Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has a long and important to-do list this winter. It does not include exercising the option for 2023 in manager Joe Girardi’s contract.
So, Girardi will enter the 2022 season as a lame duck. That status can compromise a manager’s authority in the clubhouse, but Dombrowski does not believe it will be a problem in this case.
“Not with someone with the stature of Joe Girardi,” Dombrowski said Wednesday. “He’s been a big-league manager for a long time. I don’t think that’s an issue for him. I know it’s not. We’ve had some discussions and I’ve had many managers go into the last year of their contract. In fact, I got to the end with Jim Leyland, where that’s all he wanted. One year at a time. So, no I don’t think so. I think he’ll handle it very well.”
Girardi signed a three-year contract worth north of $3 million per season in October 2019. The 2023 club option can be bought out for an undisclosed sum.
“If you don’t pick it up, you’re paying some extra money,” Dombrowski said. “So there is a little bit different scenario if you were going to say lame duck, per se, because there is a financial inducement to that.”
Girardi is 110-112 in two seasons on the job. His teams have stayed in playoff contention into the final week of both seasons before fading in the final days as the club’s playoff drought has reached 10 seasons, longest in the National League. The Phils lost seven of their final eight games in 2020 and six of their final seven this season.
Poor finishes have been a disturbing pattern for the Phillies. Under Gabe Kapler, the club lost nine of its final 11 in 2018 and nine of its final 12 in 2019. Kapler has since moved on to San Francisco. His Giants led the majors at 107-55 in 2021 and will open postseason play Friday night against their ancient rivals, the Dodgers.
Dombrowski offered an overall positive, but hardly glowing, appraisal of Girardi’s work.
“He did fine,” Dombrowski said. “He did a good job for us. I think he's a good leader, he's a good leader of our club, handles situations well, manages well, he's well-respected, has good communication with the players, has good communication with me. I think he has good communication with the media. I think Joe did a good job for us.”
Did he get all he could out of the team?
“Well, when you say, ‘All he could,’ we always could get better, right?” Dombrowski said. “But I think he did a good job with them. I mean, I think that, when you look at some of the circumstances and situations of players and performance levels, could he have gotten more? I guess everybody could get more. But I think he did a good job.”
It's worth noting that Dombrowski did not hire Girardi. Dombrowski came aboard a year after Girardi, who was hired when Matt Klentak was general manager. That was a tangled web because Klentak did not want to fire Kapler. Ownership overruled him and pressed for an experienced manager with a winning pedigree like Girardi.
Fast forward to the present …
The dynamic between Dombrowski and Girardi is not unlike the one that existed between Pat Gillick and Charlie Manuel 15 years ago.
Gillick came on as general manager in the fall of 2005, after Manuel completed the first year of a three-year contract. Gillick was only lukewarm about keeping Manuel after the 2006 season, but he didn’t have a history of firing managers. He ended up keeping Manuel for the final year of the manager’s contract, but pushed for changes on the coaching staff, which included the additions of bench coach Jim Williams and baserunning guru Davey Lopes. Manuel never meshed with Williams, but he credited Lopes, his old Los Angeles Dodgers teammate, with weaponizing the Phillies’ running game.
Manuel had no issue going into the 2007 season as a lame duck.
“I want everything I get on merit,” he said after the 2006 season. “I want to earn it.”
He led the Phillies to the first of five straight NL East titles in 2007 and earned a contract extension after that season, and then another one after that.
In 2008, Manuel presided over just the second World Series-winning team in Phillies history. Gillick retired as GM after that season. In reflecting on his long, distinguished, Hall of Fame career, he said keeping Manuel was the best move he’d ever made.
The Phillies hope Joe Girardi’s lame-duck status takes a similar, positive turn.