For eight months, since spring training dawned on a February morning in Clearwater, Fla., the Phillies' universe revolved around Gabe Kapler. Because of the way he looks and thinks and speaks and acts, the first-year manager became a polarizing figure. If the 2018 Phillies will be remembered for anything, it will be for giving us "Gabe Ball." Will the national pastime ever be the same around here?
Now, though, the focus shifts. Matt Klentak, get ready for your close-up.
Beginning this week, it will be Klentak's job to give Kapler a better team. And when you get right down to it, after their surprising spring and their summer surge and their September swoon, the Phillies just weren't good enough to make the playoffs. They finished 80-82, their sixth straight losing season and third in a row under Klentak. But it's time now that the losing stops — and the general manager knows it.
"Usually during the first few years of a rebuild, you're not going to make sexy moves," Klentak said Monday at Citizens Bank Park. "That's not part of the game plan. Part of the game plan is to sign players to one-year deals and try to flip them at the deadline and develop your players in your minor-league system. A lot of the big trades were made either right before I got here or right when I got here. It's not really about me, but I think our organization is in really good shape."
And as the most important offseason in recent franchise history begins, it's all about what sexy moves Klentak can pull off to make it better.
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Matt Klentak heard all your complaints.
The Phillies rely too much on analytics! Gabe Kapler uses too many lineups! The shift doesn't work! Too much analytics! Rhys Hoskins should play first base! They need to name a closer! ENOUGH ANALYTICS!!
"I'm not going to apologize for the way we conducted business this year," Klentak said.
Truth be told, the Phillies did exactly what Klentak wanted. When Klentak was hired three years ago, the directive from ownership was to do things differently than the Phillies had ever done them. Kapler is certainly different. And Klentak, knowing he had assembled one of the youngest rosters in the majors and a club that wasn't expected to contend for the playoffs, encouraged his progressive-thinking manager to experiment.
"For organizations to move forward, they need to push the envelope," Klentak said. "Look across the street in both directions. Look at the Eagles. and look at the Sixers. There are not teams that have done things in traditional ways or conventional ways for the last few years. In one case, they are the Super Bowl champions, and in the other case, they might be the most exciting, promising young team in the NBA. And it's not because they did everything traditionally."
Klentak claims that the Phillies will take a more traditional approach when they have more talent. He invoked the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Phillies — teams that won 93, 97 and 102 games, respectively — and noted that they didn't need to seek the "marginal advantages" that Kapler sought this year to extract the most out of a flawed roster. And he praised Kapler for his willingness to learn from doing things that didn't work.
Maybe that's true. Maybe the Phillies will drop $800 million on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, and all of a sudden, Kapler will have one set lineup. But you get the feeling that the Phillies of Klentak and Kapler will always make data-driven decisions, some of which buck convention. Like it or not, it's just the way they operate.
"This team just rolled out there in a conventional style would not have made the playoffs. It fact, it would've been worse than this year's team," Klentak said. "The fact that we outperformed our run difference as much as we did speaks to the fact that we probably did pretty well in the area of putting our players in the best positions to succeed. The roster this year kind of dictated that that's the way we behaved, and we will adjust that behavior moving forward as necessary."
Klentak defended his free-agent signings from last season, especially Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta. But he's going to have to do a lot better this year for the Phillies to be successful, as Bob Brookover writes.
After a rough year in left field, Rhys Hoskins says he would "love" to move back to first base, and Matt Breen believes the Phillies owe it to the face of their franchise to grant his wish.
Gabe Kapler wants feedback. Klentak continues to offer only a glowing review.
Today: Phillies president Andy MacPhail meets with the media, 2:30 p.m.
Oct. 23: The World Series begins.
Five days after World Series ends: Free-agent market opens.
Nov. 6-8: General managers' meetings in Carlsbad, Calif.
Dec. 9-13: MLB winter meetings in Las Vegas, Bryce Harper's hometown
In making an overall assessment of a Phillies team that was 15 games over .500 on Aug. 7 and still finished the season with a losing record, there were many shades of gray. But Aaron Nola's performance was an unqualified success.
Nola emerged as an honest-to-goodness ace. He became only the third pitcher in the last three seasons to reach 200 innings and 200 strikeouts with a sub-2.40 ERA (the others: Jacob deGrom this season and Corey Kluber last year). Only seven Phillies pitchers have ever had a season like that, and the names are legendary: Cliff Lee (2011), Roy Halladay (2011), Steve Carlton (1980, 1972), Jim Bunning (1967), Grover Cleveland Alexander (1917, 1914-15), and Charlie Ferguson (1886).
Question: I know the Phillies didn't like Freddie Galvis' on-base percentage when he was with the Phillies, but he saved so many runs with his glove. What are the chances the Phils re-sign Galvis this off-season? Thank you. –Greg S, via e-mail
Answer: Thanks, Greg, for the question. The odds of the Phillies' signing Galvis are roughly the same as the GPA of the guys from Delta house: Zero point zero.