It appears the Cardinals are going to hire a manager from a very short list of candidates. I was really hoping the Cards would have made a run at Joe Maddon, but they must have gotten word that the price would have been too high from the Rays if they did hire him. Maddon may not have been on John Mozeliak’s list for all we know. If that is the case, I think it was a mistake, but there are a couple of candidates that really intrigue me. In order, my choice right now would be:
While I think Francona is at the top of most fans wish list, he’s not at the top of mine. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of days now, and the question I keep asking myself is what does it really say about a manager that won 2 World Series with the second highest payroll in baseball? Also, how do you have that kind of payroll and not make the playoffs in 3 of the last 6 years, including the last 2 years in a row? Even going back and looking at the stats of the Red Sox, it doesn’t seem possible that they didn’t make it. Well, Maddon’s Rays crashed the party the last 2 years with a payroll near the bottom of the league. Francona seems to have a lot of baggage, and while I agree with him that players usually police themselves, when they didn’t and the ship started to sink, especially in 2011, it was up to him to right the ship. I’m just not sure Francona is the answer, but it’s not these things alone that bring me to this conclusion.
Matheny is at the top of my list now. No, he doesn’t have any managerial or coaching experience at any level, but he helped manage the Cards from 2000-2004 from behind the plate. Matheny was a hard-nosed catcher who shut down the opponents running game and along with Dave Duncan made a lot of average pitchers look better than they were. 2000-2004 was part of the peak of the steroid era, so I think you have to look at pitchers stats a little different. The Cards had a good offense from 2000-2004, which definitely helped some of these pitchers to stick around and fit into the system. Without Matheny and Duncan though, most of them have not had success in any other place. Matheny and Duncan made T-bone steaks out of Spam, and have had a good working relationship in the past.
Starting in 2000, Matheny helped Garrett Stephenson to 16 wins, along with helping Darryl Kile shake off the effects of Coors field and win 20 games. 2001 was even more impressive as Matheny and Duncan led Dustin Hermanson to 14 wins, led Woody Williams to a 7-1 record and a 2.28 ERA, and let Bud Smith get his career off to a fine start by going 6-3 with a 3.83 ERA. Smith would later be part of the deal that helped the Cards get Scott Rolen. Kile kept on rolling.
In 2002, it was Jason Simontacchi who went 11-5 with a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts. Also, after tanking in 2001 and the beginning of 2002 with Cleveland, Matheny helped guide Chuck Finley to a 7-4 record with a 3.80 ERA in his 14 starts with the Cards.
In 2003, Matheny helped resurrect Cal Eldred’s career, and somehow kept Bret Tomko around long enough to get 13 wins. In 2004, it was Jeff Suppan who went 16-9 with a 4.16 ERA and Jason Marquis, who went 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA. Marquis would later shake off Matheny and Duncan to his demise. He’s the only one on the list that continues to bounce around because his “stuff” still has promise, but his head doesn’t follow.
Looking back at these examples, you could argue that Kile would have been better anywhere after leaving Colorado, Bud Smith might have come out of the gate pitching well in any system, etc. However, you can’t ignore the fact that when every one of these pitchers left the Cards, they went downhill fast, and some were out of baseball very soon after.
Matheny has spent time as a roving instructor for the Cards, as well as an unofficial assistant to GM John Mozeliak the last couple of years. It seems to me the Cards are grooming him for something big within the organization. If Matheny doesn’t get the manager’s job in 2012, I think he will be a part of the staff in some fashion and eventually take over for Dave Duncan as the pitching coach. Besides Yadier Molina, who knows the Duncan style better than Matheny? As wild as the 2011 season was, starting pitching is going to come back and dominate in the years to follow.
Getting to the other candidates, Sandberg would be my next choice. He would be that choice because of the respect he would command being a Hall of Famer. He did win Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2010. Also, I think it him being shunned by the Cubs would provide some extra incentive to get the job done.
Jose Oquendo seems to be a fan favorite. There’s one problem I see with Oquendo, and while it shouldn’t matter as much, it does. That problem is dealing with the media. Matheny seems to shine in front of the camera, and Sandberg and Francona have done so as well.
As far as the other candidates, I just don’t see a fit. I think Matheny is going to get it. I think Matheny would command the most respect out of the players that will make up the 2012 Cards, and it will allow the Cards to keep the current coaching staff intact. Much has been made about hiring someone who doesn’t have the pull that Tony LaRussa did, allowing Mo and the front office to put their system in place a bit better with promoting players from the minors quicker. I can’t say I disagree with that, and would prefer it that way. I’d rather see guys like Adron Chambers getting AB’s in the majors instead of players like Corey Patterson and his 5 tools that still haven’t shown up in his game in 12 years.
As far as asking players like Albert Pujols what they think about the managerial decision, I say no to that. At this time, Albert Pujols is not a member of the Cardinals. I think others like Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman, Adam Wainwright and Molina should have a voice, but still, it should be nothing more than an opinion. If Mo feels Matheny is the guy, then do it. Even the great Tony LaRussa had to start somewhere. I doubt the players mentioned would have any problems with the hiring of Matheny, and would probably give a strong endorsement of him. Molina was groomed by Duncan and Matheny. Carpenter had the best year of his career at that point in 2004 with Matheny behind the plate, and Wainwright follows Carpenter’s lead.
I think Matheny is the front-runner at this point. I don’t have any facts to back that up, it’s just a gut feeling. Whoever it is, I trust the Cardinals front office knows what they’re doing.