While it might seem like a solid idea to let the Jason Heyward signing go at some point in the near future, Cardinals' manager Mike Matheny kept Heyward's name in the St. Louis news over the weekend. One of the reasons Heyward mentioned for signing with the Chicago Cubs was the team's young core of players. With Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber all young hitters who figure to be with the Cubs for some time, the Cubs do indeed have an enticing core. Heyward did not stop there, though, and he discussed the Cardinals group of veterans who are likely on the down-slope of great careers. Those comments have upset Matheny, per a piece by Rick Hummel in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The Heyward comments have been discussed at Viva El Birdos before, particularly in relation to the good young core of players the Cardinals have, but here they are again as a refresher.
"You have Yadier (Molina), who is going to be done in two years maybe. You have Matt Holliday, who is probably going to be done soon.
"There were already moves with Jon Jay gone, and then Tony Cruz, and (Adam) Wainwright is probably going to be done in three or four years. I think that's when his contract is up. Not to say he won't play any longer, but guys like that are what really introduced me to the St. Louis Cardinals organization. I felt like if I was to look up in three years and see a completely different team, that would kind of be difficult.
It is difficult to find factual fault with any of Heyward's statements. Holliday, Molina, and Wainwright are in their 30s, and none of them have contracts beyond three seasons. Perhaps what is interesting about those statements is the players he identifies as core players. By naming those players, he is being complimentary about those players. Those are the players he identifies as wanting to play with, but he is unsure how long that will be, something important to consider if he were to play the duration of a new contract. While the opt-out will likely render such discussions moot, it is a consideration that he would need to make when signing a new contract.
Mike Matheny did not take those statements as a statements of fact or complimentary to the Cardinals' leaders. As Matheny told Hummel.
"I don't think it's going to ring too well with our club.
"But I don't think we have anything to apologize for in having a group like a Holliday, a Molina, a Wainwright. Those are the kinds of guys everybody wants on a club.
It certainly seems like Matheny missed the mark when responding to Heyward's comments. Heyward was not disparaging Holliday, Molina, and Wainwright. He just did not know how much longer those players would be around. Matheny came to the aid of players who did not need defending, but he did recognize the issue of the young core.
"I see where he's coming from. I mean, look at what Chicago's done. It's very unique in this game—to have that many impact players at that young age. And he's a young player. But I can't say I'm in any kind of agreement with that (Chicago) core being better than any kind of core that we have.
If Heyward was knocking any players on the Cardinals, it was not the veterans on the Cardinals, it was the young players. Heyward made statements implying the Cardinals do not have the type of young core to compete with the Cubs. If Matheny was going to defend any players, it should not have been Wainwright, Molina, and Holliday. Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, and Trevor Rosenthal are the players who might have taken umbrage with Heyward's comments, and if Matheny were going to address Heyward's statement at all, it is those players, the Cardinals' young core that needed defending.
Of course, Matheny might have had other motivations.
I wouldn't blame Matheny a bit if he's intentionally warping Heyward's statements for motivation (team), PR (fans), or both.— bgh (@b_g_h) December 20, 2015
During this past season, Joe Maddon made a big deal out of the big, bad Cardinals and took aim at St. Louis at the team to beat given their incredible recent run of success. Whether those comments worked in any practical sense, they served to amp up the rivalry between the two teams and give the Cubs some sense of confidence that they could play with the Cardinals.
Next year, the Cardinals will enter the season as true underdogs in the division for the first year in quite some time. Perhaps this is Matheny trying to turn the tables a bit on the Cubs after the Cardinals' rivals have made major moves forward after beating them in the National League Division Series. Matheny has long been credited for maintaining a clubhouse culture of respect and publicly, players have said nothing but good things about him. This could be more of the same for Matheny, creating a divide between current players and those on a rival team, but the way he responded seems more curious than strategic.