Mike Matheny has gotten plenty of criticism for the way he managed the Cardinals in 2014 playoffs, most of it deserved. Ben asked if the Cardinals would win a World Series in spite of Mike Matheny. Eric criticized Matheny's lack of patience and poor planinng. Joe discussed Matheny's use of Randal Grichuk and Oscar Taveras in the playoffs. At this point, having an extended discussion about Matheny's mishaps in the playoffs would just be piling on with no guarantee that any other manager would have garnered the Cardinals a different result.
I wanted to write a post recommending the Cardinals fire Mike Matheny, but I don't like to write posts that are pointless. Asking for Matheny's ouster has no point aside from my own catharsis. I don't think Mike Matheny's well recognized skills as a leader and his results, two NLCS appearances and one in the World Series, guarantee him immunity as manager. Walt Jocketty was fired ("mutual") as general manager when the Cardinals had three NLCS appearances, two World Series apperances, and were a year removed from a championship. Jocketty was undoubtedly successful, but was let go when he did not buy in to the Cardinals shifting philosophy, causing a rift in the front office. This is not a post calling for Mike Matheny to be fired because as Bernie Miklasz wrote yesterday
I feel foolish for having to write this, but with the anger still raging over Mike Matheny's managerial blunders in the NLCS, let's clear one thing up: the Cardinals aren't thinking about making a change.
Bernie knows what he is talking about and went further, stating "it's ludicrous for anyone to seriously believe the Cardinals should replace Matheny." As such, it would be pointless to write a post asking Matheny to be fired. I agree that it is ludicrous to seriously believe that the Cardinals will replace Matheny, but I come down on the other side when it comes to "should". I do not have a problem with Matheny not leading the Cardinals to the World Series. It's the playoffs. To expect or demand anything once you get to October is ludicrous. Mike Matheny is not in the front office, but like with Jocketty there is a disconnect within the Cardinals organization. Mike Matheny and John Mozeliak need to come together with a much clearer understanding of the roles players are expected to perform and giving players legitimate opportunities to succeed under that plan.
At post-NLCS presser, Mo & Matheny look to 2015
The Monday after the Cardinals' 2014 season came to an end, general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny together addressed the media, offering a window into the organization's 2015 plans.
After the Cardinals defense was exposed in 2013, John Mozeliak spent the winter looking to upgrade. He wanted to replace Pete Kozma because of his putrid offense, but brought in a good player on offense without having to sacrifice defense in Jhonny Peralta. The main move came in one transformative trade. He moved postseason hero David Freese, along with Fernando Salas, in exchange for Peter Bourjos, arguably the best defensive centerfielder in the game, along with prospect Randal Grichuk. The trade improved defense at three positions in one swift move. Matt Carpenter, who capably handled second base in 2013, would be moved to a more natural position at third base, a big upgrade over David Freese. Kolten Wong, who saw very limited time in 2013, would enter the season as the everyday second baseman and potentially an upgrade over Carpenter. Peter Bourjos would take time from Jon Jay, vastly improving the range in centerfield.
Mike Matheny gave this plan ten games before dismantling it. Peter Bourjos started eight of the first ten games and then received just 58 more starts the rest of the season. Less than a week after taking the job away from Peter Bourjos, Matheny did the same to Kolten Wong when Mark Ellis came off the disabled list. Matheny claimed Wong lacked adversity, and Mozielak was eventually forced to send Kolten Wong down to the minors because Matheny would not provide him with playing time.
This was not the first, nor would it be the last time Mike Matheny would poorly rely on a small sample size to make decisions. He abandoned an entire offseason of plans a week into the season, would later start Pete Kozma in Game 1 of the NLDS because of his prior success against Clayton Kershaw, and he started Randal Grichuk throughout the postseason because he had a good five-game stretch in September. The Bourjos situation did not end up costing the Cardinals much in production as Jon Jay's career-high .363 BABIP helped rebound for a solid offensive season. Kolten Wong would eventually regain his job as Mark Ellis provided so little production it was nearly impossible not to use Wong.
There is no doubting that Oscar Taveras' production this season came as a disappointment, but his introduction to the major leagues did him no favors. When Keith Law was asked in his chat whether Taveras' season was a disappointment, Law replied, "Not fair, especially not with the way he's been handled." Matheny never provided Taveras with consistent playing time despite the 22-year-old player's professed need for at bats from the front office. When Taveras came up in July, Matheny gave Taveras nine of ten starts, then just six of thirteen prior to the trade deadline.
In a cringe-worthy moment in late July, Matheny justified not starting Taveras by claiming the big-league club was not "in the development business". This is in contrast to recognizing that some players get starts throughout the year so that they are better later on, a point he recognized when giving starts to Daniel Descalso and Mark Ellis while at the same time criticizing Taveras. John Mozeliak, who has made public blunders of his own (low-hanging fruit), gave Matheny a reminder of exactly what kind of business he is in just a week after his development business remark by trading away Allen Craig to free up plate appearances for Oscar Taveras.
Not central to the discussion, but I really dislike publicly calling out rookies while they are struggling particularly if the supposed issue is mental or effort-based, like Matheny did to Wong and Taveras. It is a win-win proposition for the manager and creates a false narrative. First, it deflects criticism from the manager for not providing playing time to a player and puts public criticism squarely on the player who is already struggling. Then, if the player comes back and succeeds, the manager gets to take credit for the player improving even though success is often based on nothing more than gaining experience. If the player continues to struggle after the criticism, there is a built-in excuse that again deflects blame from the manager.
After the trade, Mike Matheny again gave Taveras some starts and it looked like in late August,Taveras was starting to hit. Then he was benched for seven of ten games. Taveras rebounded from the benching and had and had his best month of the season in September yet still found himself on the the bench for the last half of the month and throughout the postseason. Mozeliak did make some comments that were unusual, at least for him, on Taveras' weight gain after offseason surgery. In light of making the call to bring Taveras up as well as his trade of Allen Craig, Mozeliak's actions speak louder than his words. He clearly did not think that Taveras' weight gain or conditioning were enough of a problem not to play Taveras, considering the opportunities he tried to give him.
These comments, while perhaps serving as a wakeup to Taveras also serve two other purposes. They defend the "the manager (who)is more comfortable playing [Randal] Grichuk or putting [Jon] Jay there and putting [Peter] Bourjos in center." Perhaps parsing too much would be to note Mozeliak did not say we, instead using the generic "manager". The other purpose these comments seem to indicate is that Mozeliak has no intention of trading Taveras. Making comments about conditioning issues would serve to lower the trade value of Taveras, something Mozeliak seems unlikely to do.
As the offseason is now upon us, Mozeliak is busy making plans for the Cardinals' 2015 team. After putting together a team with his plans last winter, he was forced to plan around Matheny's tendencies in 2014, juggling Wong and Taveras between Triple-A and the majors and trading Allen Craig to Boston. There is talk already concerning next year's outfield with Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Oscar Taveras, and Randal Grichuk competing for two spots. Oscar Taveras' value is greatest as an everyday player, next as a trade chip, and third as a bench bat, but if he does not play everyday next year, the value of the first two greatly decreases. John Mozeliak should not have to plan around Mike Matheny's deficiencies regarding newcomers and small-sample size.
Mozeliak needs to get together with his hand-picked successor to Tony La Russa and reach a better understanding regarding how the team is built as well as the long and short-term plan for current players and players the Cardinals' wish to acquire. Many believed that Mozeliak had found a manager in Matheny who would be much more in line with Mozeliak's thinking when it comes to developing players and managing the roster. After 2014, it looks like Mozeliak has not chosen that type of manager. Mozeliak clearly values Matheny's strengths as his players always play for him with little to no dissension, a very important quality in a manager. Mozeliak appears willing to live with this manager's deficiencies, but perhaps better planning and communication will lead to a more stable plan in 2015.