Gabe Kapler: Darkhorse Manager Candidate

Looking for some thoughts on people likely being considered for the Padres managerial job? Check out Ghost’s whack-a-manager series, as he’s already run down four different candidates this week: Alex Cora, Ron Gardenhire, Andy Green, and Mark Kotsay. Looking for some thoughts on Gabe Kapler? Stick around.

Kapler has an interesting story.

He was a player, of course, and one you probably remember, as his career spanned 1,100 games at the major league level from 1998 through 2010. The player part isn’t that interesting.

After failing to develop further following a solid sophomore campaign in 2000 with the Rangers — where he hit .302/.360/.473 — Kapler eventually was relegated to fourth-outfielder-type duties, more usable against lefties than same-sided pitching. He departed the Rangers for the Rockies via trade at the 2002 deadline, then caught on with the Red Sox for their 2004 World Series title run. Kapler made a brief pit-stop in Japan following 2004, but resigned with the Red Sox mid-season and stuck through 2006. He announced his retirement after that season and went on to manage the Greenville Drive, Boston’s Single-A affiliate, before returning to the field to finish out his major league career with the Brewers and Rays.

Well, shoot, that is a pretty interesting playing career. Take out the managerial interlude, though, and it’s a relatively typical fourth-outfielder-type career arc, even the trip to Japan. It’s Kapler’s post-playing-career that gets more juicy.

After a failed attempt to make the Dodgers roster in 2011, Kapler surfaced as a player-coach on the Israeli national baseball team in 2012, and by 2013 he was doing TV work for Fox Sports and MLB Network. Kapler’s biggest claim to fame as a player was his muscle-bound physique, and here he was showing up on television explaining sabermetric stats, appearing on Baseball Prospectus’ Effectively Wild Podcast, and writing a handful of insightful articles for BP. Pardon my blatant stereotyping, but it’s not supposed to work like that. I don’t even mean to imply that gym rats can’t be smart; that’s silly. But gym rats who also happen to be baseball players — well, you just don’t expect those guys to come back post-career and deliver enlightened thoughts on the inner-workings of the game. In December of 2013, Kapler started his own blog, which he still updates.

In November of 2014, with a new, progressive front office in place, the Dodgers hired Kapler as director of player development, a bold move considering Kapler’s relatively limited off-field experience. While with the Dodgers, Kapler’s helped spearhead a cultural shift throughout the organization:

One thing we want to do is avoid locking ourselves into any organizational philosophy that can’t be easily altered or improved,” said Kapler. “While mining for best practices, we have overarching themes and philosophies, but we don’t want to say, ‘This is what we believe’ and get so dug in that we’re not capable of being nimble as new studies present better ways to approach problems and development. That flexibility is a thought process that we have to constantly talk about it with players and staff.

Kapler might not be a conventional choice to manage a major league ball club, but then again he wasn’t a conventional choice to head the Dodgers’ player development. He checks off both boxes as a long-time, respected player, but also someone open to advanced statistics — think Clint Hurdle, but 20 years younger. He’s clearly a rare breed in baseball — an independent thinker — and you can envision him adopting anything from extreme shifts to radical pre-game meal spreads if given the managerial keys.

Of course, there’s at least one problem. Kapler’s still with the Dodgers, a team that just parted ways with their own manager, Don Mattingly, and reports are surfacing that he’s a leading candidate to snag that now-vacant position. The other question is whether Kapler wants to manage a big league team, as it seems like he has a keen interest in developing players at the lower levels. I don’t know that answer, either way, but it’s unlikely the Padres end up with him.

We can dream, though.

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  • Billy Lybarger

    There is so much swoon opportunity here it’s off the charts. Therefore, it will never happen for the Padres.