The Giants Risk Their Reputation, Success with Gabe Kapler Hiring

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterNovember 13, 2019

FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2019, file photo, Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler walks to the dugout before a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, in Philadelphia. The Phillies fired Kapler Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

The San Francisco Giants are going from one of the most distinguished, respected managers in recent memory to one with plenty of baggage and seemingly little to justify any team's desire to live with it.

On Monday night, the Giants officially announced their hiring of Gabe Kapler as the successor to recently retired skipper Bruce Bochy:

SFGiants @SFGiants

It’s official! Please join us in welcoming our new Manager, Gabe Kapler. #SFGiants https://t.co/YWQWUqp4JP

Bochy spent the last 13 seasons of his 25-year managerial career with the Giants, and all he did in that span was guide them to four postseasons and three World Series championships.

Even in the lean years, Bochy was a steady, cool-headed leader in the clubhouse and dugout. There are also good reasons few, if any, media members have anything negative to say about him. One way or another, he's bound to end up in Cooperstown as a member of baseball's Hall of Fame.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Now here comes Kapler, who brings two unspectacular seasons as a major league manager and one notable blight on his reputation.

Kapler seemed like an inspired choice when the Philadelphia Phillies hired him as their manager in October 2017. His 12 years of playing experience and rare persona as a muscleman with a sabermetrician's mind helped counterbalance his sparse coaching resume. So, perhaps it's no wonder that the most pointed question of his introductory press conference in Philadelphia merely related to his unusual fondness for coconut oil.

Yet Kapler embarked on a gaffe-addled voyage that saw him rack up a 161-163 record, prompting the Phillies to sack him in October. To this end, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi could only reason that the 44-year-old's worst days are behind him.

"I think what we've seen with managers is that there's a learning curve," Zaidi said, according to Maria Guardado of MLB.com. "A lot of times guys do better and have more traction their second time around because of the lessons that they've learned."

However, Kapler's performance in Philadelphia accounts for just one reason his hiring isn't going over so well—see here, here and here—in the Bay Area.

There's also the matter of what the Washington Post and Sports Illustrated reported in February regarding Kapler's response to sexual misconduct allegations against Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguers, who he oversaw as the club's director of player development, in 2015.

In February of that year, after a 17-year-old girl said she had been physically assaulted at the Glendale, Arizona, Hampton Inn & Suites, the Dodgers' spring training team hotel, Kapler didn't report the allegation to police and attempted to arrange a meeting between the girl and players on his own, per Sports Illustrated.

The girl later told police she had also been sexually assaulted by a Dodgers player. Eight months later, after Kapler was notified of an allegation of sexual assault against another Dodgers player at the same hotel, according to SI, he had "a conversation" with players in the organization but did not report the allegation to police.

In the spring of 2016, "multiple players, including a top prospect, were confronting female guests and, as one source familiar with the video characterized it to SI, 'stalking … and behaving strangely,'" at the same Glendale hotel.

Kapler reported none of this to MLB.

It suffices to say he could have and should have had a stronger response.

Zaidi, who was the Dodgers' general manager at the time, couldn't defend what happened. He could only promise it won't happen again.

"We had the opportunity to talk to people in the community and talk to experts to try to learn and understand what we did and what we did wrong," he said, per Guardado. "As I've had time to reflect on it, I realized the biggest mistake we made was asking the wrong question. In those situations, we asked, 'What do we have to do?' instead of, 'What is the right thing to do?'"

On the field, when looking at what the Giants have going for them, fixing the club won't be easy.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 13: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates beating the Miami Marlins at Oracle Park on September 13, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

The 2019 season was the Giants' third straight with a losing record, and free agency has since claimed their two best pitchers: longtime ace Madison Bumgarner and All-Star closer Will Smith.

What's left is a combination of moderately exciting newcomers (Mike Yastrzemski, Mauricio Dubon and Tyler Beede) and veterans who are firmly past their primes (Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto). As constructed, the Giants might be the worst team in the National League West.

By contrast, the Phillies were ready to force their way out of a rebuild when they hired Kapler. They sought to do so by investing hundreds of millions in stars such as Bryce Harper, Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, as well as by making trades for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura. It therefore wasn't for a lack of weapons that Kapler underachieved in Philadelphia.

Given how much payroll space they have to work with, the Giants might pursue their own free-agent bonanza to ensure Kapler has what he needs. But while some free agents might be scared off by the cost of living in San Francisco, others might not want to board a sunken ship in hopes that it will soon rise.

After all, it's not just the Giants' major league roster that invites skepticism. Their farm system only ranks in the middle of MLB. Sans any shiny trade chips to cash in, they can only hope to build it up through future drafts and international signing windows.

Kapler's true role in San Francisco may be as a player in a long game as the Giants seek to build a contender from within. This might suit him well, given his background of working with young players—but only if he applies the lessons he learned from his missteps first with the Dodgers and later with the Phillies, who reportedly didn't have the most harmonious clubhouse under Kapler.

If there's a charitable reading of Kapler's hiring, it's that it may not have happened simply because Zaidi wanted a stooge. Though Kapler will take cues from the front office—a fundamental aspect of every modern manager's job—Zaidi also consulted two noted Giants dignitaries in his search:

Alex Pavlovic @PavlovicNBCS

Farhan Zaidi, on @KNBR, said Bruce Bochy met with all of the managerial candidates, including Gabe Kapler. Said they talked a lot about how you can be better the second time you become a manager. A lot of the candidates also met with Buster Posey.

Yet when all the relevant factors are tallied, it's fair to wonder if the Giants might have found a more qualified or simply one without Kapler's history to be their new manager. At least until the wins start piling up, all they've done is step into a quagmire of their own making.

If they sink into it, it'll be a while before they stop hearing "told ya so."


Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.