• Jack Vita

Firing Joe Girardi won't fix Philadelphia Phillies' core problems


Friday morning, the Philadelphia Phillies announced via their Twitter account that third-year manager Joe Girardi had been relieved of his duties.


12 games out of first place in the NL East at the time of the firing, the dismissal came on the heels of a losing skid where the Phillies dropped seven of nine, a stretch in which the club lost three straight games in extra innings. Bench coach Rob Thomson will fill the club's managerial void for the remainder of the 2022 season.


The Phillies haven't lived up to preseason expectations. With a record of 22-29 at the time of the firing, the team was quickly falling out of the NL East race. The New York Mets are off to a National League-best 38-19 start, and despite missing Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. This isn't the NL East of yesteryear, where the Braves were able to stay in the mix all season long, despite not having a record above .500 until August. The Mets have taken off, the Braves have won five straight, and the Phillies are in serious danger of being left in the dust.


Fans hope that the managerial shakeup will give the team the kick in the rear that it desperately needs and jumpstart a lineup that has greatly underperformed to this point. The Phillies responded resoundingly, sweeping the Angels and hanging 26 runs over the weekend. Winners of four straight and 3-0 in the Rob Thomson era, perhaps this is the start of a new beginning for the Phillies. Perhaps the club will go on a run to open the summer. Firing Girardi won't fix the Phillies' fundamental problems, or correct the wrongs of the Phillies' front office, though.


The Phillies haven't made the playoffs since 2011. Among National League teams, the club has gone the longest without a trip to the postseason. Each of the other 14 National League clubs have made at least one postseason appearance since 2015. 2021 was the Phillies' first winning season in ten years. For the last decade, Philadelphia has been the home of America's most disappointing baseball team.


The Phillies enjoyed a golden era from 2007 through 2011, winning five straight NL East division titles, winning the 2008 World Series, and coming very close to winning the 2009 World Series. Their competitive window closed abruptly in 2012, and after a few failed attempts to recapture the magic of the late-2000s, the Phillies began clearing house, starting with general manager Rubén Amaro Jr., who was let go on September 10, 2015.


Owner John Middleton turned over the keys to rookie GM Matt Klentak to guide the organization through a rebuild. At the time, Klentak was an ambitious 34 year-old with an economics degree from Dartmouth — where he played shortstop and five years of experience as the Angels' assistant GM. Klentak looked every bit the mold of the modern GM who would lead the Phillies out of the wilderness and into the promised land.


The Phillies opened 2016 with the fourth-best farm system in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus. With a young nucleus of Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola, Mark Appel, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Sixto Sanchez and no. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak coming through the pipeline, the future looked very bright.


As the club's promising talent started to settle into the big leagues, Klentak began spending big on veterans to bolster the roster, via trade and free agency, hoping to soon return the team to the postseason.


Between the end of the 2017 season and the start of the 2019 season, Klentak spent a combined $540.25 to acquire eight players: Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana (later traded for Jean Segura), Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, Juan Nicasio and Tommy Hunter. He also dealt topflight prospects Sixto Sanchez and J.P. Crawford for all-stars J.T. Realmuto and Segura.


The fourth year of Klentak's reign as GM (2019) ended with the Phillies experiencing their second-straight late-season collapse. In both 2018 and 2019, the Phillies were in pole position for a postseason berth in the month of August, and in both seasons, the club failed to finish above .500.


Through four years, Klentak's Phillies had a cumulative record of 298-350. Starting to feel pressure from ownership, Klentak canned manager Gabe Kapler his hand-picked guy that he replaced Pete Mackanin with — in a likely attempt to deflect blame and save his job. The fans were on board. They were happy to run Kapler out of town. Two years later, Kapler was named National League Manager of the Year after he managed the Giants to a 107 wins and an NL West title.


Klentak hitched his wagon to 4-time World Series champion Joe Girardi, and continued to pour money into his roster. He signed Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million and picked up veteran shortstop Didi Gregorius.


2020 was no different from 2018 or 2019: new manager, same results. With a week remaining in the season, the Phillies held a wild card spot in the expanded, COVID playoffs, and once again, the Phillies fell out of the playoffs and finished below .500. The Phillies' bullpen logged a historically bad 7.06 ERA, baseball's worst team bullpen ERA in 90 years.


2020 was an extremely difficult season to quantify. Playing just 60 games, one positive COVID test — even a false positive — could derail an entire season. In 2020, teams only played opposing teams in their division and the corresponding division in the opposite league, and the Phillies were probably in the toughest jointed-division: the East. But it didn't matter to ownership. 2020 was Klentak's last chance, and he was soon replaced.


The once promising young core of Herrera, Franco, Hoskins, Kingery, Hernandez, Nick Williams, Crawford, Nola, Appel, Pivetta, Velasquez, Eflin, Sixto Sanchez and Moniak that Klentak hoped to build around was fool's gold. Nola, Hoskins, Herrera, Hernandez (now on another team), Crawford (also on another team) and Eflin are all quality big leaguers. Nola and Herrera are the only ones from that group to make an all-star team. What once looked like the Philadelphia version of the 2016 Cubs greatly undelivered.

Klentak already went all-in with the Wheeler, Harper, Segura and Realmuto acquisitions. What's left to do but continue to put the chips on the table and commit to winning, after a near-decade of losing in front of a frustrated fan base? Enter two-time World Series champion Dave Dombrowski, the Phillies' new president of baseball operations.


Over the course of his career as an executive, Dombrowski has made it known that he won't hesitate to spend big in free agency or sacrifice prospect capital for surefire big leaguers, and to his credit, he has won many of the win-now moves that he's made. Do you know what Dombrowski traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in 2007? Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Dallas Trahern, Eulogio De La Cruz, Burke Badenhop and Mike Rabelo; that's it. He gave Prince Fielder a nine-year, $214 million contract in 2011. Two years later, he wisely swapped Fielder (and his massive contract) for smooth-fielding second baseman Ian Kinsler.


Dombrowski also pulled off a three-team trade in 2009 where he moved Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson and received Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth. Dombrowski is a Hall of Fame GM that has assembled two different World Series champions and came very close to assembling a third in Detroit.


To no one's surprise, Dombrowski has made his presence known to the Philadelphia fans by continuing to pour money into roster construction. Over the past year and a half, he's shelled out a combined $351.5 million to eight players: J.T. Realmuto, Nicholas Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Didi Gregorius, Corey Knebel, Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, and Kyle Gibson, who he traded for last summer at the trade deadline. This year, the Phillies are over the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history and have the fourth-highest payroll in baseball this season at $233 million.


Dombrowski hoped that investing in the bullpen would accrue better results in 2022. As of June 7, the Phillies' bullpen is fourth in walks (98), 18th in ERA (3.99) and 24th in WHIP (1.40).


Dombrowski also hoped that adding Schwarber and Castellanos at the time of the National League's adoption of the designated hitter would make the Phillies one of baseball's most potent offenses, one that could slug with the best of them and make up for the club's defensive limitations.


Of course, these additions came at the subtraction of defense. For the past month, the Phillies have been forced to use their DH spot on Bryce Harper as he nurses a right elbow injury. As a result, Castellanos has had to regularly play right field, with Schwarber in left on a daily basis. The Phillies have a league-worst -31 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and are 24th in Statcast's Outs Above Average (-20). They're also 11th in errors (33) and 21st in fielding percentage (.983).


Since the start of 2005, just two teams have finished in the bottom half of the league in DRS, totaled a negative DRS and won the World Series: the 2009 New York Yankees and the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. Since 2012, every World Series champion has placed in the top half of the league in DRS with a positive DRS total. If the last decade has taught us anything it's that in baseball, defense still wins championships.


The Phillies had the league-worst DRS in 2021 (-54) and the third-worst in 2020 (-32). By adding Castellanos and Schwarber, Dombrowski tripled-down.


The defensive woes extend far beyond Schwarber and Castellanos. Castellanos (-11 Rdrs), Alec Bohm (-10), Didi Gregorius (-4), Bryson Stott (-4), Schwarber (-2), Harper (-1) and Johan Camargo (-1) all rate as minus-fielders, according to Defensive Runs Saved Above Average (Rdrs). J.T. Realmuto is the team's only plus-defender (+2)! Who is Girardi — and now Thomson — supposed to play?


As for the Phillies' offense? Even with Schwarber (.197/.321/.779) and Castellanos (.244/.302/.712) underperforming, the Phillies are still scoring runs. The club is seventh in runs scored, eighth in home runs, eighth in OPS, and ninth in batting average.


The Phillies should continue to bash in the coming weeks. The firing of Girardi comes a day after the Phillies finished a grueling stretch where they played 20 games in 21 days against the Dodgers, Padres, Braves, Mets and Giants. They then feasted off an Angels team that has now lost 13 straight and is freefalling out of contention. On deck, the Milwaukee Brewers, who have lost five of six, entering play this week. After that, the schedule lightens up even more. Their following 13 games will come against the Diamondbacks (26-30), Marlins (22-30), Nationals (21-35) and Rangers (25-28.


With a run-differential of +1, a record of 22-29 (at the time of the Girardi firing), a bad defense and a good offense, the Phillies appear to be an average team. They got tripped up running through the gauntlet in May. They'll likely take advantage of their lighter schedule in June.


I don't believe it's a coincidence Girardi was let go at this time. He's a convenient scapegoat, the latest in a butchery known by the name of Philadelphia. With or without Girardi, the team is due for improvement. This is also an opportunity for Dombrowski to install his own manager. In all fairness, he didn't hire Girardi. Girardi was foisted on him by the previous front office. From an outsider's perspective, we know very little about what goes on behind the scenes. We don't know if Girardi and Dombrowski were on the same page, shared different visions for the club, or butted heads behind closed doors.


In order for businesses to excel, there needs to be synergy. It rarely tends to work when a manager keeps his job as a new GM comes in. It's a reflection of the real world, where new bosses come in and want to bring in their own people who share their vision. For that reason alone, the decision to move on from Girardi is probably the best course of action for everyone involved, Girardi included. There was no reason to drag this thing out.


Dombrowski — the Hall of Fame GM that he is — should get to pick his own manager. Perhaps Thomson will click with the players better than Girardi ever did, and unlock a new level his club hasn't reached before. Perhaps he'll manage his bullpen better and thrive in-game, where Girardi may not have. But when the smoke clears and the dust settles, the Phillies will still be confronted with many of the same issues that have plagued them recently.


Unless Thomson has some season-altering fielding drills and defensive shifts in the works, the Phillies are still the worst defensive team in baseball, a non-winning concoction. The Phillies' bullpen is still untrustworthy, and the organization has the 26th-best farm system, according to MLB.com. It's the best club $233 million can buy!


Klentak's once loaded farm system never met expectations. Klentak then spent big and Dombrowski has picked up where Klentak left off.


Given Dombrowski's track record, he is certainly capable of fixing this mess, but he has plenty left to do in order to return the Phillies to glory.


For more sports and entertainment analysis, follow me on Twitter @JackVitaShow, and subscribe to the Jack Vita Show on iTunes or wherever podcasts are found. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram.


(Photo via Sporting News)

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