Phillies

Gabe Kapler now in a no-win situation, but Phillies had to do what they did

Gabe Kapler now in a no-win situation, but Phillies had to do what they did

Gabe Kapler's presence next to Phillies GM Matt Klentak at Tuesday's press conference sure made it seem like he's safe for the rest of the season, and Klentak confirmed as much when he said no other coaching changes are currently on the table.

The press conference was called to discuss the dismissal of hitting coach John Mallee, who will be replaced by Charlie Manuel, the most successful manager in franchise history.

It is a short-term move, which Klentak said multiple times Tuesday. The Phillies appreciate Manuel's stepping up into the role for the regular season's final seven weeks but do not anticipate Manuel remaining the hitting coach beyond the 2019 season. 

Manuel will arrive Wednesday night, at which point the Phillies will have 43 games left to turn around a disappointing season.

While Kapler kept his job this week, he is now in a no-win situation. Because if the Phillies do make a turnaround, a lot of the credit will go to Manuel for providing a spark. And if the Phillies continue to lose, much of the blame will still be placed at Kapler's feet.

It is not ideal for a polarizing manager who has yet to solidify himself in a town as tough as Philadelphia to have the most beloved manager in team history lurking over his shoulder.

But believe it or not, Kapler is genuinely behind the move. He doesn't operate the same way as so many managers, coaches or executives across professional sports. Kapler would rather converse with his harshest critics than dismiss or lash out at them. He wants as many well-qualified voices as possible helping out.

"The first thing that comes to mind for me is it's always going to be nice to have somebody who has had success in this market, both as a manager and in many other capacities, to be able to pick his brain," Kapler said. "I think it's great."

The easy, outside perception is that the Phillies are shifting from Mallee's new-school methods to Manuel's old-school philosophies. It's not really the case. Manuel, who has served in recent years as a special adviser to Klentak and a minor-league hitting instructor, has played a role in developing the offensive philosophies the Phillies preach from the lowest levels of the minor leagues up through the majors. Manuel, too, wants players to be selective and to drive the ball in the air. He just doesn't go about it in as complex a way, nor is he married to the modern terms for concepts that have existed for decades.

"It's not that simple. I think the messenger is changing, but I think the message will be largely the same," Klentak said.

Just last week, when the 2009 Phillies reunited at Citizens Bank Park, Manuel was the first alum in the media room and wouldn't you know it, he almost immediately started breaking down different Phillies' swings for a few of us. 

"I don't think anybody in baseball or this world loves hitting more than Charlie," Bryce Harper said.

Kapler, Klentak, Harper and Rhys Hoskins were all asked Tuesday about the actual role of a hitting coach. Kapler and Klentak talked about different players wanting different amounts of information. Some rely on the hitting coach to constantly remind them about a pitcher's tendencies, about head-to-head data and about mechanics within a game. Others don't care about the information. Others avoid it altogether.

Harper is one example of a player who doesn't want much information. "Guys flip the book on me so much," he said.

Hoskins is the opposite. The more data he can receive, the better.

"I like specific information right before the game or in the batting cage at 4 o'clock or when a reliever comes into the game, I like to know certain things," Hoskins said. "Charlie and I, I'm sure, will talk over the next couple days and go over those things. It's all about being prepared."

"I've talked to a couple of players today," Kapler added. "We're in the customer service business. We're going to give them the information they want, how they want it. They're going to determine whether it's simple or whether it's more complex."

At a certain point, Mallee's messaging was no longer effective. The Phillies can talk all they want about the former hitting coach's preparedness, but this is a results-oriented business. And when a disappointing offense gets even worse after the All-Star break, especially against beatable teams, some sort of change needs to occur. The move was due. Many would say it was overdue. This Phillies team ranks 25th or worse in runs, batting average and slugging since the All-Star break. There is no excuse for that. 

"It's just a different perspective that's been on the outside looking in," Hoskins said. "Maybe [Manuel] sees things a little bit differently and can provide a different wording to say something that we've been hearing. Maybe. Maybe not. Again, it has everything to do with what we do when we step in the box."

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2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

Bryce Harper spent the bulk of his video press conference last Friday discussing the unprecedented circumstances surrounding this 2020 MLB season. There were a lot of questions about health protocols, social distancing and doubt from some players that attempting to play this season is actually the right decision.

Harper talked a little baseball too. And one answer towards the end of the press conference stood out. 

He was asked whether he felt he'd have enough time in a three-week training camp featuring just three exhibition games to adequately prepare for the season. 

Harper acknowledged it would be a challenge, particularly given the Phillies’ regular season schedule.    

"East vs. East, are you kidding me?" Harper said of his team's 60-game slate consisting of solely NL East and AL East opponents. "We're going to face a lot of good teams, a lot of good organizations, a lot of good pitching. I went down each roster and was thinking to myself there could be 14 Cy Youngs in this East vs. East. I mean, that's crazy."

Harper's math is spot on. 

I identified 12 starting pitchers that the Phillies could face this season who have either won a Cy Young or are capable of pitching at a Cy Young level.

And if you add a pair of Harper's teammates — Aaron Nola, who finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018, and Jake Arrieta, who won the NL Cy Young in 2015 — that brings the grand total of Cy Young caliber pitchers in this East vs. East format to ... 14. 

Just like Harper said. 

Let's run through all the big arms the Phillies could face in 2020. 

After a season-opening three-game series against the Marlins, the Phillies play four straight games against the Yankees. They'll almost certainly face Gerrit Cole and James Paxton during that four-game stretch. Cole, who signed a $324 million contract with New York in the offseason, is generally regarded as the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball. Paxton is fully recovered from a back injury in the spring and has been among the top starters in the American League over the last six years.

The Phillies get their first look at the Braves a week later. Atlanta's rotation features 22-year-old ace Mike Soroka and 36-year old veteran Cole Hamels. Soroka posted a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts last season, finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting and second in the NL Rookie of the Year race behind the Mets' Pete Alonso. Hamels has finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young voting four times in his career and remains an elite starter when healthy. 

The Mets come to town in mid-August, led by two-time reigning NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. New York's rotation also includes Marcus Stroman, who finished in the Top 10 of the AL Cy Young voting three years ago and finished with a 3.22 ERA in 32 starts last season. 

The Phillies don't play the Nationals until late August. But their 10 games against Washington will feature a heavy dose of three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, who finished fifth in the NL Cy Young race two years ago and 11th in the voting last season. 

If there's a team that has a “Big 3” comparable to the Nationals, it may be the Rays, who the Phillies visit in a three-game series to end the season. Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow highlight Tampa Bay's rotation. Snell won the 2018 AL Cy Young, Morton finished third in the 2019 AL Cy Young race, and Glasnow is an emerging star who posted a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts last season.

Yikes. 

But there is a silver lining — the Phillies don't have to worry about Chris Sale, Luis Severino or Noah Syndergaard. They're all out for the season with injuries. 

Nonetheless, the Phillies' bats better be ready from the outset. They'll be put to the test early and often. 

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Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper provided the first memorable moment of Phillies summer camp on Wednesday afternoon. 

It wasn’t with a swing or a web gem, but rather it was two words that has everyone talking.

“Sign him!” 

That’s what Harper exclaimed as he returned to the dugout following a home run by J.T. Realmuto in an intrasquad game. 

Harper can claim to be a five-tool player, but you might be able to add a sixth tool to the arsenal because he’s been as effective a representative for Realmuto in contract negotiations as Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s agent. 

In addition to Wednesday’s on-field statement, Harper donned a t-shirt with Realmuto’s name and number during his initial workouts at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month. While Harper denied sending a message to the front office with his wardrobe, he did acknowledge that it would be “terrible and sad” if the Phillies were to lose Realmuto in free agency this offseason. 

If you want to argue that Harper’s actions and statement are an admirable attempt to help a teammate to a large pay day, that’s fair. It’s also likely that Harper views retaining Realmuto as the best path towards contention for the ballclub. 

The Phillies would be naive if they did not expect Harper to have a significant voice in team construction when they inked him to a 13-year, $330 million deal last year. Although it’s fair to assume they would prefer if Harper wasn’t hurting their negotiating position.  

Either way, a player of Harper’s stature and salary certainly has the right to speak his mind on roster matters.  

Let’s say Realmuto and the Phillies agree to a record-setting contract extension for a catcher. That would make the All-Star backstop the third nine-figure player on the Phillies’ payroll (Harper and Zack Wheeler). Keep in mind, this is an organization without a winning season since 2011 and that looks to be several key pieces away from true contention. 

Who knows where the Phillies will find themselves four years down the road? It’s possible Harper and Realmuto will have taken a late October ride or two down Broad Street in that time. It’s also possible that the club will have failed to take the next step in their development, the young pieces never reaching the level needed to contend. At that stage, the club could lack the flexibility to improve due its significant financial obligations. 

If the latter happens, let’s be clear: Harper has forfeited the right to justifiably complain about a perceived lack of commitment or a feeling of being misled about the intentions of ownership. It might be hyperbole to suggest the former NL MVP is forcing the Phillies’ hand with Realmuto, but he’s certainly making it known how he wants the team built. 

Harper does not appear to be that type of person that will turn on the Phillies if things do not go as hoped, but we’ve all been down this road before with unhappy superstars across the sporting landscape. 

It might not be an issue for today, but there’s a chance that day just may come.  

Stay tuned.

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