When the 2019 season officially draws to a close, it will become the eighth straight year in which the Phillies have failed to make the postseason. There have been some absolutely miserable stretches of baseball in that stretch (I have PTSD from the Williams-Harang rotation), but during most of those seasons we expected mediocrity. We didn’t care what the 2016-18 Phillies did because those teams weren’t expected to contend. That was time for the front office, and eventually Gabe Kapler, to lay the groundwork for a contending team. We had definitive rebuilding time, but this season was almost universally looked upon as the one that would end the playoff drought.
That obviously didn’t happen, so here we are.
As the last few, meaningless games of the season draw to a close, questions loom over the future of just about everyone in the organization. Kapler, Klentak and MacPhail could all realistically be out of the job over the next couple weeks, for better or worse. The city has long stopped paying close attention to this boring, paper thin roster and the Phillies have been eliminated in spirit since Harper’s grand-slam.
Needless to say, back to back second half collapses and continued issues with runners in scoring position are not good marks for those running the show. Any one of the three could be fired, but should they? Let’s take this one at a time.
Gabe Kapler is one of the most polarizing characters in Philadelphia. Some love him for his extremely player friendly, modern approach to the game; others feel as though his attitude doesn’t work in this town. He’s been criticized since day one following a controversial decision to pull Aaron Nola after 68 pitches and was eventually booed before the home opener. His critics, particularly those in the media, also can’t stand the way he gives corporate/politician style non answers to just about everything.
I agree that these things are aggravating, but ultimately, the Kapler hate is overblown and unjustified.
As someone who has questioned whether Kapler was right for the job in the past, I’ve gotta say that he’s done some things to win me over. He was criticized for not getting fired up enough in 2018 only to turn up the heat when things got tough in 2019. He got thrown out of games when the team was floundering, he dug in when challenged and most importantly, he stuck to his philosophies no matter what. That’s what any good leader should do, not second guess himself. Kapler’s methods may not be conventional and may seem alien on this coast at times, but they aren’t what hurt the 2019 Phillies.
I mean, what more could be asked of Gabe Kapler this season? There’s only so much that can be done when the front office builds a razor thin rotation and 7 of 8 projected relievers miss a quarter or more of the season.
Ultimately, it was lack of depth that did in the 2019 Phillies, not Gabe Kapler.
Prior to the season, I thought Klentak was an above average GM. He has shown an ability to get something out of nothing (Jay Bruce, Drew Smyly) and has gotten creative with extensions that looked smart at the time, and still could in the case of Scott Kingery.
Last winter was Klentak’s first opportunity to make some big moves, and he again appeared to live up to the task. The Segura trade looked great at the time and at worst looks like it will just break even, the Realmuto trade looks great and he of course played a role in landing Bryce Harper. Everything looked good on paper, but what we soon found out was that this roster’s depth was also made of paper.
The 2019 Phillies gambled on one of Velasquez, Pivetta and Eflin taking the next step and becoming an established big league starter. Pivetta in particular had plenty of hype as his strikeout numbers were right up there with the league’s best. Of course none of this happen as all three had their ups and downs this season with Pivetta in particular falling off the hardest. There are now questions as to whether even one of these starters are MLB players, and that is a big indictment of the GM.
As for depth beyond that, the Phillies seemed to have no answers other than banking on more unproven young players. Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez, Enyel De Los Santos and a flotilla of midseason acquired AAAA pitchers held down the fort once the first line went down, and that is another huge indictment of Klentak. This team essentially had no depth at pitching.
Klentak has also been criticized for the Jake Arrieta contract. Arrieta of course signed very late in the 2017 off-season as teams, presumably, were scared off by his declining velocity. That turned out to be true, as the current Jake Arrieta more closely resembles Zach Eflin than his Cy Young days.
So Klentak definitely dropped the ball in 2019, but does he deserve to be fired? It’s hard to say. He shouldn’t catch as much heat for the Arrieta contract because it seems as though that was a precursor move. The Phillies needed to set the table for the Harper/Machado winter and to do that, they needed names. So honestly, it’s a plus in Klentak’s column that he’s shown an ability to work his way around the anchor contracts Amaro doled out.
That said, the depth issue is tough to look past. It shows a complete lack of talent evaluation and simply made no sense. Gio Gonzalez signed a minor league deal at the start of the season. Why couldn’t the Phillies have scooped up a guy like that? Why wasn’t AAA stocked with Brad Miller’s and Nick Vincent’s from the start? The Yankees had injuries too, but were able to overcome it due to their depth.
It really is that bad when we talk about how paper thin the Phillies depth was, and Klentak could be fired on that alone. So ultimately, I think there’s things to like and dislike about Matt Klentak. He still has potential to be a good GM in my eyes but whether that will be here or elsewhere remains to be seen.
Klentak’s job should depend on how much control he truly has, which leads to Andy MacPahil.
Andy MacPhail is a longtime baseball executive who has been a part of multiple World Series winning organizations. He carries a-lot of respect around the game due to his past achievements and that can’t be undone.
However, MacPhail seems to have outlived his purpose in Philadelphia. For one, I don’t think anybody is entirely sure as to who has the final say between he and Klentak. MacPhail seems to only appear every few months or so to say that the Phillies are fine and that he doesn’t foresee any moves in the future. I mean, can anyone figure it out beyond that? Because I can’t. We heard this at his end of season presser last year when he said he had faith in the rotation and we heard it again during this past year’s All Star break.
The All Star break comments came as the Phillies were in the thick of a playoff hunt and MacPhail seemed to more or less throw cold water on the team’s hopes. “We wanted to have the quickest turnaround from a rebuild under a new regime to a postseason. That’s four years. If the season ended today, we would be in the postseason in the fourth year. If we don’t we don’t, but we still go for the ultimate goal which is winning a world championship” MacPhail said to reporters.
It is these comments alone that could ultimately cost MacPhail his job, and it would be hard to call it unjustified. “If we don’t we don’t” in regards to a playoff run doesn’t exactly inspire enthusiasm and hope. Not to mention the fact that the Phillies were fading at the time of these comments and only continued to do so. This now infamous exchange revealed that the Phillies brass had a “meh” approach to this season, and that had to trickle down to the clubhouse. Why play hard when the front office is content with trotting the same mediocrity out to the mound night in and night out? Whether he misspoke or not, the optics of these comments were terrible and never rectified.
Plus, I truly do get an Office Space vibe from MacPhail. What exactly does he do? Does he have final say over trades? Should we blame him instead of Klentak? Is he the one who held firm on the rotation, like he said in his press conference last year? Nobody seems to know, but what we do know is that Middleton has final say and seems to take an active ownership role.
It has been rumored that Middleton himself was involved in the move to fire John Mallee, which is not a good sign for MacPhail and possibly Klentak. It shows indecisiveness, and wouldn’t this essentially just make Middleton the President of Baseball Operations in effect? MacPhail seems to be an increasingly pointless middle man and his involvement here creates confusion. For these reasons, MacPhail should be out.