It’s been a quiet week for the Cardinals, for the most part, which means a quiet time here at the blog. (Though we are still taking your Twitter user ratings!) I’ve had a few ideas on posts but I haven’t gotten around to writing on them, though Allen and I did get a Meet Me at Musial recorded, if you have been missing me for some reason.
However, in the last couple of days we’ve seen an article from Jose de Jesus Ortiz at the Post-Dispatch that got people talking in a myriad of ways. Beyond the main thrust of the article, that the club needs to get back to The Cardinal Way, there was also the subtle mention of players coming in late and leaving early or in other ways not really giving their all to the club. Probably not by coincidence, the three players mentioned by name early on in the article are transplants, whether it be Brett Cecil, Jedd Gyorko, or Dexter Fowler.
Fowler’s the one that came most under the microscope as there was at least the implication that he was a “last in, first out” guy, something that Rick Hummel partially confirmed during his recent chat. Which, as others have pointed out, is not necessarily a bad thing. Fowler has a young daughter at home, he’s got a family that is still getting acclimated to St. Louis, and I think we should appreciate players that aren’t so obsessed with the game that they shut out the rest of their lives. Many of the players either don’t have children or don’t have them in St. Louis, so there are very few that are in the situation Fowler is.
In the past, we’ve seen articles come out after the season (or even during the year, for that matter) that tend to paint players in a negative light. I’m not saying that’s a John Mozeliak trait, because not only has that happened in various other cities but it also happened before his time. (And let me be extra clear, I’m not saying Mo is the person putting this out there.) Oftentimes, they are to soften the ground or to work up a rationale for moving the player in a deal or letting them go via free agency. I don’t really think that’s the case here but it is interesting to note that, even after the first year of a five year deal, the trade thoughts have swirled around Fowler.
But it’s very interesting, this idea that outsiders aren’t as schooled in The Cardinal Way, especially when one of Ortiz’s own examples is Trevor Rosenthal‘s mental lapse in New York. When you look at the fact that Stephen Piscotty and Matt Carpenter, drafted and developed by the Cardinals, are the worst base runners on the team, how can you really point a finger at someone like Gyorko and say he doesn’t know how to do things? Heck, maybe it’s like that old commercial: “I learned it by watching you!”
There’s no doubt that the clubhouse was not nearly as cohesive as you would like this season. I myself have heard fourth or fifth hand about early drama in there, where it seemed like a lot of players were fed up with things, including the manager. To some degree, that happens in any clubhouse that doesn’t win as much as they believe they should have. Slights, aggravations, annoying quirks, all those get subsumed in the general happiness that is winning. When you don’t have that to cover them, things tend to get a little ugly, either face-to-face or in anonymous comments to a local columnist. Ortiz even points to that:
When teams are winning, the chess set, Brett Cecil’s video games and Jedd Gyorko’s ping pong prowess are embraced as great ways of relieving stress. When teams are winning, teammates hardly ever bother to notice or even care if Dexter Fowler is usually the last guy in the clubhouse and one of the first to leave.
So what do we make of this attempt, seemingly by leaders of the club, to hang others out to dry? Is it anything more than guys being together for a long season and ready to move on to the winter? Is it an indictment of the culture of the club? After all, Chase Woodruff yesterday gathered examples of similar talk going all the way back to Oscar Taveras. It’s not like this subtle campaign hasn’t been waged before. If it is indeed relating to the culture, what does that say about the manager who should be setting the tone? Anything? Or what about those leadership players that should be fighting these problems? We know Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina had that players-only dinner in Cincinnati that seemed to work for a bit, which is something. Is there daily leadership in the clubhouse?
Unsurprisingly, I don’t have the answers to any of these things. It’s also very possible that the problems that Ortiz lines out only bug a couple of people and overall it’s not that bad. It’s just that the players it did bother are the ones talking to Ortiz. For example, there’s this paragraph:
With so many up from Class AAA Memphis, some Cardinals wondered what message was being sent to young players like Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, Magneuris Sierra and even Kolten Wong and [Randal] Grichuk. The youngsters were hungry and eager to impress, and the team clearly cleaned up their base running and fundamentals toward the final two months.
So we can assume from this that the people that are grumbling are veterans, correct? We can also assume that it’s not Fowler, Gyorko, or Cecil ratting out on themselves. It could be someone like Wainwright or Molina, in theory, but they seem to have been more proactive with their issues given that dinner. Of course, since that didn’t take, perhaps this is moving up to the next level to try to get things fixed. Who does that leave? Carpenter? Greg Garcia? We know Tommy Pham isn’t shy about putting his name on criticism so it’s not likely to be him. It could be Lance Lynn or, if you consider him veterany enough, Michael Wacha. But the pool is pretty limited when you take out “impressionable youngsters”. Of course, it could also be from the coaching staff or front office, couched in terms that make it seem like the veterans are discussing it. That opens things up a little bit. That’s not to downplay the criticism or say that the player or coach isn’t correct in his assessment of the clubhouse, but we do have to wonder just how prevalent it is. It would seem strange that some folks think things are blowing up while many think things are fine but it wouldn’t be unheard of.
Next year’s clubhouse will be different. They always are, of course. Even with basically the same players, a change in fortunes on the field can improve or worsen tensions. It seems pretty likely, though, that the 2018 Cardinals will not be “basically the same players.” Things are going to shift dramatically.
Which means, if we are still talking about this next year, if there’s still this undercurrent of unhappiness, you have to look at those in charge for answers. Mike Matheny was hired to manage a clubhouse with the hope that he could learn to manage a baseball game. It’s debatable how much he’s done the latter. If he is having problems with the former–as we said last year when Kolten Wong talked to Rob Rains as well as other times things like this have popped up–then you really have to question what he’s doing on staff.
Again, this really doesn’t seem like something 90 wins and an October trip wouldn’t solve, but until they do that or until we see the turnover that is supposedly coming this offseason, it’s something we’ll wonder just how deep it goes.