New Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has had a rough first week. With the strategic and technical bullpen gaffes, meandering explanations for those gaffes, and an arrogant attitude that is off-putting, he has done himself no favors, especially in a city like Philadelphia.
Compounding his situation is that the Phillies’ opportunistic aggression in the free agent market by signing Carlos Santana, Jake Arrieta, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter created unrealistic expectations for the season, some of which suggested that they were a playoff contender.
In context, it’s only a few games and he is a rookie manager who is coming at the job from a different viewpoint, one in which the numbers take precedence and the manager has his thumb on everything the players do. However, there are worrisome signs that could place his position in jeopardy even at such an early stage in his tenure.
His style comes across as stifling, going beyond the basics of being the boss when in the clubhouse and on the field to player nutrition and what seems like an attempt at 24/7 influence on the players’ conduct.
It’s notable that Kapler’s sole managerial experience came in A-ball as he took a break from his playing career and worked on the Boston Red Sox organization. In the low minors, it’s necessary to keep a tight rein on the players for disciplinary purposes. In the majors, even with a young team, it is not. Certainly, discipline and teaching are important with a young major league club, but this is not a group of pure rookies who need to have the manager constantly on their asses. The Phillies free agent signings should preclude such an overbearing attitude as Santana and Arrieta are both high quality people on and off the field and come from winning organizations with managers in Joe Maddon and Terry Francona who should be the ideal for all new managers not in their strategic maneuverings, but in how they give the players room to breathe, something Kapler has yet to learn how to do.
Kapler is intense and highly opinionated. He wants things done his way. But it’s not “my way or the highway” as much as it’s “my way, you’re a moron.” It’s the difference between philosophical disagreements and outright derision of the other perspective.
There’s a learning curve to managing in the majors and Kapler has quickly veered onto the shoulder of that road. There are six months to get it back under control. However, it does not take long to lose support not just of the fans and media – that’s to be expected no matter who the manager is – but of the players and the front office. Phillies GM Matt Klentak undoubtedly expected some growing pains and given his stat-centric style, is willing to give Kapler time to grow. Team president Andy MacPhail has literally been in baseball since birth and has adapted to the current generation as a means of survival. For someone who has seen everything in baseball, it is thoroughly understandable if MacPhail is watching Kapler and asking, “What the fuck is this guy doing?”
Initially, Kapler will get a break on that. If it continues, he won’t. That can be a negative influence not just on the young players the Phillies are trying to develop, but for the veterans in the clubhouse who, like Santana and Arrieta, have played for managers who do know what they’re doing and can see the signs of those who don’t. It can impact players wanting to come to Philadelphia as free agents and be a hindrance rather than a help.
Smart men have failed and stupid men have succeeded based on nothing more than their handling of people and adapting to the situation. If Kapler fails to adjust and fast, he could be the former and be out of a job before he realizes what happened and what went wrong, even if it’s clear to everyone but him.