PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies began a pivotal offseason with a 57-minute news conference that settled one thing.
Managing partner John Middleton is responsible for the team’s future.
One day after the Phillies fired manager Gabe Kapler and nearly two weeks after they finished 81-81, Middleton, general manager Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail met the media at Citizens Bank Park.
Middleton said the decision to fire Kapler was his. While Middleton will not be involved in deciding who will be the Phillies’ late-inning lefty reliever, he has been and will continue to be a driving force in the team’s biggest decisions, such as signing Bryce Harper last offseason or firing Kapler.
“I’d like to think I bring value to an organization,” Middleton said. “I’m not a potted plant sitting in the corner. Why do you think there’s a (chief executive officer)? We’re paid to make big decisions. We get paid to ensure our organization meets its strategic goals.”
Four years into their rebuilding process, the Phillies haven’t done much winning. They also haven’t done much building.
The team enters this offseason with the following shopping list:
Manager; hitting coach; pitching coach; director of amateur scouting; training staff; and most importantly, a revamped starting pitching rotation.
Friday’s news conference didn’t give much insight into how the Phillies propose to solve these issues.
Middleton said he expected the Phillies to contend in 2020. He said the decision to fire Kapler was his. Klentak wanted to keep Kapler. MacPhail acted as a mediator between Middleton and Klentak.
Middleton said he began to have doubts about the manager in July. What troubled Middleton most was the Phillies’ 20-36 record in September under Kapler.
“I felt that if I were going to bring Gabe back, I had to be very, very confident that we were going to have a different outcome in 2020 (with) those September collapses,” Middleton said. “I just kept bumping up against them. I couldn’t get comfortable enough, confident enough that if I brought him back we wouldn’t have another (collapse).”
Middleton said he still had confidence in Klentak despite his hiring of and continued faith in Kapler.
“Nobody bats 1.000 in hiring decisions,” Middleton said. “It’s early in (Klentak’s) career. He’s made lots and lots of good hiring decisions too. It should be a learning experience.”
As for the next manager, Middleton said Klentak will lead the search, and the club would put together a profile of the qualities it wants the next manager to have.
“We’re going to be looking for someone who can appreciate the organization that we have and the culture that’s been developed here,” Klentak said. “Someone who is going to appreciate the staff we have and come in and take us over the finish line.”
Conventional wisdom says that after hiring the inexperienced Kapler, the Phillies would pursue a more experienced manager such as Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon or Buck Showalter.
That’s not necessarily the case. Middleton strangely invoked the name of Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell when talking about the Phillies’ search. Counsell is 405-381 with one division title and two playoff appearances in five years with the Brewers.
“We certainly know that proven and experienced managers don’t have jobs,” Middleton said.
“Anytime you’re in the position, you should be looking to do everything you can to make sure of the best decision. If you have people who are proven managers, you should absolutely include them on your list. But somewhere out there, there is the next Craig Counsell. You need to look for that.”
No matter who is hired, don’t look for the Phillies to abandon the analytics approach that Klentak and Kapler championed. Middleton also believes in the numbers.
“It was my vision,” Middleton said of analytics. “We’re committed to that. Look at the postseason teams, they’re all analytically driven.”
Phillies had better be comfortable with Middleton’s approach and hope he makes the right decisions.
Kapler was fired. Klentak and MacPhail can be fired.
Middleton will continue to have his say no matter how many games the team wins or loses.
You can’t fire one of the owners.