Gabe Kapler is extremely smart and dynamic, someone who might make a fine manager someday. But he was not the right choice for the Dodgers at this time.
If the Dodgers were going to hire a first-time manager, it would have been difficult for them to justify picking Kapler over their eventual choice, Dave Roberts.
The team is expected to make the hiring of Roberts official on Monday, according to major-league sources. And in some ways, the selection should be viewed as a relief.
I was worried about Kapler, with whom I worked at FS1 before he became the Dodgers’ farm director. Worried that players would perceive him as a puppet of the front office due to his close relationship with Andrew Friedman, the club’s president of baseball operations. Worried that he would fail to command the respect of veterans such as Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez.
Roberts, too, will need to earn the players’ respect, but at least he’s coming from the outside. He is just as energetic as Kapler, just as positive, but somewhat of a more traditional choice and perhaps a better communicator. Kapler has strong opinions on everything from sabermetrics to diets. Roberts, to be sure, is his own man, but figures to be more restrained in his beliefs.
More to the point: Kapler has never been a major-league coach, much less a manager; his only managing experience was in Single-A ball with the Red Sox in 2007.
Roberts has a stronger foundation – five years as a coach with the Padres, the last two as bench coach. He also was the runner-up for the Mariners’ job that recently went to Scott Servais.
Make no mistake – Roberts faces an uphill fight, as all first-time managers do. He will replace Don Mattingly, who did not return through mutual agreement after winning three straight division titles for the first time in club history. The expectations for the Dodgers in 2016 certainly will not be any lower.
Another thing: The Dodgers’ front office, like many front offices, wants their manager to be part of a collaborative effort. That’s fine, but Roberts will need to serve two sets of masters, his players and superiors. It’s a fine line, and once the players smell weakness, it’s difficult to regain their trust.
The Padres, oddly enough, did not even interview Roberts before hiring their own first-time manager, Diamondbacks third base coach Andy Green. But perhaps the Pads simply wanted to make a clean break from Bud Black’s staff, embark upon a new direction.
That, of course, is what the Dodgers are doing by hiring Roberts, who worked under Dodgers vice-president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes when Byrnes was general manager of the Padres. That connection surely did not hurt Roberts, but hardly anyone perceived it to be as powerful as the connection between Kapler and Friedman.
Now the hard work begins. Roberts must complete his coaching staff beyond pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, form relationships with players, athletic trainers and executives, learn how to run a game, how to handle a bullpen.
None of it will be easy, but if the choice came down to Roberts and Kapler, then Roberts stood a better chance of success.
The Dodgers made the right call.