Why the Phillies fired the manager, kept the front office and other takeaways from Friday's much-anticipated press conference

Why the Phillies fired the manager, kept the front office and other takeaways from Friday's much-anticipated press conference

Gabe Kapler’s firing as Phillies manager was not a sudden move.

Owner John Middleton began thinking about it back in July.

At the time, he was met with resistance from club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak.

The season plodded on.

By late September, Middleton was doing more than thinking about firing Kapler.

“John had become an advocate for change,” MacPhail said.

Even with their boss ready to make a move, MacPhail and Klentak urged Middleton to spend some time gathering information before he pulled the trigger.

“We thought that he needed more points of view before reaching that decision, and he accepted our request,” MacPhail said.

The Phillies season ended without a playoff berth for the eighth straight year and 11 days later the club announced on Thursday that Kapler had been let go.

On Friday, the principals involved in the decision — Middleton, MacPhail and Klentak — appeared together in a nearly hourlong news conference at Citizens Bank Park.

More than 7,000 words were spoken. That’s a little too much to digest in one sitting. So here are a few takeaways from the news conference.

This was Middleton’s call all the way

The owner acknowledged a difference of opinion on Kapler between him and the front office. He invoked his rights as CEO.

“When you get towards an impasse on those kinds of decisions, the CEO not only has the authority to step in, the CEO has the responsibility and the obligation to step in,” Middleton said. “They understood my concerns. They understood my issues”. 

What was his tipping point?

Middleton confirmed that he spoke with many people in his lengthy review of Kapler. He would not divulge who he spoke with because he promised privacy to them, but it’s clear he consulted members of the organization from the clubhouse (read: players) on up. He would not divulge specifics, but sources say he had serious concerns about Kapler’s no-rules leadership style and a lack of structure in the clubhouse. During the press conference, Middleton admitted that he spoke to Kapler in July about some instances where players did not hustle.

In the end, Middleton admitted that he “kept bumping up against” two September collapses. The Phillies were a combined 20-36 (fourth-worst in MLB) in that month in two seasons under Kapler.

Did public opinion of Kapler figure into his decision?

Of course, it did. Successful businessmen don’t become successful businessmen without paying attention to their customers. But Middleton said he encountered just as many folks who wanted to keep Kapler as move on from him. In the end, however, Kapler always seemed like an uncomfortable fit in Philadelphia. Even the man who hired him admitted that.

“Kap had a hard time gaining acceptance, and I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t know,” Klentak said.

Surely that affected things.

Why did Klentak and MacPhail survive?

This is certainly an arguable point, especially when you look at the underwhelming state of the team’s minor-league system and the lack of quality starting pitching at the big-league level, but Middleton said he has seen advances in the organization that have yet to show in the win-loss record.

“You tell me what part of this organization isn’t better today, and really substantially better today, than it was four years ago when they came?” Middleton said.

In other words, Middleton still trusts MacPhail and Klentak to run baseball operations. But the boss has clearly entered the decision-making mix, having made the call to go all-out on Bryce Harper and dismiss Kapler.

“Nobody bats 1.000 in hiring decisions,” said Middleton, referring to Klentak’s hiring of Kapler two years ago. “I haven't in my career. It's early in (Klentak's) career, but I would also point out he's made lots and lots of really good hiring decisions, too. I think what this should be is a learning experience, candidly. What's happened in other businesses we've run and gotten into this kind of situation, people learn from it. It gives me a chance to express my view about standards and the processes and making tough decisions and people generally learn from that.”

Klentak will get a chance to redeem himself by hiring the next manager

Ah, but he’ll have help.

“I don’t think there’s a relationship more important in a baseball organization than the manager and GM,” MacPhail said. “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.”

The next manager

It’s likely the Phillies will look for someone experienced, someone who can be the boss of the players, not their BFF. Joe Girardi is a name that’s getting a lot of buzz. Buck Showalter, too. Middleton said the team had not yet arrived at the profile it was seeking.

“I think any time you're in this position, you should be looking to do everything you can to make sure you make the best decision,” Middleton said. “And you should start, if you have people who are proven managers, you should kind of absolutely include them on your list. But, look, somewhere out there there's the next Craig Counsell, and you need to look for that, too.”

The new manager will have significant say on hiring the new hitting and pitching coaches.

Analytics are here to stay

Ideally, the Phillies will find a manager who can blend the use of analytics with instinct and feel when running a game and a team.

Analytics remain a polarizing issue in the sport, especially in Philadelphia, where old-school ways reigned until just recently when Middleton emerged as the leader of the organization. But analytics are here to stay. The owner is a believer. The GM is a devotee.

“I think to be a forward-thinking organization you have to be willing to take risks (with analytics) and I think that is tougher in this market than it is just about anywhere else. I know that,” Klentak said. “But if we want to do what John has asked us to do, which is to continue to push forward and be a great organization, and compete year in and year out with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros, we have to be willing to continue to push the envelope at times. We will recognize the realities of our market, but we have to continue to push."

Another big free-agent winter?

Middleton said he expects the team to contend next season. It will need more talent — especially on that little hump in the middle of the field.

Will the Phils be big players in free agency, like they were last winter? Sources have said they will be busy again, though Middleton cautioned that the market is not yet set because some teams will look to retain their free agents during exclusive negotiating periods.

The luxury tax threshold will be at $208 million next season. The Phillies were about $20 million under that this season. Would Middleton go over that figure?

“Here’s what I’m not going to do,” he said. “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.”

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The best Philly products we've gotten home delivered during self-quarantine


The best Philly products we've gotten home delivered during self-quarantine

This would have been the weekend many of us visited Citizens Bank Park to get our first fill of spring baseball of the season. There’s nothing quite like strolling Ashburn Alley and smelling the sausages grilling and seeing that bright green grass for the first time in months.

I’m really missing a classic hot dog and cold beer at the ball park. But with the absence of some pleasures, many of us around town have had a little extra cash in our pockets and have been getting some of our favorite things delivered right to our homes.

Here’s a list of some of the best things I and a few of my NBC Sports Philadelphia coworkers have gotten delivered over the past few weeks from some of our favorite Philly spots. All caveats about tipping extremely generously and handling your goods in a responsible manner apply.

1. Rival Bros. coffee — listen, I could have put beer first, but honestly a good cup a coffee in the morning is the start to what kind of day we’re going to have. Rival Bros. happens to be my local coffee shop and they ship which I am incredibly thankful for. ReAnimator and Ultimo are two other great local options.

2. Tired Hands beer (or Forest and Main on Saturdays) — Delicious craft beer delivered to your door. Not everything about being stuck at home is so bad. There are obviously dozens of local craft beer spots around town you can hit up, I just happen to go with these two to start. At the end of these long days, a nice heady pint can do wonders.

3. Fresh meat from Reading Terminal Market — I’m honestly not sure how this works, but my wife ordered some fantastic meat from a service called Mercato where they’ll shop the market for you. You can even get cookies or a nice baguette delivered. Guess who is making short ribs tonight?

4. Cheese from Di Bruno Bros. — Again, you can get a ton of stuff delivered from Di Brunos online shop. Treat yourself to some Piave or aged Gouda this weekend and you’ll be a little happier at home. They’ll even ship pretty far, so you can also send people you’re thinking about a nice gift basket. My parents out in the burbs are going to enjoy a nice cheese plate this weekend.

5. Federal Donuts -- Fresh donuts at your door will not only cheer up anyone you're stuck in a house with but you can eat as many as you like because it's a sin to let a donut go to waste.

6. Philadelphia Distilling -- With PA Wine and Spirits shops closed and their website barely usable, go direct to the distiller who will ship to your home in Pennsylvania for $10. A dirty martini can cheer the wife up pretty quickly. Also good for helping you fall asleep during these stressful times.

7. A new hoodie and sweatpants — Gotta be comfy 24-7 and this is the time for elastic waistbands to truly shine. If you’re looking for a local shop, give Lapstone & Hammer a visit. Ben Simmons rocks it.

Here are some of the best things my NBC Sports Philadelphia coworkers have had delivered:

Anthony’s Coffee and Chocolates -- If you’ve ever walked through the Italian Market and followed your heart, as well as nose, in to the glorious place that is Anthony’s, you know that going into that store physically is a religious experience. They have some of the best chocolate in the city, and luckily they deliver, so I’ve still gotten my fix. The bad part is now being trapped inside with an overwhelming amount of chocolate and no one to eat it but myself. -Erin Dunne

Famous 4th Street Deli -- What's better than corned beef piled highonrye bread slathered in swiss cheese, thousand island, and cole slaw? Nothing. So support local business  and get a Famous 4th St. "super reuben." -Ashley Hall

Termini Bros. -- We placed an order from Termini Brothers Bakery for ourselves and also as a gift to send our family. Zeppole for us and assorted Italian cookies for my family. Everybody is a bit happier when they have Italian pastries. -Amy Fadool

Barcelona Wine Bar -- Without the ability to drink cocktails on their gorgeous Passyunk patio, I have turned to getting their extremely convenient cocktail kits, loaves of fresh baked bread, and cheese selection to go, which you can pair with the half-priced bottles of wine deal they are offering. I sat very close to a house plant while enjoying my “Guns n’ Roses” cocktail kit. -Erin Dunne

Art Supplies -- Like many, I’ve had a bunch of extra time on my hands — and when I get bored — I get crafty. I’ve ordered so much art supplies, a small elementary school could probably be stocked for a month. From new paints and brushes to markers and even 2,000 popsicle sticks. Why do I need 2,000 popsicle sticks? I’m still trying to figure that out … I’ll just say I saw a concept on TikTok and want to attempt to execute it. It’s been fun tapping back into this side of my life, since I’m normally too busy for it. I’m excited to see what I can create next, including some Philly-teams-inspired art. -Brooke Destra

Bryce Harper seems confident that he and J.T. Realmuto will be Phillies teammates for a long time

Bryce Harper seems confident that he and J.T. Realmuto will be Phillies teammates for a long time

At first, Bryce Harper thought about remaining in Florida and continuing his workouts.

Many Phillies did.

"Our main thing was to stay and stay as a group," Harper said over the weekend. "We were all going to try to stay there. We were going to try to work out and hit and things like that. 

"But the more and more that we figured out it was going to be this serious ...

"We figured out this was bigger than baseball and bigger than all of us."

So, Harper, wife Kayla and seven-month-old son Krew headed home to Las Vegas, where they could be surrounded by family and friends.

At a safe social distance, of course.

The coronavirus health crisis has brought the sporting world to a standstill and Harper, like everyone else, is just waiting it out, trying to stay safe. He makes quick trips to the grocery store and helps his wife cook dinner. He even tried his hand at grilling steaks for the first time last week. Apparently, they were good enough that he may be enlisted to man the grill again someday.

Harper and his wife last week made a donation of $500,000 to charities in Las Vegas and Philadelphia that help those in need.

"Just being able to look out for our neighbor and help out here in Vegas and Philly," he said. "I grew up here in Vegas. I love this place more than anything. Then being able to come to Philly last year and have the fans and city open their arms to me, I just wanted to give back to them a little bit. We're just very fortunate to be able to do that.

"Hopefully it helps a lot of people out, helps them through a hard time and puts a smile on their face. Give them a little bit of happiness and less stress in their life with what's going on right now."

Harper is not sure when baseball will be played again. He hopes that there will be a season in some form, wants to play as many games as possible and is willing to play into the winter, in warm-weather cities, to make it happen. He has continued his intense physical workouts back home in Vegas.

Harper signed a 13-year, $330-million contract with the Phillies a year ago. He arrived in the Phillies clubhouse with a superstar reputation but doesn't project that in the clubhouse. He is very down-to-earth. He loves mixing with his teammates. He keeps up with their doings at home via group text. (Maybe it's called Bryce Updates. Who knows?)

While Harper and his mates hope for a season in some form, there is a real possibility that there will be no season at all. Baseball, like the rest of the world, is at the mercy of this beast known as coronavirus. If there's no season at all, J.T. Realmuto would hit the free-agent market next offseason without playing a game in 2020. The Phils had hoped to sign him to an extension before opening day, but the sport was shuttered two weeks before the scheduled opener and there is now a freeze on negotiations.

At some point, the Phillies will have their chance to retain Realmuto.
Harper is confident his teammate will be around for a while.

"I think the Phillies organization absolutely loves J.T. and our team absolutely loves him as well," Harper said. "He's the best catcher in baseball. He's a great person. He's a great family man. He's a guy that we need in our clubhouse. I think the Phillies fans understand that as well. Us as an organization, we have to understand that he's going to help us in the years to come and if you want the best catcher in baseball then we'll make that happen.

"But at this time, of course, it's shut down, but I don't think anybody should fear us not getting J.T. back. I want him more than anything, so I mean it's something we need to make happen as an organization. But you know when that time comes, then (GM Matt) Klentak and (managing partner John) Middleton will make that decision and hopefully, he's back in Phillies red."

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