Despite their best efforts to keep the search for a new manager a heavily guarded secret, it is out there now. The Phillies, after an extensive first round of interviews by general manager Matt Klentak and his lieutenants, apparently have their finalists. Now they must decide if they want an outsider (Gabe Kapler) or an insider (Dusty Wathan) running the team on the field.
At the start of this century, it would have been easy to forecast which way the Phillies would go in a situation like this one. Under team presidents Bill Giles and David Montgomery and former general managers Ed Wade and Ruben Amaro Jr., they were always a close-knit family that liked to hire from within.
If you already had Phillies blood running through your veins, it was looked upon as an asset. It meant you understood the demands of the city’s fans and a business model that was a little bit different than other big-market teams. When you worked for the Phillies, they cared about you forever, an endearing quality that had its pluses and minuses when it came to the product on the field.
Lee Thomas was the last Phillies general manager to hire a manager who had no previous ties to the organization. He did so twice, bringing in Nick Leyva from St. Louis and Terry Francona from Detroit. It is easy to understand why Giles, Montgomery, Wade and Amaro opted for the insider route. They were insiders.
Managing partner John Middleton is an insider, too. He was raised on Phillies baseball and has been part of the team’s ownership group since 1994. But he is also a hard-core businessman and when it became his turn to assume control of the organization a couple of years ago, he made it immediately clear that things were going to change. He wanted the Phillies to become a more analytics-based organization and there was no doubt he was going to get his way. In two years, the transformation in that direction has been substantial and it is not finished yet.
Klentak and assistant GM Ned Rice have played a major role in that transformation, and that’s why Kapler, the director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has to be considered the favorite to become the next Phillies manager. Kapler’s resume — former player; trusted friend and right-hand man to Dodgers highly regarded president Andrew Friedman; devout supporter of advanced analytics; and champion of healthy eating — seems to fit just the kind of innovative thinker the Phillies want managing their ball club.
Kapler, 42, has definitely been a baseball overachiever. A 57th-round pick of the Detroit Tigers in 1995, he spent 12 seasons in the big leagues, hitting .268 with a .749 OPS in 1,104 career games while also winning a World Series with the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Kapler would be the youngest Phillies manager since Francona.
He would also be the first to have his own fitness and lifestyle blog that offers advice like this about building a winning culture in life and on the field: “Unfortunately, in sports and in life, we don’t always have the luxury of choosing our ideal teammates. Our responsibility, as leaders, becomes to guide and develop the individuals we are surrounded by. Not all teammates are created equal, and, because we are acutely aware that a powerful culture is a sum of its parts, we must be constantly and relentlessly seeking out ways to build individuals capable of contributing to that end game.”
This space has been used before to endorse Wathan as the next manager of the Phillies and it will be again now. Wathan, 44, has paid his dues and proved his worth. I’m not sure how he feels about advanced analytics and nutrition, but he looks fit and when it comes to the simple math that matters most he has won a lot more than he has lost during his 10 seasons as a minor-league manager.
Andy MacPhail was asked shortly after the season ended what qualities he thought the Phillies’ next manager should have.
“There are a couple of key relationships in any organization,” the team president said. “I don’t think there is any one more important than the relationship between a manager and the general manager. They have to have a mutual trust and respect. The manager has to trust that the GM is doing everything he can to make his life better. And the GM has to trust the manager is getting the most out of the talent he has. It’s a critical relationship.”
Agreed, but there is one relationship even more important and that’s the one between the manager and the players. Wathan has already proved he can win with the vast majority of players who are likely to fill the Phillies’ clubhouse in the near future. Now he deserves a chance to prove he can do the same at the big-league level.