Tomase: Why Gabe Kapler should be the next Red Sox manager

John Tomase
October 12, 2017 - 11:30 pm
Gabe Kapler celebrates Red Sox ALCS win over Yankees in 2004.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images


Red Sox fans need no reminder that Gabe Kapler knows how to make an entrance.

Back in June of 2003, Kapler arrived from the Rockies for the final two games of a wild series with the Marlins and became an instant folk hero. He went 4-for-5 in his debut and then followed with a pair of homers in a win that earned a serenade of the "Welcome Back Kotter" theme as Kapler trotted to right field while turning a sheepish shade of red.

The Red Sox had plucked him from Colorado because they needed a right-handed bat to pair with Trot Nixon. When they shut out the Cardinals in Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, Kapler was in right field for the final out that ended their 86-year drought.

Nearly fifteen years later, the Red Sox once again have a need that Kapler is uniquely qualified to fill. But this role's a good deal larger than complementary piece vs. left-handed pitching. The Red Sox need a manager and Kapler checks the most important boxes on their list of requirements -- the ability to relate to young players and a healthy relationship with left-hander David Price.

A former minor league manager in the Boston system -- he spent 2007 leading a Single-A Greenville team that included future big leaguers Josh Reddick, Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront, as well as Jon Lester for the start of his road back from cancer -- Kapler has since made his name in player development.

With the Red Sox in the market for a manager who can cultivate and communicate with their stable of young stars, Kapler is eminently qualified to assume the task.

He has spent the last three years as the Dodgers' director of player development, and this year's 104-win team is full of players who rose through L.A.'s system, from runaway Rookie of the Year favorite Cody Bellinger to All-Star shortstop Corey Seager to slugging outfielder Joc Pederson. On Kapler's watch, the farm system's winning percentage has increased in each of the last three years, from .513 to .529 to .562.

Running a farm requires constant communication with players, managers, coaches, trainers, and doctors at half a dozen affiliates from Midland, Michigan to Ogden, Utah. The fact that prospects keep arriving in Los Angeles ready to rake -- Seager is the reigning Rookie of the Year and Bellinger should be a unanimous choice -- highlights Kapler's ability to groom young talent.

This is a big deal because the Red Sox watched their young core collectively backslide in 2017. While the Yankees (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez), Indians (Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez), and Astros (Carlos Correia, Alex Bregman) rode their 20-something stars to unexpected heights, the Red Sox never saw Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi take flight.

Management partly blamed ex-manager John Farrell, who was fired on Wednesday. A former farm director himself in Cleveland, Farrell nonetheless had a reputation for better relating to veterans. Perhaps his no-nonsense approach and generally serious demeanor heightened the stress levels of youngsters who might've benefited from a gentler, more reassuring delivery, as the Globe's Alex Speier noted. Farrell wasn't gruff, but he wasn't quick with a disarming quip like Terry Francona, either.

In 2013, Farrell provided the professionalism the team needed following Bobby Valentine. By 2017, however, the widespread struggles of the Killer Bs prompted president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to seek a change.

Kapler brings a very different personality. Intense as a player and renowned for his rippling physique, he's also intellectually curious, open-minded, and collaborative. One of his first acts as a Red Sox player was to visit Harvard's campus. With new and more detailed data flooding the game, Kapler is bright enough to process whatever the analytics department throws at him, which the Red Sox consider a must.

(Oh, and if you're wondering about his sense of humor, Google the post he wrote on his personal health-and-wellness blog about the many uses of coconut oil. He may be intensely focused, but he's also self-deprecating.)

Kapler's natural curiosity makes him an excellent leader, because he doesn't view motivation as a one-size-fits-all construct. What inspires Betts might not resonate with Hanley Ramirez, and Kapler would work to figure out what makes everyone on the 25-man roster tick.

He was an influencer in the Red Sox clubhouse from 2003-06, despite being a reserve. When the Sox dropped the first two games of the 2003 Division Series in Oakland, Kapler stood front-and-center at his locker to take the heat after a couple of oh-fers. When they rallied a few days later to win the series in the same ballpark, he chomped a cigar in glee.

Also relevant: Kapler finished his career in 2009-10 as a veteran leader with the burgeoning Rays. He played alongside Price well before the left-hander became a focal point in Boston for undermining Farrell's authority and introducing a level of hostility and defiance to the clubhouse that proved counterproductive.

During his days as a FoxSports commentator, Kapler spoke very highly of Price, noting in one interview that he loved the lefty's "violent, passionate high-fives." Considering the utter disdain with which Price treated Manager John, if Kapler arrives with a solid pre-existing relationship, that could go a long way towards restoring some joy to Astro's dad, and by extension the rest of the clubhouse.

So will Kapler get a shot? As the Red Sox begin their managerial search in earnest, Astros bench coach Alex Cora is the ex-player many would like to see in Boston (including colleague Rob Bradford). And Cora would be an excellent choice.

But don't sleep on Kapler. He loved his years in Boston, he understands both sides of the media dynamic, and he knows the AL East. His lack of experience in a big-league dugout shouldn't disqualify him.

After all, there's a reason the Red Sox made him a minor league manager at age 31 a decade ago. They recognized his potential one day to do the job at the highest level.

Perhaps that day has arrived.

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