Phillies' 11-year quest to reclaim World Series trophy leads them to Joe Girardi

Phillies' 11-year quest to reclaim World Series trophy leads them to Joe Girardi

Ten years ago, John Middleton walked into the quiet visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, patted Ryan Howard on the shoulder and uttered the words that have since become as much a part of him as his square jaw and large bank account.

“I want my (bleeping) trophy back,” Middleton told Howard.

Middleton’s quest to bring a World Series championship back to Philadelphia has led him back to that night a decade ago when the Phillies lost Game 6 of the 2009 World Series to the New York Yankees.

The Yankees’ manager that night was Joe Girardi.

Now he will be the Phillies’ manager.

Girardi will be christened as the 55th manager in Phillies history in a press conference Monday at 1 p.m. It's a three-year deal with a club option for 2023. Girardi replaces Gabe Kapler, who was fired earlier this month after two seasons on the job.

"I'm excited for this next chapter of my career," Girardi said in a statement released by the team. "The Phillies have a strong commitment to winning from the owners to the front office to the players to the fans. It's something that I've seen up close for the last 30 years of my baseball career. ... To have my name now associated with this great franchise is something that I couldn't be happier about."

The Phillies prioritized experience in succeeding Kapler, a first-time big-league manager. In fact, the Phils interviewed just three candidates for the job — Girardi, Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker — and all have extensive big-league managing experience on their resumes. 

From the beginning, Girardi, 55, was believed to have been the Phillies’ preferred candidate. He managed the Miami Marlins for one season and the Yankees for 10, winning the World Series in his second year with the club. Girardi’s ability to blend baseball’s new (analytics and data) and old (instincts and feel) schools made him attractive to the Phillies' front office and ownership group, the latter of which has spent millions building an analytics operation over the last few years.

MORE: Joe Girardi's journey to the Philadelphia Phillies

Showalter and Baker are both three-time winners of the manager of the year award. Neither was seen as having Girardi’s blend of old and new.

General manager Matt Klentak led the search for a new manager, but it was made clear that his superiors, including Middleton, the team’s managing partner, would have to sign off on the hire. Middleton, according to sources, began thinking about Girardi as a potential Phillies manager back in July when he first started to contemplate dismissing Kapler.

“I don’t think there’s a relationship more important in a baseball organization than the manager and GM,” club president Andy MacPhail said at the news conference announcing Kapler’s firing. “If those two aren’t simpatico, you really have issues. I believe it’s John’s and my goal that Matt go out and start the search. At the end, he’s going to have to have the approval of John and I, just like with Gabe. John or I could have vetoed Gabe; we chose not to. But I can’t imagine us hiring somebody that Matt is not fully on board with. John and I will have some influence on whether the guys that fit that criteria who we think might be the best fit, but it’s got to emanate from the GM.”

Girardi, a former catcher, is an Illinois native who went to college near Chicago (he’s a Northwestern grad) and made it to the majors with the Cubs. He spent four years with the Cubs, went to Colorado in the expansion draft and was traded to the Yankees in November 1995. He was behind the plate the following October when the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 to win the 1996 World Series. Girardi went on to win two other World Series as a player with the Yankees.

Girardi began his managing career with the Florida Marlins in 2006. He was fired after clashing with owner Jeffrey Loria. In 2008, Girardi succeeded Joe Torre as Yankees manager. He led the Yankees to their 27th World Series title a year later, beating the Phillies in six games.

Girardi’s 2017 team lost in the American League Championship Series and he was later fired. After a decade on the job, it was time for a change. Girardi’s relationship with general manager Brian Cashman had become strained. There were reports at the time that Girardi had begun to push back over what he saw as the overuse of analytics — he favored a blend — and he was criticized for his handling of some young players.

None of this stopped Girardi from being a hot managerial candidate this fall. He also interviewed with the Cubs and Mets for their open jobs.

In Philadelphia, Girardi will be reunited with Rob Thomson, his former Yankees bench coach who now fills the same role with the Phillies. Girardi’s first order of business will be hiring a pitching coach and hitting coach. Both jobs are open.

One name to watch for Phillies pitching coach: Larry Rothschild, Girardi's former pitching coach with the Yankees. Rothschild has a year left on his Yankees deal but they could make changes on their staff.

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

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