Mattingly, Kapler press conferences reflective of teams' paths in NL east
Don Mattingly sat down in the right corner of a Mandalay Bay conference room at 10 a.m. local time. His voice quiet as the floor opened for questions, each phrased in a way that skirted the Marlins ominous, albeit early, 2019 projections.
Gabe Kapler’s conference followed Mattingly’s, in the exact same spot with added reporters encircling the second-year manager. He arrived fashionably six minutes late—presumably due to a quick chat with Odubel Herrera’s agent as he disclosed during his 30-minute talk. He wore a black leather jacket with a black hooded sweatshirt underneath and faded jeans. The look contrasted Mattingly’s simple purple-checkered shirt with youthful vibrance. As did his tone of voice: louder than Mattingly’s, full of energy as he gave his perspective on Machado and others.
The two managers represent teams on paths with little in common. The Marlins are the second-worst team in baseball per Fangraphs’ current depth chart projections. The Phillies aren’t much better at 77 wins, but are a favorite to add a 4-plus-WAR piece to their lineup and possibly more. In a way, the tone and aesthetics of each press conference reflected the divergent paths each team is on as the new year approaches.
“I think you take a leap when two things happen,” Kapler said. “Number one, your young players develop. And number two, you add really good baseball players.”
Kapler praised both Harper and Machado as exceptional talents. His mantra through the press conference revolved around his interest and involvement in adding talent to the Phillies—an obvious statement for any manager. But given Kapler’s inability to predict the Phillies acquisitions, he turned the conversation to the importance of intangibles, a variable he has a strong history of citing.
He mentioned the organization’s ability to internally develop and acquire leadership, a parallel to his statements on how the Phillies can bring in talent. His centerpiece for internal leadership development is Rhys Hoskins, a player he explicitly stated is poised for a big step forward, something both the first baseman and the rest of the clubhouse knows.
Hoskins is expected to move back to first base for the start of 2019 after the Phillies shipped Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford to the Seattle Mariners in a deal for Jean Segura. Kapler said Hoskins “immediately becomes more comfortable” at first base and went so far as to consider whether roaming the grass played a part in 2018 season slightly off pace from a stellar 50-game sample from Hoskins in 2017.
“I do think there is a psychological toll, I’m not sure what that psychological toll is, like it’s somewhere on the spectrum,” Kapler said. “But certainly if you’re stressing about one thing, perhaps you’re not able to be the best hitter you could be, this is all very subjective and super speculative.”
Kapler theorized if Hoskins is able to push aside any potential psychological toll from playing the outfield and he could become elite offensively. This allows the Phillies to pursue an outfield piece to help on and off the field, emphasizing Kapler’s balance between the internal and external. With the Phillies manager, everything seems to come full-circle, even when questions aren’t predetermined.
Mattingly’s conference started with a question about the Marlins additions of four new coaches, reuniting the Marlins manager with old friends. His tone mixed surprise that the first question didn’t address the swirling J.T. Realmuto rumors and some realization the question would come eventually. After addressing the elephant in the room, he committed to very little on the Marlins present-day roster.
“I think definitively, it’s hard to say anyone in particular is going to be at that spot because we’re definitely team building towards the future,” Mattingly said. “Hopefully we’re going to take steps forward this year, obviously last year was a tough year.”
His statement seemed to confirm any valuable asset on the Marlins is moveable, even though the only asset with substantial interest is their star catcher. It seemed like an attempt to stay optimistic and believe in his players when only two position players on the Marlins are currently projected for a WAR above 2. One of those two players is Realmuto.
Mattingly continued to be non-committal in his tone when asked about the team’s youth, which is further from impacting the major league level than a team like the Phillies. He emphasized competition across the board in an effort to build talent all the way through the Marlins’ system, a valid reason to refrain from commitment. Lewis Brinson is currently projected as the team’s everyday center fielder, but Mattingly spoke of the young outfielder’s understanding of the coming year's gravity after a rough 109-game sample in 2018, rather than solidifying a spot in the Marlins shallow outfield.
“Once [the young guys] finally get to the winter and they’re all by themselves and they get a chance to actually process the season,” Mattingly said. “I think that’s where the real growth can happen, because now when they do their work and how they prepare during the offseason is really, really a chance to grow.”
Mattingly is focused on the offseason, but not in the way the Phillies are. He is interested in the steps players like Brinson, Caleb Smith, Taylor Rogers, and others take in preparation for the coming season, one that will feel even more out of reach if Realmuto departs.
The national league east projects as one of the toughest divisions in baseball, with four teams re-tooling for the long season rather than rebuilding. The Phillies are squarely in the mix while the same can’t be said for the Marlins. If the tone around each team informs expectations, each manager gave appropriate comments to further cement each teams’ position.