John Middleton is the CEO. It’s his show, and he wants you to know it.
That is THE primary takeaway after a 57-minute press conference at Citizens Bank Park earlier this afternoon in which Matt Klentak, Andy MacPhail, and Middleton traded turns (and I use that phrase very loosely) answering questions about the Phillies’ direction in the wake of the team’s decision to part ways with former manager Gabe Kapler yesterday.
It was a clinic on how to dilute the substance of an answer with verbosity–saying much to say very little–specifically on the part of Middleton, who at one point reached the 11-minute mark with one of his answers:
Middleton’s unofficial time for that answer, according to my DVR, was 11 minutes. That’s a podcast. He just gave a podcast.
— Kyle Scott (@CrossingBroad) October 11, 2019
Takeaways and observations from an hour with John & Friends, after the jump.
John Middleton is Calling the Shots
If the Phillies were hoping that today’s news conference would help solve the team’s developing perception problem, then I think they’re going to be pretty disappointed with the results. Though he was often directly addressed, Middleton asserted himself as the ultimate decision-maker, noting on multiple occasions that is what “a CEO does” in order for a company to achieve its strategic objectives.
It was confirmed that Klentak did not want Kapler fired, and the front office asked the owner to gather more information before pulling the trigger. Still, Middleton went against the recommendation of his GM, which raises questions about the organization’s power structure and cohesion ahead of a critically-important offseason.
It’s obvious that Middleton wants to win and feels it’s necessary that he take charge on big-ticket items, but his answers did have bit of a Jerry Jones-like quality to them.
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) October 11, 2019
The Phillies can throw out buzzwords like collaboration all they want, but after hearing all parties admit that Klentak had supported retaining Kapler and listening to Middleton’s explanation as to why he ruled against his baseball people, it’s hard not to see how Klentak’s voice has been diminished moving forward.
MLB.com writer Todd Zolecki had a good question for Middleton, essentially asking him why he feels good about his current decision-makers given he was the one who ultimately had to push for multiple firings and the decision to sign Bryce Harper.
Here’s Middleton’s response, which I thought had a little bit of, I don’t know, sass to it.
“I’d like to think I actually bring value to an organization—that I’m not a potted plant sitting in the corner.”#Phillies Managing Partner John Middleton on stepping in to make big organizational decisions pic.twitter.com/oX3B02cYAG
— Dave Uram (@MrUram) October 11, 2019
I would like to think that I actually bring value to an organization–that I’m not a potted plant, sitting in a corner.
Zolecki noted the importance of these specific decisions, which is when Middleton made it clear he feels that’s part of his job.
All I can tell you is that Middleton better know what he’s doing. If he doesn’t, this team is in deep trouble.
On Why Kapler was Fired
MacPhail was the one to open the press conference, explaining the team’s methodology behind the decision to fire Kapler. He noted Middleton’s concerns with the direction of the team dating back to late-July. MacPhail called Middleton “an advocate for change” by late September, with the owner dismayed by the team’s back-to-back September collapses.
Middleton would later say that he didn’t feel comfortable a third collapse would be avoided.
While injuries were a concern for the Phillies, Middleton was also quick to point out that these weren’t late-season medical issues that altered the dynamics of the team, and thus they shouldn’t be used to as an excuse for the Phillies’ poor September play.
Meanwhile, one of the most insightful answers of the day came from Middleton in response to a question about the team’s personnel shortcomings. The owner/managing partner/CEO/baseball boss shed some light on the team’s player evaluation process and was quick to hold the coaching staff very much accountable for the team’s roster construction.
That’s something we had not previously heard, and on a day when several of Middleton’s answers felt like a verbal flex and others felt like a verbal tap dance around tough questions, this was an honest and usable answer that aided the explanation to move on from Kapler.
On Why Klentak and MacPhail Weren’t Fired
Howard Eskin asked Middleton why the dismissals didn’t go beyond the coaching staff. It was an interesting back-and-forth:
Middleton: The question is this. You tell me what part of this organization isn’t better today, and really substantially better today, than it was four years ago when they came.
[Note: That’s not a question.]
Eskin: I’m going to look at the minor league system and I see since Matt’s drafted, I believe you have two players that made the major leagues in Cole Irvin this year and (Adam) Haseley, so outside of that, I’m wondering, there’s a feeder system, other teams have injuries, and they’ve overcome them. The Phillies couldn’t and I don’t think it was all Gabe’s fault, but I realize the decision had to be made. But what did he have to support him from your draft picks?
Middleton then looked down to his cell phone, as if he had some killer answer to fire off, and then cited the bullpen’s improved ERA over the second-half of the season before MacPhail jumped in.
His explanation, which was flimsy, referenced as a defense the team’s decision to draft high school players in delaying results and forfeiting draft picks to sign free agents. It wasn’t exactly an inspiring answer, but it was at least reasonable.
The whole thing was sort of ridiculous, and I’m not sure how Middleton’s response even remotely answered the question.
Good Look, Andy
MacPhail was prepared for a question by WIP’s Jon Johnson about his infamous “If we don’t, we don’t” comments about reaching the postseason, joking that he’s “never gonna say that again.” He then clarified by explaining that while he wanted to reach the postseason, he didn’t want to sacrifice the team’s long-term health to reach a one-game playoff.
Bad Look, Andy
He should’ve stopped there. MacPhail went on to note the bullpen’s improved performance after the All-Star break–the second time of the day that improvement was touted. Absolutely nobody wants to hear that after an 81-win season in which several other roster deficiencies, including both the bench and starting rotation, were either initially unidentified or never rectified.
Spare the fans with the bullpen’s 3.54 ERA over a two-month sample, man.
Winning at All Costs?
Near the end of the session, Middleton was asked by NBC Sports Philly’s Jim Salisbury if his expectation was to contend in 2020, to which he answered “Yeah, I do.” He also indicated the team would be active in the free agent market and would be willing to go over the luxury tax–if it was a move that could push the Phillies to a World Series, not one to make the second wild card.
Quick Notes and Observations
- Middleton talked to Kapler about the team’s hustle issues. He felt Gabe tried to adapt.
- Don’t expect the Phillies to shy away from analytics. Middleton made it a point to say that he was at the forefront of funding the team’s research and data push. It’s here to stay.
- Middleton says that he will be involved in creating a profile of the next manager, but will then walk away and let Klentak and the front office go to work. That’s fine, but based on recent events, it’s hard to believe Middleton won’t be more involved with the process than that.
- He also said that public perception didn’t ultimately decide Kapler’s fate, noting that the feedback he got around town was split. Not only do not I buy that, Klentak’s “market reality” comment and his (correct) assertion that Kapler “had a hard time gaining acceptance” in Philly suggested to me that it was a major factor in the decision.
There you have it.