Two days after Andrew Knapp swung through a low-and-inside slider for the final out of the season, white smoke had not yet appeared above Citizens Bank Park.
Thus, the Kapler Watch continues.
Who will manage the Phillies next season? The team was still not ready to say uesday. With one year left on his contract -- after managing the Phillies to a 161-163 record over the last two seasons, including 20-36 in the month of September -- Gabe Kapler finds his future in the hands of majority partner John Middleton.
An announcement likely will come Wednesday, the last day before the beginning of the divisional round of playoffs.
Six teams already have openings. The San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Angels fired their managers, while Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost retired after lengthy tenures at the helm of the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals, respectively. Veteran skippers Joe Maddon and Joe Girardi want to lead a team again and are the most popular managerial free agents. Buck Showalter and Mike Scioscia might return in the right situation, too.
So, what are the Phillies waiting for?
A few theories on what might be taking so long:
There are arguments to be made for both keeping and canning Kapler. And although the final say belongs to Middleton, he's almost certainly soliciting opinions from all corners: general manager Matt Klentak, team president Andy MacPhail and probably even some players, chiefly Bryce Harper.
Klentak has endorsed Kapler publicly. He pointed to the spate of injuries that befell the Phillies -- they placed 22 players on the injured list and lost 1,635 man-games -- as the biggest reason for the team’s .500 finish. Under those circumstances, he said two weeks ago that Kapler “is doing a very good job,” an assessment that he likely has offered up to Middleton.
MacPhail might share that opinion. Asked after the All-Star break if the Phillies have the right manager and coaches in place, MacPhail dismissed it out of hand by saying, "I hate to even dignify that question with an answer."
After Sunday's finale, Harper said the Phillies' underachieving season "hasn't been [Kapler's] fault." He also met privately with Kapler in the manager's office. Meanwhile, catcher J.T. Realmuto said, "we feel like he's done a great job for us. He gets the guys to play hard. We all love playing for him. He's a guy that this clubhouse really respects."
But Kapler wouldn’t be the first manager to take the fall when a team doesn’t meet expectations. Middleton is also hyper-aware of public opinion, and Kapler has never been a fan favorite. Surely that’s part of the owner’s calculus. How will it play with the paying customers if the Phillies retain Kapler and make other, less high-profile changes, such as replacing pitching coach Chris Young?
There’s no sense in firing Kapler if the Phillies can’t replace him with someone who they believe is an upgrade. It’s possible, then, that they are reaching out to potential candidates to determine if there’s mutual interest.
Maddon, who has led eight teams to the postseason and won a World Series in 2016, will have no shortage of opportunities after being let go by the Cubs last weekend. But he spent 30 years in the Angels organization, prompting many within the game to view him as the first choice to replace deposed Brad Ausmus in Anaheim.
Girardi, meanwhile, is a Peoria, Ill., native and might be eyeing the Cubs’ opening. He managed the New York Yankees to three division titles, six playoff appearances and the 2009 World Series title.
The Phillies might be gauging their level of interest in coming to Philadelphia. And if Maddon and Girardi wind up elsewhere, would Showalter be interested in coming here?
There are always less experienced candidates, such as Dodgers special assistant Raul Ibanez and former big-league catcher David Ross. But would the Phillies really hire another first-time manager? Would that make sense?
Before he got hired to manage the Phillies, Kapler oversaw the Los Angeles Dodgers’ farm system. Given his background, he would be suited for many roles within an organization. It’s possible that the Phillies believe he could be an asset in baseball operations or player development, and with one year left on his contract, they might be trying to persuade him to take on a different challenge.
A long shot? Maybe. Then again, the Phillies did retain Pete Mackanin as a special adviser after replacing him as manager. And Middleton talked former manager Charlie Manuel into returning to the dugout in August for a seven-week stint as interim hitting coach.