Catching The Golden Skip

For the fact that it was the first weekend in November, it was a busy one for Cardinals news.  The Cards got a new bench coach and set a golden record.

Let’s take the first part first.  After a search that probably wasn’t much more extensive than the managerial one, the front office has selected Skip Schumaker as the bench coach.  (Unofficially, since they’ve not made an announcement, but John Mozeliak has confirmed.)  Much like the selection of Oli Marmol, this was part of a preconceived notion that the club had.  Even before they had selected Marmol, they were already discussing among themselves the idea of adding Schumaker to the coaching staff.  Given Schumaker’s rapid upward trajectory, they may not have him as a bench coach for terribly long.  Then again, everyone thought Joe McEwing would have the top job by now and he’s been coaching for a decade, I think.  Sometimes people hit their level quickly.

Anyway, back to Skip.  I wrote earlier in the year that the Cardinals were being so insular and on the face of it, this move might seem to increase that argument.  However, I really do like what they’ve done here, with one notable caveat.  I like the fact that they’ve brought back a guy that is very familiar with The Cardinal Way but is also, much like Marmol, open and accepting to the modern analytics.  Schumaker also has the advantage of not going straight from being a Cardinals player to being a Cardinals coach.  He played in Los Angeles and in Cincinnati to end his career and then began coaching for the Padres.  It’s been 10 years since Skip has been involved with the organization and that gives him some different insights, some different ways of doing things.

Here’s the caveat.  That experience only works if the front office (especially) listens to it.  I’m not saying that they should change everything they do because Skip knows of another way, but they’ve got to be willing to hear how other organizations are doing X, Y, or Z and see if there is any merit to those approaches for them or if there is a way to modify them to fit what the club is doing.  I don’t know that the front office won’t do that–I think they are open to hearing different perspectives, they just haven’t had any for a while–but if they don’t, it doesn’t really matter what Skip brings to the table because his ability to interact with players.

The second piece of news was a validation of all that we saw this season when the Cardinals took the field.  Five Cardinals won Gold Gloves, a first for that award.  It’s an award that’s always been tinged with red, given how many St. Louis has won, so it is fitting that this club is the first to take home a majority of the hardware.

Four of them were expected.  Nolan Arenado might have started off a little shaky defensively in St. Louis but he wound up getting his feet under him.  When you think about the plays like his dash to the foul wall after being shifted toward second or the leap, catch, and throw home all in one move, it was clear Nolan was still Nolan (and reputation definitely helps in these things).  First base defense doesn’t often stand out, but Paul Goldschmidt definitely did this season.  It wasn’t just diving and spearing balls or staying on the base while corralling a slightly off-line throw, it was also starting two of the most heads-up double plays I’ve seen in a while within a week of each other.

Those two were almost locks given reputation and performance.  Tyler O’Neill won last year and played just as well defensively this year, so his win was also expected, even if it wasn’t as certain as the other two.  Harrison Bader playing remarkable center and doing it with panache meant that I was thinking he’d probably get it as well, because it seemed like every ball to center field, against the wall or barely over the infield, was caught by that mass of blond hair.

I also didn’t expect Yadier Molina to win, which he didn’t.  Yadi’s defense has definitely taken a step back over the last couple of years, as you would expect given his age and the wear and tear he’s taken over his career.  He’s still remarkable at calling a game and managing the run, which probably plays a part in the nomination as well as his reputation.  It’s a testament to how good he has been that he can fall off from his heights and still be a nominee.

That left one other name, Tommy Edman.  While I knew that Edman had played solid defense at second, I was still surprised to see his name among the nominees.  I was even more surprised to see him as the winner.  It probably helped that Kolten Wong missed a lot of time this year, but Edman also played some outfield (which didn’t help his defensive case, really) and so didn’t have a full season at second.  For him to win was a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.

You could also speculate what a win like this means for the offseason plans of the Cardinals.  Are they more hesitant to go with Nolan Gorman at second next year, at least to start the year, because of Edman’s season?  Would this make the front office feel like he should be the everyday starter at second instead of a utility option?  Could this influence which free agents they go after?

My general feeling: not really.  Look, Mike Shildt went to the playoffs three years in a row and is no longer manager of the Cardinals.  Various results aren’t going to necessarily push them off of their overall plan.  If they feel Gorman is ready for second, they’ll put him there and shift Edman to the bench.  If they want to go after a shortstop and split time between Edman and Edmundo Sosa at second, they’ll do that.  I don’t think they’ll be swayed very much by a piece of hardware.

Also, can we take a moment to appreciate just where the Cardinals have come from since 2018?  In 2018, the only Gold Glove the Cardinals took home was Molina.  Defense wasn’t a priority under Mike Matheny, which was a really odd thing given how he was as a player.  Now, granted, adding players like Goldschmidt and Arenado help your defense quite a bit, but the emphasis that was put on defense under Shildt really paid off.  It also helped that the positioning, based on analytics, was better as well.  The Cardinals really got back to their roots of being a team that can catch the ball and make the smart plays over the last three years and it’s wonderful to see.

The Cardinals also did some roster shuffling since we last talked, taking Austin Dean (who was claimed on waivers by the Giants), Justin Williams, and Max Moroff off the 40-man roster and clearing room for people that are currently on the 60-day and the minor leaguers they need to protect.  The pieces on the gameboard are being positioned.  The question is, will a CBA agreement come in time for the offseason game to be played?

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