ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Enough of 2016, say the Cardinals. A day after the Cubs won an all-time-great Game 7 and brought home the long-awaited World Series title, St. Louis solidified the stewardship of the franchise awaiting them in their next game; the season opener at Busch in 2017.
Mike Matheny is locked in until 2020 and his staff, complete with new hand-picked assistants, is set.
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The news won’t send Cardinal fans parading through the streets in exultant relief, but it’s a move the franchise needed to make if they hoped to move forward.
For starters, Matheny has averaged 92 wins in his five-year tenure as manager. There are endless inches to be written debating how much of that success was inherited and how much was created, but victories play. Looking at the ledger, the simple one that determines ticket sales and TV deals, Matheny’s grandest failure was missing the playoffs by a single game. There’s not much cause there to part ways.
Failing to extend him would also create an uneasy tension that could color all of next season. If a manager’s job appears to be on the line, his attention is diverted and his authority can be compromised. Each win and loss carries professional and financial consequences, a fact that can influence decision-making and strain relationships. Stability is essential to effective leadership.
However, Matheny’s destiny is now in his own hands. He has his extension and he has his guys. Every member of his staff either came in with him or was hired under his watch (Derek Lilliquist was on track to be there anyway, but has has never seemed to have cause for concern).
The newest members, Palm Beach manager Oliver Marmol and Memphis manager Mike Shildt, are Matheny favorites. Both have gotten exposure to the big club in spring training and both have been invited multiple times to St. Louis to be around the team after their respective seasons have ended. This staff is a finished product, one custom designed by Matheny and the Cardinals.
Like a college coach who finally gets his system in place, Matheny now must prove the architecture is sound.
Part of that means proving outside observers their concerns are unfounded. For one, both Palm Beach and Memphis finished with losing records (58-79 and 65-77, respectively). They were the only two Cardinal affiliates to do so, and in fact three others won league championships (GCL Cardinals, Johnson City and State College).
In fairness, minor league teams have high talent turnover, making roster stability more a luxury than a certainty, especially in Triple-A. However, both Low-A and Double-A saw talent come and go, and both teams made their postseasons.
More interestingly, the creation of “quality control coach,” which will be Shildt’s new position, seems to be a direct response to the gruesome fielding and baserunning performance of the team last year. There’s obviously more to the numbers- especially fielding statistics- but it’s noteworthy that Memphis committed 121 errors last season in 142 games, which was second-most in the Pacific Coast League.
This is not to say the newcomers are doomed to fail in their new roles, or to suggest the staff in place is incapable of helming a team that makes the playoffs. Stability and familiarity can make the gears turn much more smoothly. But the burden of proof is now firmly on Matheny. He’s built his car and hand-picked his pit crew. All the focus is going to be on how well he drives.