Phillies owner John Middleton asks players if he should fire Gabe Kapler

Ben Weinrib
·Yahoo Sports Contributor

There are already seven managerial openings in baseball, but the league is waiting to find out if there will be an eighth.

Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton has been mulling whether to cut Gabe Kapler loose from the final year of his three-year deal, and the decision could come down to his own players.

According to a report from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Breen, Middleton is nearing a decision but has been seeking input from key players on the roster. Whether players will ultimately make a decision or help paint a picture of Kapler’s leadership is not clear, but it’s an unusual amount of power given to players.

Kapler’s tenure has been shaky and average

Analytically-minded fans praised the hire of Kapler in 2017, when the former major league outfielder came over from the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Known for not always following conventional wisdom, Kapler had managerial experience and was well-liked, although some of his over-managing has been derided since.

The Phillies improved from 66-96 to 80-82 in his first season, in part due to the additions of Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana plus the emergence of Rhys Hoskins. But after adding five All-Stars, including Bryce Harper, this winter, they only improved to 81-81.

Kapler is not solely to blame for the disappointing season — injuries played a major role — but the team has not developed young talent as hoped, outside of Hoskins and ace Aaron Nola. The 44-year-old Kapler has been fairly hands-off with players, earning their support, but stepped up the heat on certain players this summer, including benching third baseman Maikel Franco for a lack of hustle.

Breen points to quotes from Harper and catcher J.T. Realmuto, which have both been very warm towards Kapler publicly. Whether they share those same thoughts away from the prying eyes of TV cameras will go a long way to determining Kapler’s future with the team.

Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler stands in the dugout during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler's future remains up in the air. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

What are the ramifications of this decision?

If the Phillies are going to move on from Kapler, they had better do so quickly so they don’t lose out on any major candidates. Interviews are already being conducted, and Joe Maddon, the hottest candidate on the market, may already be closing in on joining the Los Angeles Angels.

But even if the Phillies keep Kapler, he’ll remain on the hot seat, and there will still be plenty of upheaval on the staff. The team already fired hitting coach John Mallee in August, and pitching coach Chris Young will be reassigned.

Middleton is reportedly expected to reach a decision by Wednesday at the latest, but time is of the essence with potentially more than a quarter of the league looking for a new skipper and dozens of assistant positions open as well.

As for former New York Mets general manager Steve Phillips’ take that the extra power bestowed upon the player could disrupt the balance of the clubhouse? Time will tell on that one, but making sure the big stars of the team are not upset seems like a reasonable place to start.

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