Kapler won Manager of the Year in the National League in 2021, after the Giants won a franchise-record 107 games. But two years later, Kapler has been fired, after the team went 17-32 down the stretch, tumbling from first place in the wild-card race on Aug. 3 to fourth place in the NL West as of Sept. 29.
Two weeks ago, Giants owner Greg Johnson told reporters Kapler would be back for 2024, along with embattled team president Farhan Zaidi. “They will both be here next year,” he texted to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Zaidi also endorsed Kapler, saying, “No one’s satisfied to be only a few games over .500. But we’re playing meaningful baseball and are in position to make the playoffs with 16 games left, and Gabe’s steadiness and leadership has been critical in getting us to this point.”
That changed as the Giants kept losing and stories emerged about the the team’s bad clubhouse culture, with veterans more focused on playing Filipino poker than preparing for games. Thursday, Zaidi seemed to backtrack on his support for Kapler during a radio interview.
Now, Kapler, the Giants eccentric manager, is on the way out. Kapler is very unique, whether it’s his all-red-meat diet, his obsession with platooning hitters and using relievers as “openers” to begin games and even his unconventional ideas about nude sunbathing. This year, he’s had coaches burn sage in the hitting cage to break slumps.
Everyone loves a quirky manager when they’re winning. The 2021 Giants did plenty of platooning and their share of unorthodox bullpen usage, but they won and Kapler was a genius. Now that they’re losing, Kapler’s creativity is a detriment. That happened in his previous stint as a manager, too. Kapler improved the Philadelphia Phillies by 14 wins in 2018, but was fired after adding stars like Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto led to only a one-game improvement in 2019.
Zaidi’s job still appears safe, even though he’s responsible for putting together the Giants’ slow, defensively-challenged roster that’s fallen apart in August and September. The Giants missed out on free-agent target Aaron Judge, went back on their Carlos Correa signing after they saw old X-rays, instead settling for a pair of outfielders coming off injuries in Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto. They also let aces Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodon leave in free agency in consecutive years, weakening their pitching staff.
There’s enough blame to go around in the Giants collapse. It looks like most of it will fall on Gabe Kapler.