Phillies

Phillies need to keep both Gabe Kapler and Matt Klentak or fire them both — it shouldn't be one or the other

Phillies need to keep both Gabe Kapler and Matt Klentak or fire them both — it shouldn't be one or the other

All-in.

That pretty accurately describes the question in front of Phillies owner and managing partner John Middleton’s mindset toward winning a third World Series in franchise history.

But now the time has come to determine whether he’s all-in or all-out on the heart of his baseball operations staff.

Until a decision is announced on Gabe Kapler and Matt Klentak’s future, we’re all left to speculate as to what Middleton is thinking about who is to blame for a season that began with championship aspirations and ended as many losses as wins. Thursday night, Jim Salisbury reported that a Kapler decision is unlikely to come before next week, and that Middleton is focused only on the manager's job, not the GM's or president's.

I’ll leave the debate as to whether Kapler and Klentak have earned the opportunity to maintain their jobs to others. A strong case can be made in either direction for both men.

But as this draws out, one thing becomes clear: The Phillies need to either keep both of them or fire both of them. Firing just one defies logic.

From all accounts, Klentak chose Kapler, in part, because of his ability to execute the vision of the front office in the dugout. There’s no evidence to suggest that hasn’t been the case. So, if Middleton still believes in Klentak's and the front office’s approach to the game, there’s no reason to fire Kapler.

On the other hand, if you believe that something is amiss in the organizational mindset, why would you keep the general manager who spearheaded that approach while dismissing the manager who was tasked with executing the vision on a nightly basis?

Furthermore, removing Kapler while retaining Klentak just courts future dysfunction. In that scenario, Middleton would likely hire an established manager with his own mindset that likely will not align with Klentak's methodology. Not to mention that Klentak would need to make the postseason in 2020 to avoid having the plug pulled on his tenure. That situation becomes ripe for a power struggle between the newly hired manager and the general manager on the hot seat.

Then, you likely find yourself back here next year looking to find a general manager. Only, the new GM will have his first manager forced upon him. Who knows how that arranged marriage will work? History suggests it won’t go well. 

So, then you find yourself two years down the road and the only place you’ve gotten to is square one with a GM that believes in his manager and vice versa.

As the hours and days tick by, it’s clear John Middleton must answer one simple question: Do I believe in the direction we’re going? 

It’s either all-in or all-out.

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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