Rarely does such a successful figure as St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny elicit such divisive feelings from fans and media alike. For example, on The Cardinal Nation message board, a thread entitled “Fire Matheny?” which was begun in August, has 12 pages and counting of impassioned and varied opinion.
Some consider the 46-year-old to be one of the very best in the game, pointing to his leadership and consistent record of winning in the regular season since having taken over the team’s reins from Tony La Russa prior to the 2012 schedule.
Others counter with the club’s failure to win a World Series and steady decline in their post-season results over his tenure, culminating in the Cardinals’ 2016 playoff miss, the team’s first in his five years in the job.
Supporters remind us that the 2016 Cardinals fought to the end, avoiding elimination from the Wild Card chase until the final hours of the season.
Critics, both local and national, point to Matheny’s perplexing tactical decisions and questionable player usage patterns. His 2016 team was especially hampered by poor baserunning and subpar defense, execution elements that would seem to be improvable.
As the season wound down and the Cubs further distanced themselves in the standings, some of his most vocal detractors called for Matheny’s dismissal. Others suggested the Cardinals wait to see how the 2017 season unfolds before making a decision about Matheny’s longer-term future.
Cardinals ownership and front office would hear none of that, giving the manager a major vote of confidence on November 3 – just a few weeks after the disappointing 2016 season concluded and the very day before the World Series parade in the Windy City.
With one year remaining on Matheny’s current contract, the team moved to avoid what could have been perceived as a lame-duck 2017 season, announcing a three-year extension for the manager. Matheny is now under contract through 2020, two years longer than his boss, general manager John Mozeliak.
The extension had been telegraphed in advance by team messaging, with the only questions remaining being the make-up of Matheny’s 2017 coaching crew. Other than not retaining the assistant hitting coach, who had been in his job less than one year, the Cardinals simply shifted responsibilities.
Rather than shake up the staff by hiring experienced coaches from the outside, the Cardinals promoted two first-time MLB coaches from within, including the creation of a new “quality control coach,” apparently targeted with correcting some of the on-field lapses evident in 2016.
In addition, the Cards have announced yet-to-be defined changes to their spring training regimen, intended to help the team become “more athletic”.
As in every off-season, roster changes have been made, with the same optimism every team holds that next year’s team will be better than its predecessor. However, the elephant in the room remains the budding dynasty in Chicago, which has already terminated St. Louis’ long-term division leadership.
The Cardinals’ staffing announcements delivered a message of continuity, with any concerns about the leadership of the team apparently considered by ownership and the front office to be secondary and adjustable.
Matheny will head into 2017 with improved job security and several new players on his roster, but as in any sport at this level, winning a title is the only outcome that will ultimately blunt the criticism.
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