Early in the season, when hope for 2018 was still very much alive at Citizens Bank Park, everyone wondered if the Phillies' progressive rookie manager would adapt and even conform to baseball's more traditional ways.
"I think he has always been who he is," slugger Rhys Hoskins said at the time. "He definitely can be different. But that's the person that he is."
Six months later, with hope for 2018 having vanished in the mushroom cloud of a late-season collapse, it's clear that Gabe Kapler won't conform. He's willing to listen to his players and adjust after making mistakes. But Hoskins' initial assessment holds true. Kapler is confident that his way is the right way for the Phillies to succeed.
It is amid that backdrop, and with the free-falling Phillies headed for their sixth consecutive losing season, that some folks have begun to question whether free agents will want to come to Philadelphia and play for a manager whose style and personality are most likely unlike any other manager for whom they have ever played.
"Do I seem like the type that might get afraid of something like that?" Kapler said Friday before the Phillies opened their final series of the season against the division-winning Atlanta Braves. "I'm not. We have a tremendous amount of resources with the Philadelphia Phillies."
At the risk of sounding inartful after what he characterized as "a long day" of meetings with members of the front office to analyze a season that he candidly described as "a bit of a mixed bag," Kapler expounded on his comments in a text message to philly.com.
"I think free agents want to be treated with respect, I think they want to be shot straight, I think they want to know where they stand, and I think they want a voice," he said. "That's something that we do better than any other team, and I think that will come through loud and clear during the process."
Within the Phillies' clubhouse, players openly acknowledge Kapler's uniqueness. After a game last month in which the Phillies used eight pitchers in nine innings to get through an 8-6 victory over the Washington Nationals, veteran reliever Tommy Hunter said of Kapler, "He's got a way that he's doing things, and it works. I don't know. You can't really doubt it right now. I mean, we're in August, and [stuff's] still working."
But players also insist that almost nothing that Kapler has done has caught them off guard, mainly because he discusses it with them beforehand. Carlos Santana wasn't surprised the first time Kapler put him at third base. Neither was Scott Kingery when Kapler made one of his most controversial moves, lifting the rookie for a pinch-hitter in the second inning Sept. 15 because the Miami Marlins changed pitchers after using an "opener."
That's likely what Phillies players will tell their free-agent friends about Kapler this winter if the time comes to make a recruiting pitch.
Besides, money almost always talks the loudest in free agency, and the Phillies have more cash at their disposal than most teams. Make the best offer to Bryce Harper or Manny Machado and they're likely to sign here, regardless of the identity of the manager who will be writing their name on the lineup card every day.
"I think the players, if nothing else, will tell you how deeply I care for them and how much effort and energy I put into putting them in a position to have success," Kapler said. "I think we run a clubhouse where players feel like they can be themselves. They don't have to put on any acts. So for all of those reasons and the obvious, that we are going to get more competitive, that we are going to make adjustments, that we are going to be better in 2019 than we were in 2018, I think this is as attractive a destination as there is in baseball."