The Roster Churn Begins Early

Tara and I will be back doing Gateway to Baseball Heaven tomorrow evening, at least for a night, and we thought that we might not have a lot to talk about except the Cubs being champs and what that means going forward.  The Cardinals, however, had different ideas.  Let’s take a look at all that’s transpired since Wednesday morning.

Mike Matheny gets a three-year extension.  While a large number of people would probably have preferred that Matheny go into 2017 as a lame duck (those that didn’t want him going into 2017 as the Cardinals’ ex-manager), the reality was that was never going to happen.  Baseball (as do other sports and businesses) puts a pretty nice premium on management stability and the idea that the manager shouldn’t be viewed as on the way out because that will lead to disruption and disunity in the clubhouse.  We remember Jim Riggleman quitting mid-season because the Nationals wouldn’t give him a similar extension, right?  So Matheny was going to get one because the club had made it clear they didn’t see the need to switch lead horses.

That said, it’s interesting that this adds three years onto the year coming up.  A four-year commitment, while not overly difficult to break if necessary, is a little extra expense that the club might not have had to do.  Adding just another year onto the contract would have probably been sufficient, two would have seemed solid.  Keeping Matheny around (in theory) until 2020 is an interesting choice.

It’s not like it’s the Cardinal Way to fire managers, of course.  Tony La Russa was here for 15 years and stepped down of his own volition.  In my 40+ years of living, the club has fired only four skippers (Joe Torre in 1995, Ken Boyer in 1980, Vern Rapp in 1978 and Red Schoendienst in 1976).  Continuity is valued, organizational history means something, and it takes a lot of struggling to get the top guy fired.  Missing the playoffs for the first year in the five Matheny’s been manager isn’t likely to be that drastic decision point.

There is no doubt that Matheny engenders a lot of frustration, anger, insulting remarks, and the like.  That said, I don’t know that there is an obvious manager to replace him.  While someone else might have gotten the Cardinals into the playoffs last year since there was such a thin margin, remember that if the Giants (whose manager, Bruce Bochy, would probably be ranked highly in the minds of Matheny detractors) hadn’t fallen apart, there might not have been as much of a wild card race.  And there’s no manager alive that could have made up the 17 game difference between them and the Cubs, of course.

Matheny makes decisions that drive me crazy, but I do think he’s learning and growing on the job.  Is it fast enough?  I don’t know.  Even with Kolten Wong‘s interview this season, I don’t think he’s lost the clubhouse, which is a good sign.  The tactics are better as well; he’s using his closer not just in the ninth and the bunting has dropped significantly, I think.  I’m not saying there’s not room to grow, but I don’t know who you drop into his spot and immediately make this team noticeably better.

Besides, look at Terry Francona (who everyone wanted to point out could have been the choice instead of Matheny) this World Series.  Was running Corey Kluber out there on three days’ rest all the time smart?  Maybe.  Was using the rest of his staff in the same manner wise?  Probably not, or the Indians might be the ones with the parade.  Joe Maddon, same thing.  Some of his decisions, like the overuse of Aroldis Chapman and bunting with a runner on third and one out in the ninth inning of Game 7, were decisions that not even Matheny would have made.  And that’s saying something.

If the Cardinals had decided to replace Matheny, I wouldn’t have raised much of a fuss.  They want to keep him, though, and there are far more egregious things that could have been done.

Staff changes around Matheny.  Not a huge shakeup, of course.  David Bell, assuming Arizona doesn’t hire him as their manager, will return as bench coach and Derek Lilliquist and John Mabry will stay around as pitching and hitting coaches, respectively.  Bill Mueller, who got pressed into base coaching duty last year, will return to being the assistant hitting coach.  Oliver Marmol, who was managing at Palm Beach last year, makes the jump to be first base coach, meaning Dave Maloney will stay over at third with Jose Oquendo‘s new job of being this generation’s George Kissell.  Thankfully for my regular podcast interview with him, Jamie Pogue will also be returning as bullpen catcher.

Memphis, though, is now going to be needing a manager because Mike Shildt is coming to the big leagues as a “quality control coach”, something new to baseball.  It would seem that he’s going to be picking up some of the slack with Oquendo being gone, helping with baserunning and defense for the most part.  I’m not sure exactly how he’s going to go about it, whether there will be some metrics or benchmarks the club will need to make or just be more of a regular coach with a fancy title, but it’s not like he can hurt either of those categories.

Cardinals pick up Jaime Garcia‘s option.  If you’ve heard any podcast or probably read a number of posts here, you know that I thought this was a no-brainer, even with Garcia’s struggles last season.  $12 million for a starting pitcher is a nice bargain, especially one that has the stuff and potential that Garcia does.  Will that stuff always materialize?  Not at all.  But it can, which sets him ahead of the run-of-the-mill replacement starters that are out there and, usually, getting paid more than he is.

The Cardinals appear to have pitching depth, but we thought they had it last year and they burned through it in a hurry.  What will Lance Lynn give you after missing an entire year?  Are Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney ready to go?  You have Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver, but what if they still need some time in Memphis?  There’s an argument for holding on to Garcia even until Opening Day.

That said, I think the Cardinals probably add him to a package and ship him off this winter.  Again, $12 million can be awfully attractive, and if the Cards took care of some of that salary, Garcia’s talent could bring them back a nice prospect or two.  Even though Mo likes to hoard pitching, I think if he can find a reasonable offer for Garcia or some deal that can be enhanced by adding the pitcher, he’ll go for it.

No qualifying offer to Brandon Moss.  If you had said that the Cards weren’t going to be offering Moss a QO around the All-Star Break, people would probably assume that was because the team had signed him to a new contract.  Instead, he did a Wile E. Coyote off a desert cliff in the dog days of summer and probably cost himself a good bit of dough in the process.  While you could make an argument for bringing Moss back, and there’s potential that it still happens I guess, when the QO is $17.2 million, you can’t risk that.  As much as the front office likes their picks, there’s probably about a 99.87394% chance Moss snaps that up before the paper actually hits the table.

Cardinals lose Dean Kiekhefer to Mariners and Jeremy Hazelbaker to Diamondbacks via waiver claims.  While neither of these guys was likely to make a huge impact next season, they might have been nice as system depth.  However, the Cardinals needed room on the 40-man roster and thought these were the ones that were worth taking the risk that they’d get grabbed up.  I imagine both of them will see some major league time and some AAA time as well.

It’s a little interesting that Kiekhefer was cut loose given the fact that Zach Duke won’t be around to be a lefty specialist next year.  Tyler Lyons will be back, of course, and it could be that Cooney or Gonzales could fill that role, but you could see how Kiekhefer would be in the running for that spot next season as well.  Again, no idea if he could keep it, but he’d be in the mix.

Cardinals.com currently lists a full 40-man roster, but they still include Moss, Matt Holliday, and Jordan Walden.  That will drop it to 37 (and the roster already shows other 60-day guys like Lynn and Lyons on the 40, given the fact that disabled lists don’t exist in the offseason).  Jerome Williams could go without blinking an eye and likely people like Jose Martinez and Mike Mayers could as well, if the room is needed.  That should give John Mozeliak enough flexibility this winter, though likely he’ll not need a lot of it.  There would seem to be more trading than signing of players, at least.

It’s been a very busy few days since the end of the World Series.  While the news won’t keep up this pace, it’s good to see the groundwork being done and the paths being cleared for whatever Mo has in mind.

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