Phillies

Winning record eludes Phillies, emotional Gabe Kapler on final day of season — will manager be back?

Winning record eludes Phillies, emotional Gabe Kapler on final day of season — will manager be back?

Updated: 8:26 p.m.

BOX SCORE

And so it ends.

With a whimper.

The Phillies’ hugely disappointing 2019 season ended in a 4-3 loss to the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon.

Before the game, Bryce Harper, whose signing in March fueled optimism and expectations not seen since the days of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, addressed the crowd of 31,805. He thanked the fans for their support, expressed his belief in the organization and the city and said, “We will reign again.” The Phillies then began to plug the final game of the season with a cast of relief pitchers. Two of them gave up three home runs before the game was three innings old. Brad Miller got the Phils on the board with a solo homer in the bottom of the third and added a two-run shot in the seventh.

But the Phils got no closer.

In a season where they came up dreadfully short, they came up short one last time when Andrew Knapp struck out with two men on base to end the game.

The Phillies’ ninth loss in the last 12 games and 16th this month denied them a winning record, which at the outset of the season seemed like the most minimal of expectations. They finished 81-81. They have not had a winning season since 2011.

Change seems to be a-brewin’ for this team. Pitching coach Chris Young is likely to be a casualty. Manager Gabe Kapler could also go. His future has been a huge topic of discussion among organization leaders for weeks and the team’s drop from wild-card contention and poor finish did not help his cause.

In two seasons on the job, Kapler is 161-163.

The Phillies were in first place in the NL East for a good period of time in both of Kapler’s seasons at the helm. The 2018 Phillies were 15 games over .500 and leading the NL East on Aug. 7. They collapsed and went 16-33 down the stretch to finish under .500.

The 2019 Phillies were 11 games over .500 and 3½ up in the division on May 30. Less than a month later, they were 6½ games back in the division.

The Phillies finished in fourth place in the NL East, not what anyone envisioned when the team acquired All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto in February and signed Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract a few weeks later.

“Obviously from a team standpoint, it was a disappointing year for us,” Realmuto said. “We had a lot of expectations and we didn't live up to them. We didn't play as well as we thought we could have. There was a lot of injuries that held us back, but we could have done more as a team to play a little bit better and stay in the hunt a little longer. But all in all, I loved this group of guys we played with this year. Everybody played really hard, fought through a lot of adversity. We stayed in the playoff hunt for a long time with not too much stuff going our way. So there is something to be said for that. But we just didn't get the job done.”

Through the final weeks of the season, as the team faded from contention and his job status became more of an issue, Kapler clenched his jaw and talked about scratching and clawing until the last out of the season.

When that last out came, he remained in the dugout and hugged every player. He received a handshake from owner John Middleton, the man who in the coming days will have final say on his future with the club. Later, in his postgame news conference, Kapler became emotional.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of a group of men like these guys,” he said. “We didn’t get the job done. But it wasn’t for lack of effort. And it wasn’t for lack of character and it wasn’t for lack of grit. I’m truly proud of every one of those guys. I could talk about each of them individually, but that would take a really long time.”

Kapler said the emotion had nothing to do with his uncertain job status.

“The emotion is being proud of our players,” he said. “As a manager, this year I was blessed with high character, high quality, players and men. What you’re seeing right now, emotionally, is me feeling the power of that.”

Kapler talks to general manager Matt Klentak every day. But as Sunday night’s postgame news conference broke up, Kapler had not yet been informed whether he would be back next year or let go with a year left on his contract.

“That's not something we've talked about,” he said. “It's definitely not a conversation I need to have right now in this room. It's a private conversation. My job is to focus on managing the Phillies even after Game 162 and I will do that to the best of my ability.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Good thing the Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did.

Stephen Strasburg, who entered the offseason as the No. 2 starting pitcher in free agency behind Gerrit Cole and ahead of Wheeler, is returning to the Nationals on a massive seven-year, $245 million contract, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

As historically good as Strasburg was in October, that is an insane number for him. He will turn 32 midway through the first of the seven years. He has made 30 starts in just three of nine seasons and reached 200 innings twice. He was more durable than ever in 2019 and, boy, did he cash in because of it. 

Two seasons ago, in 2018, Strasburg made 22 starts with a 3.74 ERA. Had he had that type of season in 2019, he probably wouldn't have even opted out of the remaining three years and $75 million to find this next payday.

Good for him. But also good for the Phillies in agreeing with Wheeler five days before the Nats retained Strasburg. Because if Wheeler was still on the board today, that number is at least $20 million higher and maybe more. Would a team go to $140 million for Wheeler? What about $160 million? Think about how many free agents the White Sox have struck out on in recent years. Wouldn't they have been likely to up their offer one more time if Wheeler was still out there to see what Strasburg signed for?

Strasburg is a great pitcher, don't get it twisted. He proved in 2019 that he can be the most reliable and important arm in the league when the pressure is at its peak. But forget Year 6, by Year 3 or 4 of this deal, the Nationals could be regretting it mightily.

And if this is what it took to sign Strasburg, Gerrit Cole is even more likely to approach $300 million.

There has been much more offseason activity leaguewide than there was at this point a year ago. The five best remaining free agents are Cole, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The next three would be Nick Castellanos, Didi Gregorius, Marcell Ozuna and then you're getting into back-end-rotation types.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

How close are Phillies to luxury tax threshold after Zack Wheeler signing?

How close are Phillies to luxury tax threshold after Zack Wheeler signing?

The Phillies, after signing Zack Wheeler for $118 million over five years, are approximately $20 million below MLB's luxury tax threshold for the 2020 season.

John Middleton was asked at a news conference six weeks ago about his willingness to exceed the $208 million tax, which for a first-time offender like the Phillies would result in a 20 percent penalty for every dollar they are over $208M.

This is what the Phils' managing partner said:

Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team. That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

The 2020 Phillies are not one piece away from seriously contending for a World Series. Even after the Wheeler splash, they still need at least one more strong regular in the lineup, at least one starting pitcher, a couple semi-reliable relief arms and a more competent bench. The strength of the Nationals and Braves also complicates things.

Suffice it to say, this does not sound like the situation Middleton described above.

That does not mean, however, that the Phillies' front office is treating the tax threshold like a hard cap. If the right opportunity presents itself, they will pounce. If the expected dollar figure for Anthony Rendon somehow doesn't materialize, the Phillies wouldn't pass up a great deal for a great fit just to stay under in 2020.

They're just going to be logical about it. There is reason to leave flexibility for midseason when you have a better idea of how close you are to contending for a division title. Why overpay a middling reliever or starter now when you can potentially acquire a difference-making one in July? 

This is a key season coming up for the Phillies. After 2020, they free up $38 million as the contracts of Jake Arrieta and David Robertson expire. That's money that can be reallocated to a very good starting pitcher and a very good everyday player. Right now, those two contracts are hindrances. Robertson is unlikely to contribute in 2020 and the Phillies desperately need Arrieta to be better than a No. 4.

The Phillies' proximity to that $208 million luxury tax threshold helps explain why they didn't beat the Braves' one-year, $18 million offer to Cole Hamels. As nice as a reunion with Hamels would have been, they could probably replicate his production for half the money or maybe a little more with someone like Wade Miley or Rick Porcello.

The Phillies won't close the door on any free agent, but don't be shocked if their splashiest move came before the Winter Meetings even began.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

More on the Phillies