Phillies

Gabe Kapler fired up to bring back John Middleton's bleeping trophy

Gabe Kapler fired up to bring back John Middleton's bleeping trophy

Gabe Kapler does his homework.

The 42-year-old stud muffin — did we really just say that? — was officially introduced as the 54th manager in Phillies history on Thursday. Kapler was polished and articulate as he spoke to reporters during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park. He addressed a couple of thorny issues head-on (see story). He spoke with the passion of a tent revival preacher — or was it Randy "Macho Man" Savage? — as he talked about inspiring and leading young players to baseball's Promised Land. He came across as competitive, intense, brainy, quirky, resourceful, hard-working and prepared.

That preparedness showed when he punctuated his inspiring opening remarks by citing a moment that has come to symbolize where the Phillies once were and where they haven't been in a long time.

"Bring that effing trophy back to John Middleton," a fired-up Kapler, wearing a fresh, new, red Phillies cap, said of his goals.

Middleton, the team's controlling owner and the man who pushed to bring change and outside perspectives like Kapler's to the Phillies over the last 2½ years, sat in the front row as his new manager spoke. He had to have been impressed that Kapler took the time to research a famous moment that occurred eight autumns ago on the night the Phillies failed to repeat as World Series champions. In the losing clubhouse at Yankee Stadium that night in 2009, Middleton approached Ryan Howard and said, "Ryan, I want my (bleeping) trophy back." The Phillies haven't been back to the World Series since and haven't had a winning season in six years. Now, it's Kapler's job to try to get the Phillies where they once were. It won't happen overnight — this team is still in a rebuild, after all — but Kapler is ready for the challenge and believes the first step in getting that bleeping trophy back is playing in the mold of the man who played second base on that 2008 World Series championship team.

"I was lucky enough to get to know Chase Utley in Los Angeles and I saw him prepare in the clubhouse," said Kapler, who most recently served as the Dodgers' director of player development. "It was unbelievable how much intensity he prepared for the game with, and during the game how much effort he put in. He led by example. And that’s how we’re going to play baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies going forward.

"We’re going to play with the same level of intensity that Chase played with. We’re going to make razor-sharp turns around the bases. When the ball enters the hitting zone, we’re going to be in powerful and athletic positions. Before the game begins, we’re going to prepare, prepare, prepare so that we've thought out everything and make strong decisions. We’re going to hunt for value at the margins. We’re not going to leave any stone unturned to find our competitive advantages. We’re going to think traditionally and we’re going to think progressively. We will care deeply about winning and we will be ultra-competitive."

Kapler succeeds Pete Mackanin, who was moved to a front-office advisory role at the end of the 2017 season. A fitness and nutrition aficionado with a physique that attests to that, Kapler is also deeply committed to the use of analytics in constructing rosters, lineups and running games. His interest and literacy in analytics mirrors that of the front office and made him a natural candidate.

"As we were reaching the end of the [interview] process, it became very clear there was one person who separated himself and was the right man to lead the Phillies into the future," general manager Matt Klentak said.

"Gabe Kapler is incredibly prepared. If he brings the same level of preparation and grit to the Phillies that he brought to the field as a player, our fans are going to love this guy.

"He has a unique ability to connect with people and I think that bodes very well for our young roster. He's a progressive thinker. Look at the teams (Indians, Cubs, Dodgers, Astros) that competed in the last two World Series. These are among the most progressive organizations in baseball. That's where the Phillies need to head and Gabe Kapler is going to be a huge asset to us as we try to progress to the future."

Kapler played 12 seasons in the majors and won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004. He has just one year of managing experience in the minor leagues, but that was not seen as a detriment by management.

"At some point, everybody has no experience," said Middleton, the 62-year-old former wrestling star who looks like he could still administer a half-nelson with ease.

Like Klentak, Middleton likes Kapler's commitment to thinking outside the box from everything from nutrition to analytics to communicating with players. (Kapler mentioned that some players respond best to text messages.)

And there's one other thing Middleton likes about his new skipper.

"I’m a reasonably intense guy, I’ve been told, so I think we connected literally on a visceral level," Middleton said.

There is still work to do for these Phillies. It will be a busy offseason as Klentak is expected to shop both of his middle infielders (Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez) for trades. He also needs to add a couple of starting pitchers. But the offseason's first order of business is complete. Gabe Kapler is on board. The next task is building a coaching staff. Triple A manager Dusty Wathan, a runner-up for the manager's job (see story), could be on the staff. Rick Kranitz, the assistant pitching coach in 2017, could move into the head role.

"I believe in building diversity," Kapler said. "I don't want seven people in the dugout who think just like me. I value somebody with a lot of veteran experience and I have a tremendous amount of value for someone who thinks more progressively. Diversity of thought, diversity of experience, that's a strong way to build a major-league coaching staff."

Morphine found in Roy Halladay's system before fatal plane crash

Morphine found in Roy Halladay's system before fatal plane crash

Roy Halladay had morphine in his system when the plane he was piloting crashed and he tragically died in November, according to Halladay's autopsy report, released Friday.

Zolpidem, the generic name for Ambien, and amphetamines were also found in Halladay's system.

As TMZ points out via the Food and Drug Administration, the amount of Zolpidem found in Halladay's system (72 ng/ml) is more than enough to impair a driver and increase the risk of an accident.

Halladay had a blood alcohol content of 0.01, according to the autopsy report. 

The official cause of Halladay's death was blunt force trauma, with drowning a contributing factor.

The crash took place on Nov. 7 in the Gulf of Mexico, with more details emerging in a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board two weeks later.

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

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AP Images/USA Today Images

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”