Nineteen irate fans called into my WIP talk show last weekend excoriating Gabe Kapler. Most demanded the Phils manager be fired immediately. Some desired a worse fate.
While I am no fan of the slick-talking, new wave Ken doll directing the Phils’ on-field ineptitude these days, I don’t believe Kapler is their biggest problem. Even after Alex Rodriguez candidly blasted him as careless and out-maneuvered during Sunday night’s ESPN broadcast of the Phils 9-6 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
I think the larger problem is found one rung higher on the organizational flow chart.
Matt Klentak is now in his fourth season as general manager. Despite bragging earlier this year about directing “an objectively excellent offseason,” his team is now mired in fourth place in the NL East.
The Phils’ four-season record under Klentak stands at 50 games below .500. Over the last 162, they’re 77-85. All the whistling-past-the-graveyard talk that they’re still in the race for the second Wild Card spot covers up the truth that Klentak has — again — failed to put together a contender.
I’ll admit to falling into the excitement last winter when Klentak went on a half-billion-dollar spree with owner John Middleton’s money. Looking back, we were thrilled over some shiny baubles but ignored the rust that underlies this organization.
Specifically, Klentak’s offseason faith in a rotation including Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez doomed this club from the start. The GM invested high in relief pitchers — and it’s not his fault many got injured — but he ignored the most important element of the game.
Klentak had another chance to address that weakness a few weeks back at the trade deadline. But while the Mets shocked everyone by adding Marcus Stroman to an already potent rotation, the guys in red pinstripes brought in over-the-hill mediocrities Jason Vargas and Drew Smyly.
Which of the two franchises really seems to be going for it?
It’s the GM, not the manager, who steers the organizational ship. It’s the GM who sets the approach from the Major League club down to the lowest in the minors. So when you see players swinging from their heels down two strikes rather than shortening up — that’s Klentak’s philosophy at work.
The Phillies left 15 men on base in Sunday night’s loss and the only odd part is that it didn’t seem unusual. When you watch an offense that won’t (or can’t) execute a hit-and-run, steal a base or succeed in any aspect of situational hitting — well, I’ll place that on Klentak’s religious adherence to the Church of Launch Angle and Exit Velocity.
It’s Klentak, not Kapler, who hired the hitting instructors for this franchise. It’s Klentak who pushed out pitching coach Rick Kranitz (now laughing in Atlanta) in favor of the incompetent Chris Young.
My concern is that while Gabe may eventually be tossed overboard as the sacrifice for another lost season, Klentak will almost certainly return in 2020. Again, take this as no endorsement of the manager’s work either strategically or in developing talent.
But talent development tends to be the GM’s department. Where’s the impactful mid-season call up? Take a quick look at the Braves roster vs. the Phillies and decide for yourself which front office has better set up itself for the future.
Maybe somewhere John Middleton is seething. We know he has to be watching. We know he’s willing to spend his money. But is he ready to push the button that’s needed to change the direction of the franchise?