As the St. Louis Cardinals head home from a tough road trip, the team is once again spiraling out of control. After finding balance against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals before the break, the team has dropped four of seven to the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets out of the gate, bringing to the forefront the four million dollar question: Does Mike Matheny have a clue?
President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak shuffled the coaching staff up in early June, setting a 4-6 week marker for improvement. The team has not-and everyone is accountable, so what about Matheny? If the team sinks down further, misses the playoffs, and fails to win 80 games, does the manager get the axe?
In order to answer this question, I broke out the bullhorn and assembled the Redbird Daily staff to chip in. Here is what we came up with.
Will Matheny manage the Birds in 2018? The straight and easy answer is yes, because as long as Mozeliak is in charge and Bill DeWitt III is the majority owner, the team won’t make an abrupt move like firing a guy they just handed an extension to. Unless the Cards lose 50 of their last 60 games, Matheny will lead up the staff in 2018. I believe that Mozeliak handpicked Matheny to be his assistant many years ago in order to put someone in place after Tony La Russa that he could control and manage to corral a few successful seasons before the wheels came off.
This isn’t saying Mozeliak tried to hinder his team with this decision, but it’s no secret he is a man who covets control and likes being able to work in his own arena. Bringing in Terry Francona would have been a repeat of La Russa for better or worse, and I don’t think that’s what Mozeliak/DeWitt III wanted at the time. They will stick with Matheny until the team is run into the ground-and because they believe there is time, it may extend into the 2018 season. If the team continues to perform poorly, Michael Girsch will make his first in season splash and fire Matheny.
Deep down, Mozeliak/Girsch/DeWitt II hopes the team puts up an honest fight this season, grabs a free agent or two in the offseason, gets some kick from rookies, and make a run at the Central in 2018. The team returns to notoriety-and Matheny finishes his contract. That’s best case scenario. However, I don’t see that happening. Mozeliak has already created a new role for himself shall the firing need to take place. He brought in a special lieutenant to do the dirty work. While I don’t think Matheny gets canned before February 2018, I don’t think he finishes his current contract.
Does Mike Matheny need to be fired? Probably, as this is one of the worst fundamental baseball teams I’ve seen in years. Not all of that can be attributed to the manager, as each player is responsible for their play on the field, but Matheny has clearly demonstrated that he has lost control.
It is one thing to lose a bunch of games and be a manager – there have been plenty of guys who have sat through miserable seasons and still kept their jobs.
It’s another thing though to have players who clearly aren’t sipping your Kool-Aid. This was demonstrated fully this past week when Matt Carpenter threw Trevor Rosenthal under the bus after Trevor failed to cover first and subsequently the team lost.
I see two things wrong with that situation:
1) Mike Matheny should’ve grabbed Rosenthal by the neck and addressed it before everyone even stepped back into the locker room. Problem squashed, although the loss still stings.
2) Carpenter threw Rosenthal under the bus because he knows there is ZERO repercussion. Mike Matheny is not the in your face guy, and that mantra is starting to back fire.
So I say again, should Mike Matheny be fired? Probably yes. Will he? That’s a different question.
He most likely will be. The number one reason is that owner Bill DeWitt, Jr. has a serious “man crush” on him. I have no concrete evidence, but from simply gauging the words of DeWitt and Mo over the years, I surmise that granting Matheny an interview (and ultimately hiring him) was the brain child of the owner. He has final say on who manages his franchise, so until Matheny’s on-field results fall far short of expectations, his job is safe. Based on MO’s comments in an interview with Bernie Miklasz last month, he seemed to say that Matheny’s contract extension would not prevent them from making changes if necessary. So it all lies with the opinion of the owner. After 86 wins last year, I believe this season will be a “freebie” and Matheny will get a chance to prove it was a fluke in 2018. A repeat under-performance next year likely gets him out the door. If the team can float around .500 this year I think he is safe. However, if the team tanks to 70-75 wins it might just be the push needed to make something happen sooner.
If you had asked me this question at the beginning of the season I would have said that it likely takes more than one bad season to get him fired. However, based on what has happened this year I think it’s possible that the team moves on from him this winter. When you combine this team’s poor play with their overall lack of fundamental it paints an ugly picture. The team clearly has more talent than they’re showing in the win column.
What really intrigues me is the rise of Mike Shildt. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this but I really think he’s been brought to the major league team as sort of a backup plan to Matheny. It seems pretty clear that Mozeliak is very high on Shildt and I think they’re prepared to make that move if they feel like they need to. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve read too much into something if that isn’t the case, but that’s the way I see it.
For me, the question isn’t “will Matheny manage the Cardinals in 2018?”, It should be “Will Matheny still be head coach by the end of 2018?’
The first question is an easy “yes” for me. I’m not a fan of Matheny in the least, but baseball is about winning and losing, and Matheny has a record of 508-399 entering Sunday. He has yet post a losing season as a manger, although he is on pace for his first losing season in 2017. Plus, aside from former third base coach Maloney, all of his auxiliary staff is still in place. So far as most major league firings go, some of the assistants, I’m looking at you Mabry, will be sacrificed before the manager is cut lose. So, the time frame isn’t quite right just yet
The ownership has shown their loyalty to the front office recently and I fully expect Mr. DeWitt to extend that loyalty to Mr. Mathey, as well. Plus, they just gave Matheny a contract extension. I feel pretty confident that Matheny will still be head coach of the Cardinals at the onset of 2018.
However, I seriously doubt that he’ll be manager by the end of the 2018 season. The Cardinals are a team that is churning in place. Without a major upgrade to the current roster they are fated to get worse next season, even with some talented kids down on the farm on track to make a major league impact by next season.
Take a losing 2017 season and add in the struggles that will come during the 2018 season and you’ll have your fired Matheny by the end of the 2018 season. I’d imagine that the melting-candle himself Mike Shildt will be named acting manager in his stead, but that’s a conversation for a different round table.
I’m typing this up on a phone, so I’ll keep it short.
Should Mike Matheny be the manager in 2018? No.
Will Mike Matheny be the manager in 2018? Without a doubt.
Mike Matheny still has the goodwill of four consecutive playoff appearance to start his tenure, the most in franchise history. Whether or not Matheny is actually responsible for those is up for debate. However, it can’t be disputed that the Cardinals are going backwards as a franchise. In 2013 they lost in the World Series. In 2014 they lost in the NLCS, and the NLDS in 2015. Last year, they missed the postseason and this year they’ve spent most of the year below .500.
When is someone going to be held responsibile for the regression. It won’t be Mozeliak, he signed an extension a few weeks ago. DeWitt has voiced confidence in Matheny over and over, and hasn’t wavered. Until there are more serious changes to his staff – like John Mabry losing his job – Mike Matheny is safe.
Matheny’s biggest attribute was always his ability to manage a clubhouse and be “a leader of men” as the term was used many times. His inabilities to manage in a game were overshadowed by the team’s success. How can you fire a manager when his team wins, even if he is clearly over-matched by other managers? Cue 2017 and the dismal play the Cardinals have exhibited. This should be the season that ultimately gets the ball rolling towards Matheny’s departure. However, I definitely do not believe he is fired during 2017, and find it unlikely that he is let-go in the off-season either. This season has been absolutely horrible, and Mo is due blame for the roster construction. But, the players’ apparent lack of fundamental skills, and will to go out and compete rests with them and Matheny. If Matheny has lost the clubhouse, then he truly brings nothing to the table to keep his job.
Matheny will be the manager in 2018 but will have less say in his Lieutenants. This could possibly be the second season without playoff appearance following four straight years of postseason participation. All organizations will have downtime’s, but the Cardinals have gone through two seasons of truly dysfunctional play. I expect to see more coaching changes with the possibility that Mike Shildt will be elevated to bench coach for next season. Ownership seems to be supportive of Matheny which leads me to believe any managerial change will be a ‘mutual decision” not a termination.