The Cardinals are performing an extensive rearrangement of Mike Matheny’s coaching staff, which looks nothing like Matheny’s former coaching staff…
And that’s exactly the point.
The popular and highly respected Jose Oquendo is back to coach third base, sanitize the messy infield defense, and rehabilitate the slipshod fundamentals to honor the memory and the legacy of George Kissell and Dave Ricketts.
The venerated Cardinals Hall of Famer, Willie McGee, is on board as full-time coach, to school the outfielders on defense, and give these confused Cardinals’ base-runners a GPS so they have a better idea of where they should be going.
Mike Shildt has been moved to a more prominent role: that of bench coach. Shidlt was formerly the third base coach who filled that void after Chris Maloney became the first coaching liquidation this past summer. Shildt will be in place to have direct influence on Matheny’s decision-making processes.
Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch won’t be finished until they hire a pitching coordinator and a bullpen coach. And as the Cardinals modernize their operation, the pitching coordinator job looms as a powerful position.
If you are keeping track of the changes, let’s make it easier for you:
Here was the staff going into 2016 …
Chris Maloney, third base coach: GONE.
Derek Lilliquist, pitching coach: GONE.
John Mabry, batting coach and Matheny BFF: still in place.
Derrick May, assistant hitting coach: GONE.
Bill Mueller, first base coach: transferred to assistant hitting coach.
David Bell, bench coach: GONE.
Blaise Isley, bullpen coach: GONE.
Based on my tally, only Mabry and Mueller remain from opening day of 2016.
Oliver Marmol was promoted from the minors to take over as the Cardinals’ first base coach for 2017, and he’ll continue in that capacity next season.
When Mozeliak told me late in the season he needed to find ways to help his manager, Mo wasn’t kidding. I wonder if Matheny wanted soooooo much assistance from his kind and supportive boss?
Or let me put this another way, in question form:
1. Is this simply about helping the manager?
2. Or is this a front-office intervention?
3. Or is this an executive-action invasion of the dugout, with Mozeliak removing Matheny’s allies to surround him with front-office allies?
When Matheny looks around next spring in camp Jupiter, he may silently ask himself …
Where have my guys gone?
Why are Mozeliak’s guys occupying my dugout?
Short answer: maybe because it isn’t Matheny’s dugout anymore.
The changes have been made for an obvious reason.
You may call it a nudge.
I choose to call it a warning.
I like the coaching moves.
I just don’t know if it will work, and I’ll explain why in a bit.
Mozeliak has made it clear the Cardinals need to pick up the pace and catch up with a changing industry. You do that by utilizing advanced metrics and the information delivered to the dugout by the organization’s excellent analytics department.
With most MLB teams increasing their commitment to a more enlightened approach in using personnel and running games, the Cardinals would be buffoons for employing a manager who has contempt for new ideas, forward-thinking methods, and can’t handle candid discussion and debate with his coaches or the analytics dudes.
Unless the Cardinals want to lose more ground intellectually, they can’t have a manager set his jaw and refuse to adapt and take a defiant stance making him the baseball equivalent of a willfully ignorant science denier.
Your staff shouldn’t ignore data that can absolutely help a manager enhance his lineup construction. Or be more alert in recognizing pitching trends and anticipate the right time to make a move to the bullpen. Or to identify maximum-potential matchups that could give your side an edge in late-inning maneuvering.
Matheny has responded enthusiastically to the challenge being put before him:
With six seasons as manager already in the books, it’s time to get better at this. And we’re really trying to help you by giving you a more proficient set of coaches who really want help you. The rest is up to you.
The only way a modernization project will work is if the manager is willing to be modernized.
You can’t move into the future if your manager won’t leave the past.
Sure, a lot of this is about analytics and new baseball math.
But this coaching-staff renovation is also about hard, honest work and establishing trust.
This isn’t just about numbers.
It’s also about going onto the field to school players, smooth their flaws, and sharpen the fundamentals.
After a two-year absence, to spend his time working with the Cardinals’ youngest prospects in South Florida, Oquendo is coming to the rescue in St. Louis. And hopefully this time he’ll stay, unless of course he wants to go away again, and that depends on Matheny.
Oquendo didn’t agree to rejoin Matheny’s staff because someone made a simple phone call and said, “Hey, it would be cool if you came back.”
Mozeliak and Matheny had to make a special recruiting trip to Florida.
I’ll just go ahead and assume that Oquendo had to be given certain assurances. For example: Matheny will no longer overrule and undermine Oquendo by appeasing players who go to the the manager and whine when Oquendo wants to head to the field on the afternoon of a night game to have a mini-clinic on defense. I can’t believe Oquendo would reenter this situation unless he was given autonomy.
Oquendo pushes players … for their good, and the good of the team.
Matheny’s insecure personality — his need to ingratiate himself with preferred veterans to maintain their loyalty — can cause problems. He’ll ease up instead of demanding more from them. And that is a big reason why the fundamentals deteriorated under Matheny the past two seasons while Oquendo was away.
Oquendo believes in hard work and true commitment to improving and he will absolutely hold players accountable … with the understanding that he will do EVERYTHING he possibly can to help them perform better.
Willie McGee is all about the hard work and straight talk and telling a player what he needs to do instead of telling a player that everything is OK, all swell, good job buddy-buddy.
You have my back; I have yours.
There’s been way too much of that going around over the last two years.
There’s still a valuable place for old-school baseball values in this game. Teaching and instructing and putting the time in. Getting on the dirt or the outfield grass and applying those lessons. Sweating under the sun, repeating drills … and repeating them again. Physical effort is required, and that has nothing to do with sabermetrics.
You don’t have to choose one over the other.
Work the body. Work the brain.
The two elements aren’t mutually exclusive.
Shildt is a Mozeliak favorite, as are Oquendo and McGee.
The brainy Shildt is the ideal conduit between the analytics staff and the dugout. He can take the information and assimilate it to assist Matheny. Shildt can search through the data, find the gems, and offer sensible recommendations to the manager.
An open-minded Matheny will benefit from Shildt’s low-key guidance. An open-minded Matheny will see Shildt for what he really is: an asset and a trusted ally.
A close-minded Matheny will see Shildt as an enemy, a threat, and ignore the recommendations.
I don’t think this is a good time for Matheny to be a close-minded manager.
Mozeliak associates are in the dugout with Matheny now.
They are like-minded individuals who reflect front-office thinking. They have been dispatched to do a job and their presence is for Matheny’s benefit.
This staff reset can actually strengthen Matheny’s longterm job security as long as he has a sincere desire to learn, absorb, adjust and delegate to the coaches who want to turn the Cardinals into a championship-caliber team again.
Matheny should quit worrying about his power and authority. Because if he won’t go along with the new program he’ll only lose power and authority.
When the baseball men in the suits upstairs take the manager’s coaching staff and tear it apart, they’re sending a message.
If the coaching staff has changed all around him and the manager still won’t change himself … well the coaches won’t be replaced again. Someone else will have to go. The guy standing in the circle, with most of his coaches gone, and now surrounded by Mozeliak’s men.
Matheny can probably figure out the rest.
Thanks for reading …