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Kapler decision 'as collaborative as it could be'

@ToddZolecki
October 11, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- So many questions needed to be answered Friday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. So many questions remained. Phillies managing partner John Middleton, president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak spoke for nearly an hour following Middleton’s decision this week to dismiss Gabe Kapler as manager. They discussed

PHILADELPHIA -- So many questions needed to be answered Friday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. So many questions remained.

Phillies managing partner John Middleton, president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak spoke for nearly an hour following Middleton’s decision this week to dismiss Gabe Kapler as manager. They discussed the decision, the front office’s chain of command, the processes that led them to this point and what everything means moving forward for a franchise that expects to contend in 2020, but has not made the postseason since ‘11.

“There’s been a lot written in the last few weeks about power struggles and all these other things,” Klentak said. “This was not John going above everybody’s head and coming in with an iron fist. It really wasn’t. This was as collaborative as it could be.”

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But Middleton alone decided to end the Kapler era after two seasons. He had concerns about the direction of the team in July. He talked to people about them at Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. He met with Kapler before the end of the month. Middleton spoke to more people at Phillies’ Alumni Weekend in August.

“By late September, John had become an advocate for change,” MacPhail said. “Frankly, he ran into some resistance.”

MacPhail, Klentak and Klentak’s inner circle wanted Kapler to stay. But Middleton could not shake the fact that the Phillies finished a combined 20-36 (.357) the past two Septembers, which was the fourth-worst record in baseball. Middleton met with Kapler again after the season. They followed up with dinner a few days later. MacPhail and Klentak asked Middleton to speak to more people before he decided. He did. He crisscrossed the country this week, meeting face-to-face with players.

“He heard a lot of very positive things about Gabe Kapler,” MacPhail said. “He was liked and respected. But what John didn’t hear was any explanation of why we were 20-36 over the last two Septembers, or -- more important -- what was going to be in place to assure that that didn’t happen again.”

Middleton dismissed the notion that he undermined his general manager in the process, although this was not the only time in the past year that he forced an issue. He led the charge to sign Bryce Harper in February. He ordered the Phillies to replace hitting coach John Mallee in August. He asked them to replace pitching coach Chris Young, too, although Young remained until last week.

Asked if he should be concerned that he has been needed to make such critical decisions, Middleton said, “I'd like to think I actually bring value to an organization, that I'm not a potted plant sitting in the corner. … Why do you think there's a CEO? We're paid to make the big decisions. We get paid to ensure our organization [is] meeting its strategical objectives.

“What happened here happens every day in businesses. It has happened repeatedly in my 40 years. If you talk to the people who ran the companies and reported to me over those 30 or 40 years, they will tell you, ‘John steps in with us and he says, ‘No you can’t do that, you’re going to do this instead. I’ve listened to you, but you haven’t convinced me, and you do that.’ There is lots of talk about how that emasculates people, but that’s nonsense. That doesn’t do anything like that. This happens all the time and, in fact, it’s a learning experience.”

Middleton defended MacPhail and Klentak, who have come under fire from a restless fan base. Why did Kapler lose his job, but they kept theirs?

“You tell me what part of this organization isn’t better today, and really substantially better today, than it was four years ago when they came?” Middleton said.

Middleton, MacPhail and Klentak answered other questions along the way about their impending managerial search and offseason plans. They offered few specifics, other than they expect to contend next season. The press conference ended before they could be asked about the decision not to renew the contracts of head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan and assistant athletic trainer Chris Mudd. The front office cited the team’s injuries as the biggest reason for its struggles. But the front office misevaluated talent, too.

The Phillies rely heavily on analytics to make personnel decisions. It led them to enter the season believing they had a top-10 rotation. A decision like that arguably helped cost Kapler his job.

How do the Phillies know their analytics department is doing good work?

“We do a lot of benchmarking,” Klentak said. “We look around the league and you can observe how other successful teams are operating, the types of decisions that they're making and you can kind of back into how they're arriving at some of their decisions. And we can test what we're doing against what they're doing. But that's not enough because in order to beat the other teams in your league, you have to be better than those teams, too. You have to do things they are not doing.

“So there is some element of experimentations, trial and error. Some of those things work and some of those things won't work. But I think to be a forward-thinking organization, you have to be willing to take risks and I think that is tougher in this market than it is just about anywhere else. I know that.”

Klentak said this market proved difficult for Kapler, too.

“I think back to the exchange Kap had with you guys just about being like Dallas Green and, ‘I’m not like Dallas Green’ with maybe some more colorful language,” he said. “There’s, you know -- Kap had a hard time gaining acceptance, you know. And I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t know.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .