Binder Joe is about to become Lame Duck Joe.
With one year left on his three-year contract, it’s hardly a surprise that Joe Girardi will return to manage the Phillies again next season. But the team will hold off on committing to him beyond next year, according to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who said Wednesday that there hasn’t been any consideration to picking up Girardi’s option for 2023.
“At this point we haven’t even discussed that,” Dombrowski said after a state-of-the-team news conference at Citizens Bank Park. “I didn’t even know he had it.”
Indeed, Girardi’s option was news to Dombrowski. Girardi was hired two years ago under the stewardship of outgoing team president Andy MacPhail and then-general manager Matt Klentak. Dombrowski inherited Girardi when he took charge 10 months ago and said he was unaware of the option.
The Phillies are 110-112 with Girardi at the helm and have missed the playoffs two years running, part of a 10-year postseason absence that represents the longest active drought in the National League. When the Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention after the 159th game of the season last Thursday night in Atlanta, Girardi said he “failed getting us to where I wanted to get to.”
Dombrowski offered a kinder assessment of the veteran manager.
“He did fine. He did a good job for us,” Dombrowski said. “I think he’s a good leader of our club. He handles situations well, manages well. He’s well-respected, has good communication with the players, has good communication with me. I think Joe did a good job for us.”
But the Phillies fired hitting coach Joe Dillon and infield coach Juan Castro over the weekend because, as Girardi said, “when seasons don’t go the way you want, sometimes people are let go.” They canned manager Gabe Kapler in 2019 after going 161-163 and missing the playoffs twice.
It’s possible, then, that Girardi’s future beyond next season will rest with finally breaking the playoff hex.
Dombrowski disputed the characterization of Girardi as a lame duck because the Phillies have a financial tie to him beyond next season. If they declined the option, they would have to pay Girardi a buyout. Regardless, Girardi lacks job security beyond 2022, which doesn’t concern Dombrowski.
“Not with someone with the stature of Joe Girardi,” Dombrowski said. “He’s been a big-league manager for a long time. I don’t think that’s an issue for him. I know it’s not. I think he’ll handle it very well.”
Girardi, derided early in his managerial career as “Binder Joe” because of his adherence to numbers, has worked in the final year of his contract several times in his 13-year managerial career.
Despite winning a World Series with the New York Yankees in 2009, he managed in the last year of his contract in 2010 before receiving a three-year extension at the end of that season. He managed the Yankees in 2011, 2012, and 2013 before receiving a four-year extension. The Yankees fired Girardi after that contract was up at the end of the 2017 season.
Among the main criticisms of Girardi at the end of his Yankees tenure was his inability to connect with young players. The Yankees were transitioning to a younger core (Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sánchez, and others) and decided they needed a different voice. They replaced Girardi with Aaron Boone, who lacked previous managerial experience.
Bryce Harper said Sunday that the Phillies must get more next season from their farm system and highlighted young third baseman Alec Bohm, outfielder Matt Vierling, and shortstop Bryson Stott. Dombrowski, who is undertaking a restructuring of the player-development staff, agreed with Harper’s view and said the Phillies are hoping Bohm will earn the chance to be the opening-day third baseman and Stott will graduate to the majors at some point in 2022.
“We’ll need to start getting the Bohms and the Stotts and the Rojases [center fielder Johan Rojas], we have a bunch of guys at A-ball and we have great faith in the young guys that we have down below,” Dombrowski said. “But when we’re going to be where we really want to be is when we get all of them moving together.”
It’s notable, then, that Girardi benched Bohm in favor of veteran utilityman Ronald Torreyes in August because the 25-year-old didn’t hit enough to outweigh his defensive shortcomings. The move coincided with the Phillies overtaking the New York Mets to briefly move into first place and resulted in Bohm getting demoted to triple A.
Girardi backed Bohm last weekend, referencing Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley as an example of the many young players who struggled after initial success early in their major league careers before finally breaking out. But if the Phillies’ young players are going to succeed next season, Girardi may need to be more trusting of them in everyday roles.
“We’re going to be as an organization how we want to be on a year-in, year-out basis when we start getting more production from our farm system,” Dombrowski said. “That’s where we’ll be when we really are a championship-caliber organization. It doesn’t mean you can’t win a world championship in the meantime, right?”
For another year, at least, they will trust Girardi to steer them in that direction.