If we were rational people, we would not follow the Winter Meetings closely. We would maybe just set an alert for Ken Rosenthal tweets and only check-in when there was actual news breaking. Instead, many of us spend the week hitting refresh on MLB Trade Rumors like a lab rat who is getting the actual cocaine, even though what we are getting is mostly just placebo.
But the Winter Meetings do sequester baseball's front office barons in a hotel with many media types, and forces them to emerge periodically from their Junior King Suites and make some kind of comment on the goings-on. For Cardinal fans, that means a steady stream of Mo-Speak, that Orwellian language that provides quotes for publication while revealing almost nothing.
And yet, through the haze, there have been a few hints and allegations that - for me at least - continue to raise the same questions about the value Mike Matheny adds to this organization.
Mozeliak told Derrick Goold that Kolten Wong is a player that other teams are consistently interested in during trade negotiations. Mo's response seems pretty clear:
"I definitely don’t feel like at this point anything that we’ve even sort of hinted on or thought about would make sense for us," Mozeliak told Goold.
And while Goold frames Matheny as being on the same page with the front office, this quote suggests to me they are not:
"He has the whole winter to take some of the lessons he learned … and the experiences he can use to help him in the future," Matheny told Goold.
For Matheny, Wong seems to always be one of these players that "has lessons to learn," which in Matheny terms, means getting buried on the 25th seat of the bench. And granted, Wong has been a streaky player, prone to some extended offensive slumps, but he's also one of the few defensive and base-running assets on assets on those teams, and those skills allow him to continue to contribute positive value even when his bat is in a slump.
I'm glad Mo and the front office are sticking to their guns on Wong, but this seems to me the latest beachhead in a battle that has included the Allen Craig trade and various attempted bullpen makeovers, all in an attempt to reach some kind of peace with the field manager about who should be in the lineup.
In fact, Goold even tweeted yesterday that "[Mozeliak's] public statements have been part of lobbying to assure [Wong] plays, regularly."
That does not sound like front office and field manager are on the same page.
Jose de Jesus Ortiz spoke to Matheny yesterday, and I found this quote rather illuminating:
"For us, there's a void. There's a void in the leadership department," Mike Matheny tells the N.Y. media when discussing Matt Holliday.— Jose de Jesus Ortiz (@OrtizKicks) December 6, 2016
I'm trying to remember, what's that one part of managing that we're always told Matheny does an expert job of... it starts with an L...
I really try not to get too drawn into these conversations about internal leadership, not because it's not really a thing, but because it's the kind of thing we really can't know much about from the outside. And sure, it makes sense that Holliday was a leader and there's nothing inherently wrong with Matheny acknowledging that. But it still strikes me as a bit odd, given that team leadership is essentially Matheny's job.
Site Manager Emeritus Ben Humphrey also raised what I thought was an interesting question following these comments. He noted that La Russa had formed a "Leadership Council" from several veteran players after the 2010 season, and Matheny had essentially inherited this structure.
"How (if at all) can one separate Matheny 's leadership skill from the leadership skill of his veteran players (Holliday, Yadi, Wainwright)?" He asked.
This one really stretches deep into the unsourced rumor department, but Bernie Miklasz mentioned it in a post, and according to Double Birds, Frank Cusumano also mentioned it on his radio show. Both eluded to rumors that one challenge in signing Dexter Fowler was that Fowler does not want to play for Mike Matheny.
Now I'm not even convinced that there's smoke here, and even if there was smoke we'd have to do more investigating to get to the fire. But this does fit into a larger narrative that there is in-fact a fire, in a dumpster, in the manager's office.
One player not wanting to play for one manager - even if we accept that's what might be going on - is not necessarily a big deal. But we already know that this manager is viewed unfavorably by a significant portion of the fan base and many baseball media types. Joe Sheehan has famously said he imposes a "Matheny Penalty" on his Cardinals predictions every season, assuming they will perform a few wins worse due to managerial incompetence. So whether it's tactical incompetence or, more likely, some kind of question about clubhouse culture, is it really far-fetched to believe this distrust of Matheny goes beyond fans and journalists and to players themselves?
These are just a few stray news clippings from the past week. On their own, they may not warrant the firing of a manager. But they continue to build upon well-established narratives as to why Mike Matheny is not an effective manager of this baseball club. What are the clippings on the other side?