Gabe Kapler sat down in front of a scrum of reporters on Tuesday at baseball's Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. and offered a smile.
His media gaggle was considerably smaller than that of baseball heavyweights like Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs and Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that didn't detract from the moment.
"Challenging," Kapler said, describing his first few weeks as Phillies manager. "Most of it has been spent on putting together the most dynamic and effective coaching staff that we possibly can and I think that's been a successful venture thus far. Not quite complete because we're still working on a first base coach, but those interviews have been happening the last couple of days."
Kapler now holds the keys to an organization entering the final stage of a rebuilding process with plenty of cash to spend when the time is right which is probably next winter. For now, enough talent has arrived in Philadelphia to demonstrate the Phillies are turning the corner toward competitiveness.
Kapler said he's already reached out to nearly everyone on the roster via a text or call but has also traveled to Miami and the Dominican Republic where he had face-to-face conversations with several players including Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, and Maikel Franco.
"Most of what I'm setting out to accomplish is building connections and relationships with all of our players independent of what part of the world they come from," Kapler said. "It takes some effort to take that time a build those deeper connections, but those connections are going to be important.
"When spring training rolls around I want those connections to already be established and relationships in place."
When asked about his opinion on the Phillies biggest need this off-season Kapler didn't mention the starting rotation or bullpen, but rather an overall need for incremental improvement.
"We have this really exciting core of young players in their mid-20s who are establishing themselves as major league players, " Kapler said. "We saw some pretty significant steps forward in the second half, so if we those guys continue that momentum and add one tick up in development then I think we're looking at a pretty capable Opening Day roster."
As for the logjam in the middle infield, Kapler sees it as a good thing referencing how Maddon utilizes a rotation with the Cubs that allows for days off for players while also taking advantage of a favorable match-ups.
Assuming the Phillies don't move Freddy Galvis or Hernandez the club will enter camp with potentially six infielders, including J.P. Crawford, Maikel Franco, Scott Kingery, and Rhys Hoskins.
Hoskins will enter as an everyday first baseman, so that leaves five players to battle for three positions. It's plausible the Phillies let Kingery open the season at triple-A Lehigh Valley, but that still leaves four players forced to split time at three positions. Kapler sees that as a positive.
"I see it as a huge advantage," Kapler said. "Let's say we have Cesar and J.P. and Freddy and Franco; I think it's an advantage to those guys because we're going to have a unique opportunity to put them in positions to succeed by matching them up effectively.
"One of the things Maddon has done really well with the Cubs is using all of his players while giving them days off effectively to keep them healthy, but at the end of the year their numbers are stronger and they perform better because they were matched up more efficiently and more effectively. So, I actually see it as a win-win-win. A win for the Phillies because we'll have the best lineup on the field most of the time. A win for the players because they end up putting up better numbers at the end of the year, and a win for us collectively because it's good for all of us."
Kapler isn't too concerned either about players buying into his plan.
"It still turns out to be playing regularly," Kapler argued. "While it may not be 162 games this still is really regular playing time. It's just moving around a bit and getting an effective blow. I don't think it's a difficult sell to a player when you can sit them down and say here's how it's been done with the Cubs and the Dodgers, and here's what's been accomplished at the end of the year. It's not just the team goal either of going to the playoffs and winning the World Series, it's the individual goals and how some of the on-base percentages improve and how guys stay healthier over time because they're not worn down. I don't see that as a tough sell."
All told, Kapler spoke for a little less than 30-minutes. His interest in leadership and nutrition were highlights, but he also showed a certain level of humbleness recognizing it's likely that his intense style of doing things may not be a match for everyone in the clubhouse.
"The baseball clubhouse is very much an extension of society," Kapler said with a smile. "There are all types of personalities and we reach each other in all sorts of ways. Look, I may not be able to reach everybody, but that's why you build a really dynamic staff.
"It's sort of like how we navigate society. You read somebody and look in their eyes and change your approach based on their personality. The opposite never works, which is expecting them to adjust to you."
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BY PATRICK GORDON
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