By Sam Bush
So, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was asked yesterday if Gabe Kapler is going to be the Phillies’ manager next year.
“I mean this sincerely,” Klentak said before last night’s win over the Braves, “we have 13 games left and we’re four games out. And, one of the teams we’re chasing [the Nationals], we play five times. Until we play the last game of 2019, we’re not going to start talking about 2020 yet. Right now, we still have 13 very important games to play. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about 2020 after this year.”
Klentak believes Kapler “is doing a very good job.” He cited the team’s improved defense and base running as a direct result of the manager and coaching staff. He said he likes the way Kapler has run the bullpen.
“But not every season is the same as the one that came before it or the one that comes after it. The circumstances change. The player personnel can change. Expectations can change. There are a lot of things that are different year in and year out. But I think there have been a lot of positives.”
The Phillies dismissed former pitching coach Rick Kranitz after last season because they loved Young’s game-planning abilities. But the rotation has taken a significant step backward this season, despite everybody being healthy other than Jake Arrieta.
“If we’re going to be critical of players taking a step back this year, which I understand, we also have to recognize that many of our players took a step forward last year,” Klentak said, “and a big part of that was the changes that we made to our game planning and [Young] had a major impact on the positive strides on our players made last year. It’s a big reason that we felt comfortable sliding him into the pitching-coach role when we did because of the gains that we made a year ago.”
Dallas Keuchel could have helped the rotation, but he signed a one-year, $13 million contract with the Braves in June. Keuchel insinuated the Phillies’ front office may be rueful when he wondered last week if the Phillies were second guessing themselves for showing no interest in him.
“We will always go back and look at our decision-making and try to put ourselves back in the moment where we were making decisions and see in retrospect if there were things that we should have seen that we didn’t,” Klentak said. “Why did we make decisions that we did? Was there some improvement that we could make to that thought process to reach different conclusions? You’ve heard me say this, last year’s starting rotation was both healthy and effective. … There’s no question that we bet on some improvement from some of those players based on what they had shown in 2019, based on their ages, their development curve, that we thought there would be more improvement than what we’ve seen. It’s hard to look back and second guess that thought process. It’s easy to look back and second guess the results. Just like many Phillies fans have second-guessed. We made a lot of adjustments to our team last offseason in a lot of areas, many of those have worked out, some have not, but I think the best we can do is to look at the reasons we made or didn’t make decisions and try to learn from it.”
Phillies president Andy MacPhail, Klentak and the front office have been criticized for making minor moves before July 31, finding marginal upgrades at little cost. Fans complained that the front office showed no faith in its team’s chances to win, which has generated a certain level of fan apathy in the second half.
“You have to operate with the information that you have at the time that you were asked to make the decision,” Klentak said. “Given our place in the standings at the end of July, given the injuries that we had sustained and the likelihood that many of them would continue through the end of the season, that obviously impacts what our approach is going to be. Then you go out and you assess what the market is offering, what the cost is to acquire different players to make certain improvements and you make judgments.
“The fact that we may not have traded away a lot of talent to acquire those players — I think what we should be evaluating is the contributions that those players made, and hopefully will continue to make, and less what we gave up to get them. I understand that sometimes what you give up can serve as a proxy for aggressiveness or intent, but I think there’s also a value in reading a market and trying to make the best deals that you can. I know that some of the players that we brought in may not have been household names, but I think most of them have performed in such a way that they’ve delivered what we hope they’d deliver, which is adding depth to our bullpen and keeping us in games in our rotation.”