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Will Gabe Kapler succeed Bruce Bochy?

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He’s getting a second interview, which both is and isn’t a surprise.

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Gabe Kapler to the Giants persists, even if it seems like a dumb-bad idea.

Doug wrote up the Giants’ initial interest in deposed Phillies manager, WWE superstar Gabe Kapler, back when the news first came out a little over two weeks ago, and walked us through all the reasons why his candidacy is, on a paper, a mixed one.

Back in his year-end wrap-up, Farhan Zaidi suggested a manager’s second time around usually worked out better because of everything he learned in his first opportunity, and I agree with that concept, but not when it doesn’t come with that step back year of reflection. There’s something very “brute force” about Kapler’s career trajectory, and for someone as borderline Popeye-looking as him, that makes sense, but it doesn’t mean we’re dealing with the next Bill Walsh or Dusty Baker . . . or Bruce Bochy.

On the other hand, maybe expecting the next Bruce Bochy is short-sighted on my part. Bruce Bochy wasn’t Bruce Bochy right away. Most managers are the product of their rosters, too, and so the difference between a good manager and a bad one generally has more to do with that than anything else. And maybe the Giants are moving the direction of total yes men on the top step, too, making Bruce Bochy or any future Bochys counterproductive to some unknowable and highly advanced process.

What Kapler seems to represent more than anything else is a mindset. That’s a data-driven approach to baseball. His communication style is very much jock wearing glasses to sound smart, but that’s in service of attempting to communicate complex methodologies in average fan-friendly sound bites.

Here he is after the Phillies lost to the Nationals 10-6 in 10 innings on April 9th talking about all the thinking that went into the late-game bullpenning along with his view of Aaron Nola’s lackluster start (6.1 IP 4 ER — 2 HR):

If you don’t want to watch it, I understand. What you’d see is an earnest guy actively listening to questions and looking totally engaged with the press conference/conversation happening. He directly addresses the crowd and clearly communicates the thinking. There’s something very sharp about it all —

But it also sounds a little too polished.

We don’t know if Kapler’s professional polish carries over into the clubhouse, but if it does, it’s not difficult to imagine how that can be off-putting to players. Kapler sounds corporate, almost like middle management. The clubhouse is the factory floor. But he’s also a 12-year major league veteran. He gets what most of the players are going through.

He’s had an unusual journey. He debuted in 1998, played through the 2004 season with the Red Sox and was on the World Series team, then left to play for the Yomiuri Giants in 2005. He was so bad there that they placed him on waivers. After he cleared, he re-signed with the Red Sox and then ruptured his knee that September. He came back in 2006, and played 335 innings of error-free defense in the outfield, posted a .340 OBP in 147 PA, and then retired at season’s end.

He managed the Red Sox Single-A affiliate in 2007 at 31 years old, but then un-retired to return in 2008. From 2008-2010, he hit .258/.324/.430 (101 OPS+) in 623 PA for Milwaukee (2008) and Tampa Bay (2009-2010). He hit just .210 in 2010, and the next year he became the Dodgers’ last cut of Spring Training.

From there, he went on to manage the Israeli national team for the WBC in 2012, became a TV analyst for FS1 in 2013 where he hosted a segment called “Saberclips” (all of those videos have been hidden for some reason), and then the Dodgers hired him as their Director of Player Development.

He’s been on a World Series team, he’s been on many losing franchises, played a year in Japan before returning to the states. Managed rookies, the Phillies, expectations, crises (though very poorly) and he frequently comes off as a prepared, motivated, and sharp person.

Compare this “day in the life” interview with Kapler —

— to this on the field interview with the other presumed finalist for the manager’s job, Joe Espada:

Espada’s interview features a sentence made entirely of baseball cliches:

  • “It’s a process ...
  • “... don’t try to do too much
  • “... just focus on the fundamentals”

Kapler’s interview features him showing off a wall of framed photos featuring his inspirations:

  • Albert Einstein
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Gandhi
  • Martin Luther King Jr.

adding,

They’re my heroes. When I say heroes, I mean people that I respect, look up to some of the principles, try to emulate.

Maybe Gabe Kapler is being authentic, but he also comes off as a lot. Espada feels down to earth and far less calculating.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily a battle between Kapler and Espada (who will be having his third interview with the Giants following the World Series) — Mark Kotsay could still be in the mix. We know Ron Wotus is out, and the status of the rest of the list is unclear. That list, by the way (in order of reveals):

  1. Hensley Meulens
  2. Ron Wotus
  3. Mark Kotsay
  4. Pedro Grifol
  5. Gabe Kapler
  6. Will Venable
  7. Matt Quatraro
  8. Joe Espada

Espada impressed the Giants over the phone, he flew to San Francisco during the Astros’ last travel day and impressed in-person, and is now schedule to fly back to San Francisco for another interview after the World Series. It’s hard not to see him as the frontrunner.

As for the rest of the list:

  • Meulens is in Mexico managing the Netherlands in the Premier 12 tournament, so maybe he has already been informed by the Giants and the news hasn’t made its way back to the States (a la Ron Wotus).
  • Matt Quatraro’s nickname is literally “Fun Police”, so, maybe there wasn’t a fit.
  • Mark Kotsay was the heavy favorite just a week ago.
  • The Royals are deciding between Mike Matheny and Pedro Grifol.
  • There has been no news about Will Venable, which might not be a bad thing.

Sometimes teams will interview a guy for one position but wind up liking him for another. There’s always a chance the Will Venable becomes the manager, but maybe he impressed enough that they’d want to see if he’d be Gabe Kapler or Joe Espada’s bench coach.

A second interview typically involves a meeting with members of the ownership group. The Giants have played it very close to the vest, but if any of the latest reports are accurate, and even without knowing how many interviews Mark Kotsay and Hensley Meulens have already had, it sure looks like this week is a showdown of the final candidates, with Joe Espada being in a position to leave the final impression.

We won’t know until we know, but just going off the information that’s already out there, Gabe Kapler feels like a less than ideal candidate. Even if we remove the idea of the next manager being like Bruce Bochy, give me Espada’s persona over Kapler’s.