ dissatisfaction with Kapler, which I understand but wouldn’t think is as important as the players’ progress and what Bryce Harper thinks about the skipper. Klentak should’ve realized that Kapler and the blue-collar Phillies faithful wouldn’t be the best fit.
The release sent out by the team Thursday quotes Middleton as saying Klentak will lead the search for the next manager, which isn’t comforting given what the general manager has and has not done over the past year.
Klentak has one more chance to get it right. If Klentak is unable to upgrade the pitching staff and produce a playoff-caliber roster, Middleton should find another GM — and he shouldn’t wait 11 days after the final game to make the move.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly