In some respects, Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler’s job grew simpler this off-season. Nothing’s easier than writing four new star players into the daily lineup, sitting back with a pack of sunflower seeds and watching the brilliance unfold.
But all that talent comes with a price. For owner John Middleton, adding Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen (who’ve appeared in 14 MLB All-Star Games among them), the bottom line adds up to about $450 million.
For Kapler, the price is pressure. Lots of it.
The Phillies are expected to win in 2019. The quarter-million fans who bought tickets to Citizens Bank Park since Thursday will demand victories in return for their investment. So will the thousands more who made Harper’s No. 3 jersey the fastest-selling launch in sports apparel history.
If the star-studded lineup doesn’t produce – quickly – Kapler will surely be the first target of fans’ ire. In an interview with the WIP Morning Show last week, the second-year manager agreed with that assessment and said, “I embrace the pressure.”
Give Kapler credit. He won’t duck and hide. But, to succeed, he’s going to have to be a vastly different field general than he was in his rookie season.
In fairness, Kapler’s current job is not exactly what Phils ownership hired him for last year. He was brought in as a young, innovative manager to guide a team of prospects – and a few suspects. His role was to teach kids like Scott Kingery, Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Alfaro, and Nick Williams how to be everyday Major Leaguers. Some succeeded. Others, well . . .
Hoping to squeeze wins out of that team in 2018, Kapler over-managed it. Under the auspice of analytics, he flipped the lineup on a daily basis, yanked players too early for defensive replacements, and implemented curious defensive shifts. That doesn’t even address his handling of the pitching staff – like hooking Aaron Nola way too early several times.
Hey, Kapler was a rookie. And just like the players, the guys who coach the teams can vastly improve their second year. Just ask Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.
Of course, Kapler’s not about to morph into Charlie Manuel. Speaking of which, I posted an admittedly unfair Twitter poll Sunday asking fans who they’d trust more to manage the 2019 Phils – Kapler or Manuel. Nearly 7,000 votes later, 78 percent opted for Uncle Charlie.
That result, says two things. One, fans may be onto something in preferring an Old School manager, like Manuel, who knew when to sat back and let the lads play.
With the starting eight Kapler can field this year, there’s no need for over-thinking it. Personally, I’d go with a batting order of McCutchen, Segura, Harper, Hoskins, Realmuto, Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez.
With that lineup, there’s no basis to panic into trying to protect a lead in the sixth inning. There’s no cause for a manager to put his fingerprints on every game.
Secondly, that vote affirms to me that Kapler is the one person being eyed by every potential angry caller to WIP. He’s been handed a Rotisserie manager’s dream. And he’s the guy who doesn’t get the benefit of a honeymoon with the fans.
My advice to Kapler is to buy one of those satin team jackets (like Jim Fregosi wore) to keep him warm in the dugout during those cold April games. Write out a beautiful lineup card, and then enjoy the good times with the rest of us.
Let the game come to you skip. Your team is going to win most of them.