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Ranking the Phillies managerial candidates

Who would be the best candidate to take over as the next Phils manager?

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MLB: Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When general manager Matt Klentak removed Pete Mackanin from the manager’s job after the 2017 season, no one thought we’d be doing this again two years later. But here we are, after the dismissal of Gabe Kapler, looking for yet another manager.

When we embarked on this same process two years ago, the Phils were coming off a second half in which a bunch of the young prospects that had been talked about for so long made their big league debuts and helped the team to a 37-38 second half record. Rhys Hoskins took the baseball world by storm by hitting 18 home runs in 50 games. Nick Williams his .288 with 12 homers in 83 games, Aaron Altherr had a wRC+ of 120 in 107 games, Odubel Herrera was a three-win player and Cesar Hernandez had a breakout season as well. Aaron Nola was emerging, Jerad Eickhoff was still seen as a reliable rotation piece and the feeling was the Phillies were a team on the way up. Optimism was high. Low payrolls in the future and the jump into the analytics era made everyone hopeful that great times were ahead.

Two years later, only Hoskins and Nola have a future with the Phillies, and both players are coming off disappointing 2019 seasons (Hoskins more so than Nola). The GM’s future is tenuous at best. The owner seems to be making all the baseball decisions. The pitching coach was fired one year after he was elevated to the job in a move that forced out the guy who had the job before him. The hitting coach was fired mid-season at the behest of the owner.

So as the Phillies look for their next manager, the vibe is very different, but there is hope that the next skipper can right the ship. There is talent on this team, with Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Hoskins, Nola, Andrew McCutchen, Scott Kingery and others expected to make solid contributions next season, and a busy off-season ahead.

Here is my ranking of who I think could be the next Phillies manager, based on the best possible fit with this franchise that is now in a bit of limbo.

Buck Showalter

In 20 seasons as a manager, Showalter has won nearly 54% of the time, has won three Manager of the Year Awards (1994, 2004, 2014), and took five teams to the postseason. Showalter has a lot of connections to the Phillies front office and a number of reports recently said there was “mutual interest” between the two sides.

Showalter isn’t perfect. He’s never been to the World Series and has only been out of the first round of the postseason once. He’s also not an “analytics” manager, meaning he’s not going to be an extension of Matt Klentak in the dugout. But past comments by Showalter indicate he’s not opposed to the use of analytics, just that you can’t be a slave to the numbers. He said this in an interview with Fangraphs last year...

...and said this in two recent interviews as well.

Showalter may be the perfect fire-stop between the front office and what happens on the field, someone who can merge the two worlds and use his two decades of experience to inform his decision-making in the dugout.

There will undoubtedly be occasions where his old-school nature results in some frustrating or head-scratching moments, but Showalter is known for getting the most out of not a whole lot, and he’ll demand that the players under him be accountable for their performance and effort. He’s likely the team’s No. 1 target, but is being targeted by the Mets and Angels as well.

Joe Girardi

Joe Girardi spent one year as the Marlins manager, his first year as skipper, then spent a decade in the Bronx as Yankees’ field boss, famously beating the Phillies in 2009 for a world championship. Girardi had a .562 winning percentage in New York and made the playoffs six times.

Having managed in New York, Girardi would have no problem handling the Philly media, and his former boss, Brian Cashman, gave him a glowing recommendation to SNY this week.

“When you’re talking about somebody like Joe, he’d give you instant credibility,” Cashman told SNY. “He’s buttoned-up, ready to go and proven successful in the largest market you can find. And he came out on top.

“He was here for 10 years, and some things have an expiration date, but that doesn’t diminish the abilities the person possesses or the quality of work he provides. I highly recommend Joe to anybody, even our rivals, unfortunately.”

Girardi is well versed in analytics, but was known for going with his gut on occasion, and sometimes pushed back when the front office inserted itself too much. Rumors have him most closely linked to the Mets and Cubs jobs.

Dusty Wathan

Wathan was reportedly a finalist for the job two years ago, and the Phillies’ current third base coach had his contract renewed for next season to be in that role as well. However, the Phils would be wise to interview him again, and this time, perhaps he’ll be considered more seriously.

Wathan was a very successful manager for the Phils’ AA and AAA squads, taking each team to the playoffs with a lot of the same players that are in the current clubhouse now. It’s unclear how well-versed Wathan is on the analytics side of things, but having been an integral part of this organization at the big league level the last two years, one would think he knows how to use the stuff.

If the Phillies are looking for a manager with lots of big league managerial experience, Wathan isn’t that guy. But he does have a lot of managerial experience at the minor league level, and perhaps that would be enough. He’s respected inside the clubhouse and would be an interesting choice if one of their other top options fail to come through.

Phil Nevin

Like Wathan, Nevin doesn’t have big league experience as a manager, but has served as third base coach for the Yankees and Giants, and has had success managing in the minors. He was also interviewed by the Phillies for the job two years ago, and he’s done nothing to diminish his standing as a potential up-and-comer. He’s also said to be a guy who doesn’t coddle players, something the team needs.

Again, if the Phils want someone with years at the big league level, Nevin probably isn’t their guy. But the fact they have interviewed him previously means they liked him once, and could be on their radar once again.

Joe Maddon

There’s no doubt Joe Maddon has had lots of success at the big league level. He’s the guy who managed the Cubs to their first world championship in more than a century, took a perennially hapless Rays team to the World Series in 2008, and is as well-versed in analytics as Gabe Kapler.

However, Maddon runs perhaps the loosest ship of any skipper in baseball, allowing the players to police themselves, something the Phillies have said needs to change in 2020. He also oversaw an epic collapse of his own this year with Chicago, and his bullpen decisions have been called into question over the years, including by me.

Maddon seems destined for a team like the Padres and wouldn’t be much of a departure at all from what Kapler did. While that may please some, it sounds like the Phils want to go in a different direction. But if Klentak really is “leading” this search, one would imagine a phone call to Maddon’s agent would be forthcoming.

Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker should have never been fired by the Washington Nationals. In two seasons he went 192-132 and went to the playoffs twice, and in 22 seasons overall as manager, he had a .532 winning percentage and went to the postseason nine times. His track record speaks for itself, but there are some negatives.

First, it’s questionable how well he would be able to incorporate analytics into his managing. And let’s not kid ourselves, the Phillies are going to continue to use analytics. Second, he’s had a reputation for overworking some of his pitchers, something that should make any Aaron Nola fan a bit nervous. Third, he’s 70, which isn’t an obstacle in and of itself, but it’s unusual for a team to hire a manager that advanced in years.

Still, Baker is a winner, and probably deserves a shot to manage again. It just probably won’t be in Philadelphia, though.

Rob Thomson

Rob Thomson has mostly been a silent figure since joining the Phillies as bench coach, but as our own Justin Klugh wrote at the end of 2017, Thomson’s experience as bench coach under Girardi and the kinds of things he did there would make him a very viable candidate.

Thomson is a Canadian baseball lifer who, when the snows melted in his 12-square mile hometown of Corunna, Ontario, was out on the baseball diamond at the first sign of spring. Dick Groch, the scout who unearthed Derek Jeter, saw something special in Thomson while he was coaching him at St. Clair County Community College. Their relationship opened the door for Thomson’s eventual Yankees career, which culminated in becoming Girardi’s right hand, used primarily for sifting through data dumps and determining, based on his knowledge of players’ personalities, whether or not the player in question would find the information worth knowing.

He also dictated the individual itineraries for players throughout the entirety of spring training, set by a meeting at the end of the previous season that laid out the weak points in the team’s overall performance — connecting dots, crossing lines and authoring a frenzied network of activity, months in advance.

It would be fascinating to know just how much input Thomson had on in-game decisions over these last two years and what kind of help he provided Kapler and the team. Thomson probably deserves a shot as a manager somewhere, but it doesn’t feel like Philly is the place.

Raul Ibanez

Former Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez’ name has surfaced in managerial circles a lot lately. However, he recently said now is not the right time for him to be a big league skipper.

However, if he changes his mind, his communication skills and time in the Dodgers front office make him a candidate for a team that is looking to hire a first-timer who could be on the ascension. But that doesn’t sound like something the Phils want right now, does it?

John Farrell

For a guy who won a World Series as recently as 2013, Farrell’s name doesn’t get talked about all that much as a potential skipper. He’s been to the playoffs three times in seven years with a career winning percentage of .517, and in his last two seasons (2016 and ‘17) he won back-to-back division titles but lost in the ALDS each time, which allowed Dave Dombrowski, who inherited Farrell when he took over as team president in Boston, to dismiss his skipper.

His last season in Boston, despite the division title, didn’t go well.

Back in April, the Red Sox got involved in a pointless and embarrassing beanball war with the Orioles after Manny Machado slid hard into Dustin Pedroia—one that Pedroia loudly disavowed as his idea. In June, David Price twice made a scene, first by yelling at a reporter after a game, then by lighting into NESN broadcaster Dennis Eckersley during a team flight over what he perceived to be negative on-air comments about a fellow starter. And in September, the team was punished by MLB after sign-stealing allegations made their way to the league office courtesy the Yankees—a crime that Farrell insisted he had no idea was going on.

Still, his name is mentioned in many of the eight managerial openings out there, although he hasn’t been linked to the Phillies directly as of yet.

Mike Scioscia

Mike Scioscia managed the Los Angeles Angels for 19 years and won a title with them way back in 2003. From 2002 to 2009 he made the postseason six times, but over his last nine seasons, most of them with Mike Trout in his lineup, made the playoffs just once and failed to win a game in their 2014 ALDS sweep at the hands of Buck Showalter’s Orioles.

He also famously butted heads with the analytically-driven Jerry Dipoto...

Many of the differences between Dipoto and Scioscia stemmed from Scioscia’s resistance to data prepared by Dipoto and his staff and the GM’s firing of longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, one of Scioscia’s best friends, in May 2012.

... although it seemed as though his relationship with Dipoto’s replacement, Billy Eppler, was better.

Scioscia is “from here” (Upper Darby, PA), but hasn’t “lived here” for nearly two decades. And while most people believed Kapler was far too reliant on analytics, Scioscia may be too far on the other end of that spectrum. It’s also fair to wonder what kind of relationship Scioscia had with Klentak when Klentak worked in the Angels’ front office. It’s very hard to see Scioscia wanting to manage in Philly and vice versa.

On Episode 327 of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh, Liz Roscher and I chatted about the dismissal of Kapler, the role Klentak will have in finding his replacement, and more on the potential candidates to take the reigns as the team’s top field general.