Joe Girardi’s smiling face lit up the 1,478-inch video screen in left field. A crisp, white uniform top with red pinstripes and ‘GIRARDI 25’ on the back rested on a plastic hanger. Team employees mingled in the beer garden attached to Citizens Bank Park.
Happy hour? Well, yeah. Sort of.
It was Joe Girardi Day in South Philadelphia, and to paraphrase the theme song from The Lego Movie, everything was awesome. The Phillies unveiled their new manager in a 35-minute news conference, and if Girardi wasn’t already the people’s choice by virtue of his four World Series rings (three as a player, one as a manager) and decade-long tenure at the helm of the New York Yankees, he likely charmed any naysayers by name-dropping no fewer than 11 former Phillies players or managers within the first five minutes of his remarks.
As introductions go, it was pitch-perfect.
Now, about the Phillies' pitching ...
If simply replacing deposed Gabe Kapler was going to turn the Phillies into instant contenders, Monday’s lunchtime bash would have really been cause for celebration. But this was the easy part. At the behest of managing partner John Middleton, who was conspicuously absent from Girardi Fest, Kapler took the fall for a roster that didn’t have enough talent, specifically on the pitching staff.
Girardi’s arrival isn’t going to suddenly change that.
Maybe that’s why general manager Matt Klentak disappeared like Keyser Soze after the formal part of the news conference while first baseman Rhys Hoskins, former manager Larry Bowa, and Girardi himself stuck around for interviews. Free-agent season begins after the World Series, and Klentak has a long shopping list.
“I think there’s areas that Matt and the staff are going to address,” Girardi said. “One of the things is the bullpen needs to stay healthy. There are starters here that I believe have a lot of ability, and it’s our job to get the most out of them. We haven’t had a whole lot of time to sit down and talk about, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to try to do.’ Matt is well aware of the areas that need to be addressed here.”
Indeed, Girardi got the job only last Thursday after a follow-up interview three days earlier in which he met with 25 people, from Middleton to the traveling secretary. Since he signed and sealed a three-year contract with a club option for 2023, he has been texting and calling players, including one who was vacationing in Indonesia, and interviewing at least two pitching-coach candidates.
This much is clear: Girardi isn't Kapler. Even Hoskins, a Kapler supporter, conceded that much.
As a first-time manager with a progressive outlook on just about everything, Kapler preferred players police themselves. Girardi doesn’t have many rules, either. But he doesn’t really need them. Based on his resume, the gravitas that comes with 10 years of managing the Yankees, and a reputation for being a stickler for structure and detail, he earns respect simply by walking into the clubhouse.
"This has nothing to do with who Gabe is as a person or what he did as a manager, but it's the experience," Hoskins said. "[Girardi] has done it. And 'it' is what we're all trying to do -- win. I mean, one way to establish respect is your credibility, your track record. He has one of the best out there."
Said Bowa: “I know we have to get some pitching. Everybody knows that. But we should be able to hang in there all year. It’s a mindset, and I think Joe is going to establish what he wants.”
Swell. But how many more wins does a mindset net over the course of a season? The Phillies were one shy of a winning record but six short of third place and nine out of the second wild-card berth. They had 12 fewer wins than the pennant-winning Washington Nationals, 16 fewer than the division-champion Atlanta Braves.
No manager bridges that chasm just by showing up.
Girardi spent the last two years working in the media as an analyst for MLB Network, a job that brought him to the broadcast booth for fewer than a handful of Phillies games this past season. And in one of the last truly objective answers he will be able to give about the Phillies, he tap-danced around whether the roster, as presently constituted, is good enough to hang with the Nationals and Braves.
“It would have been interesting to see where they might have ended up if they could have kept that bullpen healthy -- even remotely healthy,” Girardi said. “David Robertson pitched seven games; Tommy Hunter didn’t pitch many; [Pat] Neshek didn’t pitch many; Seranthony Dominguez didn’t pitch a full season; [Adam] Morgan went on the DL. It was just one after another. You lose Jake Arrieta, who is supposed to be a mainstay in the rotation. You go acquire left fielders who have big months and then get hurt. So it was hard to evaluate this team because they were never whole.”
Fair point. It was also Kapler’s best argument for keeping his job. But without another starter or two in the rotation, a remade bullpen, and more depth to withstand injuries in both areas, it won’t matter who manages the team.