Exit Interview 2017: Mike Matheny

For the sixth straight year, we’re taking a look back at everyone that played for the St. Louis Cardinals this season.  Whether they were a major contributor or a bit player, here all year or for just a little while, we’ll look at their season and talk about what went right and what went wrong.  The stat line listed is just their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers in the discussion may be for the entire year.  Imagine this as them stopping by Mike Matheny‘s office–or, in this case, John Mozeliak’s–for a little review on their way home for the winter.  As always when you see incredible artistry in the blogs, all credit for the header work goes to @cardinalsgifs.

Manager: Mike Matheny

Overview: It was more of the same in 2017 for the manager.  If you were a fan, you probably shunted some of the blame off to the roster or the fact that players like Alex Reyes were hurt or players like Seung-hwan Oh were ineffective.  If you were a relentless critic, you probably pointed out that this was the second year the club didn’t make the postseason and there have been declining results for a number of years now.  Even if you were somewhere in the middle, there were plenty of things to pick at, including the fact that Matthew Bowman may be warming up at the moment even though it’s a couple of days from Thanksgiving.

All in all, it was–well, more of the same really seems to sum it up.  There wasn’t any specific growth this year and there weren’t decisions that made more sense or were completely out of character.  Matheny relied on certain arms in the bullpen on a very regular basis, which harkened back to some of his earlier bullpen usage, but with so many arms untrustworthy, it at least had some rationale even if it wasn’t necessarily the best way to go about it.  There was the extreme loyalty to players–Stephen Piscotty, notably in September, comes to mind–and there was the slow hook that cost a number of games when he was hesitant to pull a starter even when all the signs screamed for it.  (Leaving Luke Weaver in to throw 111 pitches against the Brewers sticks out for me, though the Cards won that game.)

Matheny was hired to manage personalities and learn tactics.  You could argue how much of the latter he’s done–in his defense, he doesn’t bunt nearly as often and occasionally uses his closer outside of the ninth now–but there have been some cracks in the former as well.  It took a players-only meeting over steak in Cincinnati to get everyone back on track.  There were rumors of clubhouse dissention throughout the season and Tommy Pham always played like he had a chip on his shoulder (though that well could just be how Pham is).  There was also some disconnect between Matheny and the front office, which was different than in years past.  John Mozeliak may continue to profess how firmly he backs Matheny, but I think there is room to question that more than before.

Outlook: The club might not say it, but Matheny’s seat is a bit warm.  Signing a three year extension that begins in 2018 may have saved him this offseason, as the Cardinals probably didn’t want to fire him before that extension even started.  However, it’s probably not a coincidence that the team went out and got Mike Maddux as pitching coach, brought back Jose Oquendo, and moved Mike Shildt to the bench coach slot.  Those three, plus Oliver Marmol who did some good managerial work in the minors, are all strong contenders to be the next Cardinal manager should a team that most likely will be revamped this winter get off to another slow start.  Every offseason it feels like the team shapes itself to try to limit the manager’s weaknesses.  This offseason seemed to say that this was the last straw.  It could make for a very interesting 2018.

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