In a crazy offseason in Major League Baseball many moves have flown under the radar including some that were very important moves for contending teams. The St. Louis Cardinals gave manager Mike Matheny a contract extension that runs through the 2017 season. Matheny’s contract would have expired after next season before the extension, and the double down shows approval and confidence from the front office of Matheny’s work the past two seasons. The surprise hire of Matheny after Tony La Russa’s retirement in 2011 continues to look like a savvy move.
Matheny had never managed on any level before becoming skipper of the Cardinals, although many could see leadership qualities from him going back to his playing days as a catcher. He was merely a minor league instructor before his current stint, but Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said he always thought Matheny would be a good big league manager. Mozeliak’s choice to go ahead and hand Matheny the keys to a championship car remains one of the GM’s most interesting and possibly brilliant moves.
It seems Matheny has always had a good handle of the clubhouse, and a good relationship with all of the players. Since the beginning of his post as the Cardinal skipper, he has shown no hesitation in standing up for his players and he keeps the big picture in mind. Where Matheny could be criticized would be his moves to the bullpen in the postseason, particularly in the most recent World Series. But making the right pitching moves is an expert-level practice, and Cards fans need to remind themselves that Matheny is replacing the master of that art in La Russa. As he gains experience, Matheny will learn to trust his pitchers more and increase his chances of giving the ball to the right guy to get the toughest outs.
The Cardinals undoubtedly left a few wins on the table in 2012 by not hiring a more experienced manager like Terry Francona rather than Matheny. But by October Matheny had a feel for his team and the Cards went on another wild postseason run, coming one game short of the pennant; a worthy defense of their 2011 title. This past season under Matheny the Cardinals were able to check off all of their goals except for the final one. As the Cardinals front office continues to supply the club with quality players and promising prospects, it is only reasonable to expect that Matheny takes the next step sometime in the next four years and delivers on a World Championship.
The Cardinals took a chance on Matheny’s high character and baseball smarts despite his lack of experience. If the risk has not paid off already, then it definitely will in the coming years as Matheny gains more experience and continues to improve as a manager.