On Wednesday afternoon Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki reported that the Phillies were close to announcing the hiring of Joe Girardi as their next manager.
BREAKING: A source says the #Phillies have hired Joe Girardi as manager. An announcement could come today.
— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) October 24, 2019
Despite lofty expectations entering the season, the Phillies finished the season a mediocre 81-81, 16 games behind the Braves, and behind the rest of their competitive division rivals (of which the Marlins certainly do not count).
It’s been a few years of frustration and failure from the Phillies, with the problems stemming from the top. From the very beginning, Gabe Kapler brought a lot of baggage and drama with him to the job. Justifiable or not, his mere presence has served as a distraction for the Phillies ever since the first press conference announcing he’d be taking over the helm in his first MLB managerial gig in 2018.
In two seasons leading a very talented Phillies team, Kapler managed a 161-163 record, never really making the Phillies relevant in anything other than the tabloids. The 2019 Phillies dabbled in the wild card race but limped to the finish line, going under .500 in September, losing their last 9-of-12 games. This on top of being utterly embarrassed by the surging Nationals, who beat them in a five game series (a rare and pathetic occurrence) sealed his fate as Phillies manager.
Some leaders inspire, and others fall short, and while Kapler has the pedigree on paper to be an inspirational leader who could connect with players, his communication style and demeanor never translated well in practice. He quickly put himself at odds with both the Philadelphia media and fanbase, digging himself in a hole the first few months that he would never be able to get himself out of.
Enter Joe Girardi, who is coming off an excellent gig as a color commentator for this season’s playoffs. Girardi knows how to manage and he knows how to lead. He won the Manager of the Year Award in 2006 by getting the most out of a 78-84 Marlins team. Ownership thanked him for his efforts by promptly showing him the door, which in retrospect might have been the best thing that ever happened to him.
The Yankees picked up Girardi in 2008, asking him to step in as replacement for their legendarily successful skipper, Joe Torre. Girardi inherited a good team, but got the most of them in 2009, when New York won the World Series against Philadelphia.
Things soured in the Bronx as Girardi’s contract came to an end at the end of the 2017 season. The Yankees missed the playoffs in 2016, then finished in second place with 91-wins in 2017 (when they lost to the World Series Champion Astros in seven games). His contract expired, the Yankees chose not to renew it.
It’s always hard to rate how much of an impact a manager really has on his team, but Girardi’s tenure in New York is generally rated as a success. He did lead them to multiple division titles and one World Series championship. He managed the players well (they seemingly never complained publicly about Girardi) and he kept the New York media mostly at-bay during his tenure.
If we’re reading between the lines on what soured in New York, it’s likely that Girardi was such a strong presence, and such a strong leader, he made his perspective known to Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman a little too often. Cashman has his own perspective, and likely did not feel the need to split strategic decisions with his on-field manager. While the two have never aired anything negative publically, it’s no surprise that two successful leaders with similarly strong personalities led to irreconcilable differences over time (it’s also not as if we’re in the age of managers sticking around anywhere for decades).
The Phillies need someone who is analytically-inclined, but not so much so, they speak a wonky language that alienates half the players, media, and fans. As a team that is positioned to compete now, they need someone with immediate credibility, who can get the most out of his players, and most of all, not serve as a distraction.
In this regard, the Phillies hired one of the most qualified and experienced candidates on the market. They play in one of baseball’s strongest divisions, and they’re going to need every edge they can get; we’ll see what Girardi can get out of what has to-date, been a team that hasn’t ascended to MLB’s top-tier.