Giants

What Giants new manager Gabe Kapler learned from time in Philadelphia

What Giants new manager Gabe Kapler learned from time in Philadelphia

SAN FRANCISCO -- For most of an hour Wednesday, Gabe Kapler answered questions from the media about what he had learned in Los Angeles. Kapler may never outrun that incident in the eyes of many Giants fans, but at some point, the focus of his tenure will turn to another question. 

What did he learn in Philadelphia?

The Giants felt comfortable enough with Kapler and his past to hire him and give him a three-year deal. Will he last all three? That will be determined by his ability to handle a clubhouse, develop the next wave of Giants and actually win games between the lines.

Kapler went 161-163 in two seasons in Philadelphia, finishing third and then fourth in the NL East. The Phillies improved by 14 games in his first season, but they tailed off down the stretch both years, and 2019 certainly was a disappointment given how much ownership invested in the team over the offseason, led by the additions of Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto.

The front office wanted to keep Kapler around, and Farhan Zaidi got rave reviews from his counterparts. Members of the Giants ownership group spoke to members of the group in Philadelphia and heard similar reviews, with the caveat that Kapler’s time in Philadelphia had simply run its course. Those who were around him for two years say Kapler did a good job of managing up, but sometimes lost his ability to fully connect with the clubhouse. There were questions about the way he handled the pitching staff, in particular.

The Giants digested all that and decided Kapler would take Bruce Bochy’s place, and during the interview process, the two managers spoke about how much better you can be the second time around, as Bochy was. You can learn from your mistakes.

So, what did Kapler learn in Philadelphia?

“The thing that I learned most, and it was pretty abrupt, was in my first year as a Phillies manager in 2018 I thought a lot about every little strategic edge, every little strategic advantage, and sometimes at the expense of some of that confidence that we’ve talked about,” Kapler said. “My biggest learn was: Sometimes a confident player is a better baseball player, and that outweighs the strategic advantage you get of calling just the right pitch at just the right time.

“I’ll use a pitcher analogy. If all of the information says that your curveball is your best pitch in a particular situation but that pitcher does not want to throw that pitch, you don’t force him to throw that pitch. You let him throw a different pitch with a lot of conviction, with a lot of energy, with a lot of confidence, and maybe that’s the best pitch in the moment. So probably my biggest learn is now to blend those two things.”

In an appearance on MLB Network a day later, Kapler gave a specific example. On Opening Day in 2018, he pulled starter Aaron Nola after just 68 pitches because he didn’t want him facing a lineup a third time. That has become a somewhat common strategy in recent years – but Nola had allowed just one run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings at the time. The Phillies bullpen gave up eight runs and the team lost, but it wasn’t the end result that stuck with Kapler.

“What we didn’t know is what an emotional impact that would have on the dugout. It had a pretty big, significant blow," Kapler said. "What I learned from that is learning how to trust Aaron Nola deeper into games and so we did that for the rest of the 2018 season and 2019 season as well, understanding that what we were seeing with our eyes was equally important to what we were seeing on paper.”

Nola wasn’t pulled that quickly again the rest of the year and went on to finish third in the Cy Young Award balloting. Kapler certainly will need a longer leash if Madison Bumgarner returns, but even for veterans like Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, he will need to continue to adjust. The Giants learned that in 2019 when they tried early on to limit Samardzija’s innings and exposure to opposing lineups, but instead they found that he was one of their most reliable pitchers. By the end of the year, Samardzija’s workload more closely resembled previous seasons.

[RELATED: Kapler shares his regrets from Dodgers assault controversy]

Kapler said he plans on going on a “listening tour” to find out the preferences of Giants veterans. The Phillies did that after his first season, inviting team leaders to their Florida facility to discuss things like when they would stretch before games and how they wanted pre-game work to be handled.

“Every good clubhouse that I’ve ever been a part of … players have to be part of that raising the bar, they have to be part of that accountability that takes place,” Kapler said. “They have to be active participants in that conversation, and so those are some of the things that I’ll focus on.”

MLB rumors: Cardinals 'entering the fray' to pursue Madison Bumgarner

MLB rumors: Cardinals 'entering the fray' to pursue Madison Bumgarner

With the Winter Meetings rapidly approaching, MLB free agency is heating up.

One of the top available pitchers -- Madison Bumgarner -- is expected to be in high demand, particularly now that Cole Hamels has signed with the Braves and Zack Wheeler reportedly has agreed to a five-year contract with the Phillies. For teams who scoff at Gerrit Cole's price tag, Bumgarner might be the logical compromise.

The Giants have been "in communication" with Bumgarner, but rumor has it another interested team has entered the mix.

MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported Thursday that the St. Louis Cardinals have been linked to Bumgarner, citing a source.

St. Louis already has brought back veteran Adam Wainwright on a one-year deal, and after he, Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson, there appears to be an opening for Bumgarner in the starting rotation. Signing with the Cardinals would not only allow Bumgarner to continue pitching in the National League, but would also allow him to continue taking his own at-bats, which we know he loves so much. He also has been linked to teams such as the Twins and White Sox, but would forfeit his at-bats to a DH in each of those situations.

[RELATED: How Wheeler's reported $118M contract could affect MadBum]

While Bumgarner is expected to receive a contract in excess of $100 million, Feinsand suggests Wheeler's reported $118 million payday might serve to increase the total.

MLB rumors: Yankees make signing free agent Gerrit Cole top priority

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MLB rumors: Yankees make signing free agent Gerrit Cole top priority

Gerrit Cole is far and away the gem of the 2019 MLB free-agent class.

The former Pirates and Astros ace led the American League in both ERA and strikeouts last season and finished just behind teammate Justin Verlander in the AL Cy Young Award race.

The team that historically always has had the deepest pockets in baseball -- the New York Yankees -- have made Cole a priority in free agency, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Thursday, citing a source.

Cole is a Southern California native with familial ties to the Giants, a team that also features one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the MLB. San Francisco also has been mentioned as a destination for the ace, who reportedly desires a return to the West Coast.

But if the Yankees, who always have jumped to outbid every other team for talent in free agency, decide to back up the proverbial Brinks truck for the 29-year-old, the Giants might be swiftly eliminated from contention for Cole.

Reports indicate that Cole’s price tag will “shatter” the record set by David Price when he signed a $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in 2015.

[RELATED: Report: Giants targeted UGA's pitching coach for same role]

While San Francisco has plenty of money to spend this offseason, it likely won’t engage in a bidding war that could approach $300 million.

Even if longtime Giant and current free agent Madison Bumgarner elects to go elsewhere in free agency, it remains to be seen how much money San Francisco would be willing to shell out for an elite talent like Cole in the heart of his prime.