With Phillies manager Joe Girardi facing questions from reporters about the security of his job, owner John Middleton and head of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski must consider the following.
• Will the transfer of Gerardi provoke cries of injustice from players, fans and the media? (Most likely not.)
• Who will replace Gerardi? (There is no clear answer.)
• Will the new manager improve the team’s performance? (Not without better defense and better relief guidance, Dombrowski can’t gnaw his fingers and make those problems go away.)
Teams sometimes believe that change is necessary for the sake of change. Velez, seven games under 0.500 for the first time since the end of the 2017 season, may reach that point. The biggest shortfall that Velez has overcome to win the division was 8 1/2 games in 2007. The current group, the product of the club’s $228.7 million salary record, is 11 1/2 games.
Expanding into the post-season means nothing is lost for a series trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the second longest drought in the major leagues. As the calendar turns to June, seven teams from the National League are likely to be fancied, leaving eight clubs vying for six spots. The Phillies, while returning six matches in the race for the third wild card, played one of the toughest dates in the major tournaments. Their remaining schedule is one of the easiest.
So, one way to look at this is that things can only get better, especially when four players from the Velez side – Nick Castellanos, Rhys Hoskins, GT Realmoto and Kyle Schwarber – aren’t producing their expected levels when compared to the rest of the league. All but Realmuto, who took a day off, had a huge hit on Monday in another disappointing defeat for Velez, 5-4 against the Giants in 10 runs. But uh, have you seen this team working? Phillies are who we thought they were. Only worse.
Back on March 21, shortly after Dombrowski added to his collection of DHs signed by Schwarber and Castellanos, the athleteJason Stark wrote a story called “Can a Team With a Defensive Challenge Like the Phillies Win Anything?” Obviously, Dombrowski thinks so. His Tigers in 2014 and 2013 made the playoffs even though they were third and fourth lowest ranked teams according to Defensive Runs Saved since the scale was invented in 2003.
By adding Schwarber and Castellanos to a club that finished last season in the DRS, Dombrowski was essentially taking advantage of what the market had to offer, realizing he couldn’t fix his defense in one fell swoop. Middleton hired him in December 2020 to clean up the mess left by the team’s former general manager, Matt Klintak, and do so quickly. But when Phillies’ best defensive player Bryce Harper suffered a minor ulnar collateral ligament tear in his elbow, the questionable plan was even more skewed.
Harper has not played the field since April 16, and may not play again until August, if at all this season. Schwarber and Castellanos are in the corners of the stadium most days, and it’s not a pretty sight. Meanwhile, the central field is something like a black hole. The Phillies are ranked 25th in the FWAR majors from the quarterback field, and the judging panel is discussing how much of a difference Monday’s promotion will make for the former first team overall, Mickey Moniak.
The Phillies, in a rare flurry of inspirational play, won their seasonal series of Dodgers, games four to three. But they are last in DRS, last in above-average Outs and 27 in defensive proficiency. The refurbished ones, while featuring pitchers with better stuff than in the past, scored them the highest walking rate in the majors. So, even with an offense that ranked 11th on the main courses in every game and an above-average spin led by Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler, Phillies and their manager are in crisis.
Girardi can be relentlessly intense; It’s hard to imagine Velez’s players teasing him during promotion changing the way Francesco Lindor and Eduardo Escobar of the Mets act with the manager who has tempered some sentiments, Buck Showalter. Al Felice didn’t completely lighten Gerardi’s mind by turning down his 2023 option pick, making this the guaranteed final year on his contract. A story in the Philadelphia Inquirer over the weekend quoted several players who questioned the team’s enthusiasm, which may have been a reflection on Gerardi. It may also be a reflection of the team’s frustration with the loss. or both.
However, even if Middleton and Dombrowski want to replace Gerardi, their options will be limited. The team’s coaching staff includes bench coach Rob Thompson, who interviewed Gerardi for an old job with the Yankees after the 2017 season; hit coach Kevin Long, who lost the Mets management position to Mickey Calaway during the same period; And third base coach Dusty Wathan, who coached the Phillies at the Palace for 10 years. However, none of these three managed to succeed in the majors, and pairing one of them with a relatively inexperienced coach wouldn’t be ideal either. Caleb Cutham is only in his second year at the helm of a working group.
Dombrowski’s old assistant, Jim Leland? He is 77, retired and last managed in 2013. Tony La Russa is also 77, and he hasn’t been successful since 2011 when the White Sox pulled him out of retirement last season. But La Rosa, at least, had a full spring training to learn his players and see the analytics. Leland will join the Phillies mid-season. It seems… a stretch.
Name a successful current manager – Craig Counsell, Kevin Cash, Bob Melvin, any one of them – and be sure they will struggle with this Phillies costume. Weak defense requires shooters to throw extra floors, allows opponents to take extra bases and makes managers look stupid. An example of this occurred on Friday, when left-handed Gerardi started Billy Walter in the first game of a series against the Mets so he could get some other starters extra rest.
Girardi’s reasoning was not improper. Ranking indicates that the series was decisive. The calendar suggested that it was not. Walther did well on the spot start in Seattle on May 11, allowing one to run in 4 2/3 runs. He was progressing for the first time in 10 days, but Girardi had other concerns.
Zach Evelyn spent nine days on the COVID-19 list earlier this month, albeit with few symptoms. Wheeler, who missed a major league game in spring training due to a soreness in his right shoulder, also lost time on COVID IL. Kyle Gibson and Ranger Suarez have both been off a slew of matches.
So, instead of going with Evelyn, Wheeler and Gibson against the Mets, enter Gerardi Walter. His decision may have been successful, but rookie Bryson Stott made a mistake in the first play of the game and took advantage of Mets Castellanos by scoring two goals from the fly to the right-midfield. Walter ended up throwing 32 shots in the first half. The Phils ended up losing 8-6.
Girardi’s decision-making was also called into question in Atlanta earlier in the week, when he refused to use the closest Corey Nebel or setup types Jeurys Familia and Seranthony Dominguez after Harper hit a dramatic two-round shot from Kenley Jansen to give Phillies a 5-4 lead in the ninth. Girardi said the three painkillers were not available.
Nibel has been off the last two days, and Girardi doesn’t like to use painkillers three days in a row. True, the second round consisted of only nine stadiums. But Knebel’s average speedball dropped from 95.5 mph on day one to 94.1 on day two. His pace has returned to 96 in the past two days – and true to form the Phillies this season, he has allowed the ninth-round holders in both games.
With Walter and his assistants, Girardi prioritized worrying about keeping his throws healthy during 162 matches over the severity of the situation. The Phillies may benefit over time, but their fans are understandably impatient, and Girardi’s occasional toughness drew him under criticism when he was with the Yankees. Then again, good luck pressing the buttons when everyone is waiting for an electric shock. Bulls are largely Dombrovsky’s build, and as was often the case in his days with tigers, he proves his Achilles.
Dombrowski, signed to 2024, does not need to fire Gerardi to protect himself. He has the backing of Middleton, who this spring allowed him to cross the luxury tax threshold for the first time in the team’s history with deals for Castellanos and Schwarber totaling $179 million. Dombrowski is not the one to make an administrative change in the season. He hasn’t done so since 2002, when, as Tigers president and CEO, he ditched general manager Randy Smith and manager Phil Garner at age 0-6 and became general manager himself.
Sure enough, Gerardi could do certain things differently. If Velez kicks him out, well, such moves are rarely uncommon in this unforgiving sport. However, changing managers would only achieve much, if anything, for this team. The problems with 2022 Phillies are not hidden. And they won’t go away.
(top photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
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