Gabe Kapler was not the (only) problem

The Phillies, and more specifically John Middleton, concluded their week-plus inquisition on Thursday and relieved Gabe Kapler of his duties as manager. 

It’s clear now that Gabe Kapler was never going to be fully embraced by Philadelphia. Dating back to his first game where he pulled Aaron Nola too early, he was frequently the punching bag for talk radio and fans alike. Of course, winning is a cure all. But in both seasons with Kapler at the helm, the Phillies started strong only to collapse later, especially in back-to-back Septembers. In two seasons under Kapler, the Phillies were 161-163 and missed the playoffs both years.

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Kapler was not the perfect manager. He made questionable lineup and bullpen decisions that sometimes led to losses. The biggest reason for his firing is the utter collapse the Phillies had in both of his seasons managing. He did not show an ability to be able to stop a downward spiral and saw his team tumble out of first place to finish under and then at .500. 

With that being said, he was not the problem. Well, he was problem, but not the problem. Kapler was guilty of mismanaging a heavily flawed roster. And that flawed roster ultimately falls at the feet of general manager Matt Klentak and president Andy MacPhail.

It was Klentak and MacPhail, not Kapler, who neglected the pitching staff and let easily obtainable upgrades go by the wayside. Whether it was a decision based on bad information or sheer arrogance, the Phillies front office put all of their eggs in one basket and hoped for breakouts from their own starters. Those breakouts never happened. In fact, almost every starting pitcher regressed from their 2018 numbers. 

They may have brought in stars like Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto on offense, but they did not make moves to deepen the lineup and replace below average players. They have yet to develop a strong enough farm system that is able to consistently supplement the Major League club. 

Man in Charge

It is more clear now than ever that managing partner John Middleton is the one calling the shots. It was his decision to fire Kapler. He was also the one behind the dismissal of both hitting coach John Mallee and pitching coach Chris Young. 

What is curious, however, is exactly why he’s making these decisions and not his baseball operations people, namely Klentak and MacPhail. If Middleton is not confident that the people he hired to run his team will do a good job, then why are they still running his team? They were more at fault for the last two seasons than Kapler was. They were the ones hired in 2015 who have yet to produce a playoff appearance. Finally, they are the ones who will now enter 2020 squarely on the hot seat, even if they should have been on it already. 

Gabe Kapler is not absolved of all blame. But, he deserves less of a share than Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail, yet Kapler was the one to take the fall. If the Phillies are not able to finally return to contention in 2020, the front office will have nowhere to point their finger except at themselves.