Phillies manager Gabe Kapler stands behind the hitting cage at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla., looking more fit than many of his players. His face is strong and stoic and focused on one of his young hitters.
He’s always been a fitness and nutritional savant, and he’s trying to preach what he lives. He’s disciplined in every way you can think of, and his mantra this season is “Be the strongest version of yourself.”
He has come off as a motivational leader, like a modern version of Pittsburgh’s Clint Hurdle, who manages with positive messages and motivational tactics.
Kapler spent 3½ of his 12 big league seasons as a reserve outfielder with the Red Sox (2003-06) and managed Boston’s Single A team in Greenville, S.C., in 2007. He spent the past three years as the Dodgers’ farm director. He wanted the Dodgers’ managerial job when it came open after the 2015 season, but the position went to former Red Sox teammate Dave Roberts.
“I’ve asked players to be bold and then I went around and asked each player what it means to be bold when you’re on the mound, when you’re in the batter’s box,” said Kapler of his approach this spring. “The answers I got from them were you’re bold in delivering a pitch with conviction, delivering a pitch with intent and with fearlessness and courage. Same thing in the batters’ box.
“What’s it mean to be bold? It means explosive, athletic, in attack mode. What’s it mean to be bold if you’re a staff member? It means to relentlessly communicate and to say what you feel without fear. So if you enter a room or on the field and you feel you’re going to be condemned or judged for every little thing, you get paralyzed, you don’t act. Sometimes you don’t even try. So that boldness untraps that. So if there’s a theme on our team, it’s that.”
Kapler emerged from the Phillies’ short list of managerial candidates, which included a serious challenger in former Red Sox manager John Farrell.
Kapler has his ways, which may be a little different than most other rookie managers.
“More than anything else, and this is not just my concept, but I’m looking for a more holistic approach to player development. It’s a more holistic approach to human development,” he said. “So we’re thinking about the player from every different angle — his health, his well-being, his mind-set, his confidence level, his mechanics, his approach at the plate, his approach on the mound, holistically addressing them so as not to miss any little detail.”
By definition, a holistic approach is dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part.
“We talk about the value of the margins,” Kapler said. “The value of the margins are — if you have a catcher and his meat and potatoes is [to] block and throw and to call pitches, but the value of the margins might be the value of the relationships he’s developing with his pitching staff. We stay focused on really seeking out the value of those margins to help these guys become the best they can be and the strongest version of themselves and to help the collective unit become the stronger and the healthiest version of itself.”
Kapler took that approach when piecing together a coaching staff.
“What was most important in staff selection was diversity of thought. We didn’t want everybody thinking similarly,” he said. “We want our coaches coming at the game differently, and human development at a different angle, player development at a different angle, because everybody’s perspective is so important in creating a spice mix that is really palatable, to use a food analogy, and really flavorful.”
It’s well known that the Phillies will have a significant revenue increase next season, with the potential to pick off a major free agent like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Perhaps even both. So this is a year when some of their younger, talented players must take a step forward. It’s a year that will separate which players stay for a long time — left fielder/first baseman Rhys Hoskins, for example — and which ones won’t stick around.
“The only way we can and should approach it is that we are prepared to win today,” Kapler said. “Conceptually, if everyone on our roster takes a small step forward, and we don’t need someone to take a huge leap and carry the team, we’ll have a collection of individuals prepared to win.”
Although Kapler only managed one year of A-ball — and then returned to play three more years in the majors — he said managing is “something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.
“What’s most inspiring of the opportunity is helping human beings become the strongest version of themselves. My job is to establish a foundation of trust. My job is to establish a connection with the players that I have the best intentions for them at all times. That’s all I think about and care about — for them to become the strongest version of themselves.”
Kapler feels his experience as a farm director has prepared him for managing in the bigs.
“That’s why I have so much respect for [Phillies director of player development] Joe Jordan, because anybody who oversees a farm system, an operation of about 250 people or so, you learn that you have to put everybody else’s needs and everybody else’s initiatives first. And I think that prepares you well for a major league staff and for helping a team with major league baseball players,” he said.
“Every player and every staff member is an individual and should be treated as such. The personalities are unique and we should help celebrate them and celebrate their differences and diversity.”
This isn’t a Tony Robbins seminar. It’s baseball according to Gabe Kapler. These are his methods. In the end, he will be measured like any other manager — by wins and losses, and by living up to the expectations of the fan base and team ownership.
CHANGES AT THE TOP?
Shakeup could be in Orioles’ future
Keep an eye on the Orioles’ situation. You not only have players who are reaching the end of their contracts, but manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette are as well.
There’s also a shift in ownership responsibilities, where John Angelos is said to have taken over for his father, Peter. He seems to respect the information he’s getting from vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, whom he’s known for 20 years. There’s evidence that Anderson had a lot to do with the team’s recent free agent signings, such as Andrew Cashner.
There’s speculation that Anderson might move into the GM seat once Duquette’s contract runs out after the season.
“I just don’t see Brady wanting to be tied down to a desk,” said one American League executive. “I’m not saying he couldn’t do the job, but he would have to change his life quite a bit and I’m not sure he wants to do that.”
Showalter has had a good relationship with the Angelos family, though a poor season could hurt his chances of an extension.
While we reported about the possible sale of the team a week ago, it doesn’t appear the Angelos family will sell, though the Orioles could face a total rebuild with Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Zach Britton all heading into free agency.
There haven’t been signs that the Orioles will attempt to get Machado re-signed, but that shouldn’t be ruled out. The Orioles thought they had lost Chris Davis when Scott Boras appealed to Peter Angelos to sign him to a long-term deal in 2016, when Duquette preferred to have signed an elite pitcher. The Orioles gave Davis seven years and $161 million.
Duquette has always seemed hamstrung by the Orioles’ unwillingness to spend the money needed to build a team that can contend with the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East. A couple of years ago, Peter Angelos denied Duquette the chance to interview for the job of Blue Jays team president because he was still under contract.
Duquette is one of the best GMs in the game today. There may not be a lot of openings after this season, but Miami could be one place where Duquette could surface if he’s not retained.
Apropos of nothing
1. There are many teams still angry about all the work and resources they put in to prepare for a chance to visit with Shohei Ohtani when he wanted to go to the West Coast all along. The Yankees and Red Sox put together elaborate presentations and were ready to send all kinds of representatives — Boston had Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz lined up — to act on their behalf. The Yankees really felt they had a great shot of wooing Ohtani.
2. Buck Showalter and Mike Scioscia are coming to the ends of their contracts. Where will their respective teams go from here? With many teams turning to younger, less experienced managers, you wonder if one or both of Showalter and Scioscia won’t be back with their teams in 2019.
3. It’s sad and ridiculous that the Giants’ Ron Wotus and the Blue Jays’ DeMarlo Hale, two successful coaches, haven’t landed a big league managerial job.
4. Aaron Judge created a bit of stir by saying he’s “one and done” with the Home Run Derby. But his allegiance has to be to the Yankees and not to MLB as the “face of the game” that he’s portrayed as. Judge obviously hurt his left shoulder or at least aggravated an injury while putting on an incredible display at last year’s Derby. In his first 55 games after the break last year, Judge hit .185 with 84 strikeouts in 189 at-bats. He had his shoulder surgically repaired in the offseason.
5. Contract of the year: Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong. Burton Rocks was the agent who negotiated a six-year, $26 million deal — the largest contract given to a player with less than a year of service time — that could escalate to eight years and $51.5 million if two options are exercised. Not bad for a fourth-round pick out of Illinois State, who hit .285 with 25 homers and 65 RBIs in 108 games after his call-up May 28.
Updates on nine
1. Manny Machado, SS, Orioles — Positive reports on Machado’s move from third base to shortstop. “He makes all of the plays and his arm plays big there. He probably doesn’t have great range, but above-average for sure,” said an AL scout. “He’ll be fine there. He’s still a guy who will convert back to third base or even first base two or three years down the road.”
2. Amed Rosario, SS, Mets — One of the most impressive players in Florida to this point, according to one scout who thinks the Mets have a future All-Star. Rosario missed a week with knee tightness, but scouts are in love with him.
3. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals — The Royals did their longtime third baseman a favor by signing him to a one-year, $6.5 million deal plus a mutual option that could push the contract as high as $22.5 million if he reaches playing time incentives. The Royals could use Moustakas as a trade chip at the deadline (he can’t be traded without his permission before June 15). Because the Royals hung in with Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Moustakas last season, they weren’t able to acquire prospects to help their rebuild.
4. Jake Arrieta, RHP, free agent — Teams seem hesitant to give Arrieta more than three years given his statistical decline and age (32). But the Twins and Brewers, in particular, need someone like Arrieta at the front of their younger rotations. Washington remains the wild card since there’s a strong relationship between Scott Boras and Nationals ownership, and San Diego has made some noise, feeling there’s not much available for front-line starters in 2019.
5. Aaron Judge, RF, Yankees — Should Judge bat leadoff? Interesting concept being bandied about by Aaron Boone. Our friend Bill Chuck did some research on home runs from the leadoff spot. The record for a leadoff batter is 39, by Alfonso Soriano in 2006 for the Nationals. Charlie Blackmon hit 37 last season for the Rockies. The Yankee record is 38 by Soriano in 2002.
6. Alex Cobb, RHP, free agent — It’s understandable that Cobb would try to maximize his value in free agency. But the market he expected just isn’t there. He remains a perfect fit for the Brewers and Twins, but the team that should make the expenditure is the Orioles. Cobb is tested in the AL East, and his funky delivery plays well in a league with some powerful righthanded bats.
7. Danny Duffy, LHP, Royals — The trade interest in Duffy has been “brisk,” as one Royals official said, and that’s likely to ramp up. The Royals, like the Rays with Chris Archer, want major prospects in return.
8. Blake Swihart, C/UTL, Red Sox — Scouts and executives have asked a lot of questions about what the Red Sox’ intentions are for Swihart, 25, who is trying to be framed as a utilityman. “I know he’s a great athlete and every team has to do what it has to do to protect a player out of options, but for me he’d be a catcher, period,” said one NL official.
9. Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves — When Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart traded Swanson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, from Arizona to Atlanta in the Shelby Miller deal, they received a lot of criticism. But Swanson, who hit just .232 last year with a .636 OPS, is what many scouts thought he would be — an average big league shortstop (.232, 6/51) and not likely to become the outstanding superstar like some had thought.
From the Bill Chuck files: “They call it middle relief, not mediocre relief — in the sixth and seventh innings last season, the Indians had the lowest team ERA at 2.94, followed by the Cubs at 3.06, the Dodgers at 3.22, the Yankees at 3.44, and the Nationals at 3.53.” Also, “Here’s a good way to measure lineup strength — Last season, the Yankees’ and Astros’ Nos. 7 through 9 batters led the AL with a .329 OBP; Houston’s group led with 263 runs scored, Boston’s was next with 242.” . . . Happy birthday, Brian Anderson (36), Rich Hill (38), Sang-Hoon Lee (47), Gar Finnvold (50), and Dwayne Hosey (51).