PHILADELPHIA -- Gabe Kapler got emotional Sunday evening at Citizens Bank Park. He sounded like somebody who wondered if he had managed his final game for the Phillies.
Kapler said he does not know that yet. He is expected to learn his fate in the next few days.
“It's definitely not a conversation I need to have right now in this room,” Kapler said following Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Marlins in the season finale. “It's a private conversation. My job is to focus on managing the Phillies, even after Game 162, and I will do that to the best of my ability.”
Kapler hoped to be the first Phillies manager since 2011 to lead the organization to the postseason. He had two shots in two seasons. Kapler missed twice, finishing 81-81 this year. It is the Phils’ first season without a losing record since they finished .500 in '12.
The feeling throughout the organization is that a change is likely, although the front office has pointed to injuries as an explanation for the team’s fourth-place finish in the National League East. If Kapler remains, it is probably because the organization believes the injuries were too much to overcome.
It also might mean that Phillies general manager Matt Klentak convinced managing partner John Middleton to stay the course. It is believed that Klentak still thinks Kapler is the right man for the job, but Middleton puts winning above everything. He spearheaded the negotiations to bring Harper to Philadelphia. Middleton pushed for the front office to dismiss hitting coach John Mallee. He discussed replacing pitching coach Chris Young, too, though he remained on staff.
“It's a collection of things that led us to this point,” said Kapler, who is finishing the second year of a three-year contract. “I love managing that group of players. I love working with that staff. Love working with this front office. They give me all sorts of autonomy. I have felt supported by our ownership group. Our ownership group has done everything in their power to put a winning product on the field. I'm proud to be a Philadelphia Phillie and will do it as long as I'm able.”
Harper said the team’s poor play this season isn’t Kapler’s fault. Realmuto said he feels Kapler has “done a great job for us.” Players overall seem to like Kapler, but at times, there are questions about the level of urgency in the clubhouse.
If anyone from ownership or management has any questions about anything, Harper offered his services. He said he is happy to talk to anybody about what this team needs to take the next step. Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract in February. If he feels strongly about something, the Phils might want to listen.
“These are decisions that are going to absolutely need to be talked about with myself, I would think,” Harper said. “Whoever calls or asks, I'll be there.”
Kapler used his final postgame press conference of the season to praise his players and their effort. It has been a common theme throughout his two seasons. Kapler likes to say how much his players fight, scratch and grind, but the fact is the team went 20-36 (.357) the past two Septembers. That is the fifth-worst record in the Majors during that span.
“I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of a group of men like these guys,” Kapler said. “I wish every one of you guys had a chance to be in the dugout at the end of that game with our guys up on the rail. The culture in that clubhouse was outstanding. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the players about it. Every one of them to a man will tell you that they are brothers. They fought for each other all season long.
"There was some incredible adversity. They got kicked a lot of times. They kept getting back up and they kept fighting despite the circumstances. It was a disappointing finish to a season where expectations were high. We didn’t get the job done, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. And it wasn’t for lack of character, and it wasn’t for lack of grit. I’m truly proud of every one of those guys.
“As a manager, this year I was blessed with high-character, high-quality players and men. What you’re seeing right now, emotionally you’re seeing, is me feeling the power of that.”