Phillies expecting to contend with new manager

October 11th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- While much of the focus Friday was on the shortcomings of the past two seasons under former manager Gabe Kapler, Phillies president Andy MacPhail ultimately acknowledged it was time to "turn the page and start another chapter."

MacPhail, along with managing partner John Middleton and general manager Matt Klentak, spent nearly an hour at Citizens Bank Park discussing the decision to move on from Kapler, though the trio also touched briefly on the club's plans for 2020. The Phillies will have a new manager, as well as new pitching and hitting coaches, but those are seemingly the only certainties at this point.

Will the Phils again spend big in the offseason? How concerned is Middleton with staying under the luxury tax? Are they eyeing a veteran skipper? Are they open to the idea of giving another newcomer a chance?

The front office plans to conduct a broad managerial search, one that will again be spearheaded by Klentak. Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter is the presumed early front-runner, given his past Major League success, as well as his connections to MacPhail, Klentak and assistant general manager Ned Rice.

Joe Girardi, John Farrell, Dusty Baker and Joe Maddon would also make sense, though Girardi has already interviewed with the Cubs and plans to interview with the Mets next week, while Maddon has interviewed with and reportedly wants to manage the Angels.

"We certainly know what proven, experienced managers don't have jobs and are looking," Middleton said. "We also know where those managers have indicated a preference to go, and where we are slotted in their personal pecking order. That doesn't mean if we're not No. 1 with them, we're not going to talk to them or at least offer to talk to them, though they don't have to accept our offer."

At the same time, the Phillies aren't oblivious to the fact that plenty of new managers have had success recently. Alex Cora led the Red Sox to a World Series title in his first year as a big league manager. Kevin Cash and Craig Counsell have each had sustained success in their first go-rounds as Major League skippers with the Rays and Brewers, respectively. Dave Martinez oversaw the Nationals' 11-win improvement from his first season to his second, while leading the club to its first National League Championship Series appearance this year.

Along those lines, Philadelphia will likely also consider candidates like current third-base coach Dusty Wathan or Yankees bench coach Josh Bard.

"Somewhere out there, there's the next Craig Counsell, and you need to look for that, too," Middleton said. "So, we're going to try to find those people, as well, and interview them. I think it's going to be up to Matt and his staff to go through that process and say, 'Here's where I am coming out of it,' and you just don't know what they're going to find until they actually do the work."

Last time they went through this process, Klentak handpicked Kapler. He also fought to keep the skipper for 2020. So while there will certainly be a new voice in the dugout next season, don't expect a complete overhaul to the Phillies' philosophies.

"We're going to be looking for someone who can appreciate the organization that we have and the culture that's been developed here and embrace that, and obviously put their own spin on it," Klentak said. "Nobody's going to be exactly like the guy they're replacing. But we're looking for someone who's going to appreciate the staff we have and the things that we do, and come in and take us over the finish line because that's what this is really about.

"This is about wins and losses and getting us where we want to be -- and that's playing in October, competing for a championship."

That goal -- and just how close the Phillies' front office believes it is to achieving it -- is what will ultimately dictate how the club approaches this offseason. A source told last month that the Phils again plan to spend this winter, though it remains to be seen how aggressive they might be in pursuing marquee free agents and .

Part of that depends on what Philadelphia might spend on a potential extension for and what happens with some arbitration-eligible players, but what it really comes down to is whether Middleton believes a move that would push the Phils over the luxury tax might also push them over the top.

"I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second Wild Card team. That’s not going to happen," Middleton said. "I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay, and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

When asked if he expects to contend under whoever the new skipper may be in 2020, Middleton was direct.

“Yeah, I do,” he said.