Mike Matheny met with the media Monday at the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up. Here are some of the highlights from that session:
Thrilled about Ozuna
Throughout the weekend, every Cardinal representative who has spoken has raved about the addition of Marcell Ozuna to the team. Matheny was no different, expressing his excitement about the impact Ozuna’s bat can have for a lineup.
“One of those guys who’s just dangerous,” Matheny said. “Something he probably doesn’t get as much credit for is how well he hits good pitches. That’s something, as we scouted him, he wasn’t just going to make you pay on the mistakes. I remember a number of times just going back and watching and being like, ‘How did he get to that pitch?’ Those sort of things make it tough to pitch to a certain guy.”
As is often the case when discussing St. Louis’ potential targets via trade or free agency, their potential impact on team chemistry, their fit within the clubhouse is considered as important as their performance on the field. Matheny believes Ozuna is the kind of player who will positively affect those around him.
“Not just about the player, which we’ve been able to see all too many times,” Matheny said. “But it seems to be all the intangibles too. We make a big deal, maybe bigger than most, about what an impact somebody has… He understands. ‘I just want to come in and be a part and do whatever.’ Those are the right things to say, yeah, but we’re being told that’s truly how this guy thinks and operates.
“That becomes contagious to our club. So, whether he likes it or not, with what he’s been able to do with his career, he’s in a leadership position to the point where guys are going to listen and follow and sometimes be changed by the things he says and the way he goes about his business.”
Where will Carpenter bat in the lineup?
The act of writing out a lineup card is one of the more scrutinized elements of a baseball manager’s job. In Matheny’s case, the bulk of the debate centers around whether Matt Carpenter will bat in the center of the lineup—or at the top of it. After beginning last season with the intention of dropping Carpenter into more of an RBI-producing spot in the lineup, like third, Matheny penciled him in at leadoff for the bulk of the season.
Heading into 2018, Matheny again sees the opportunity to experiment with Carpenter in positions besides leadoff, which—thanks to the talent around him—could lead to a fortuitous alignment for the Cardinals.
“I think there’s obviously reason to talk about (Carpenter) at the top of the lineup because he’s had success there,” Matheny said. “But I do believe, as everybody else knows, Dex (Fowler) can do that just as well. I think we have a few guys who can do that well, but as you draw up a perfect lineup, which we all do, you’d like to see Carp really be able to fall into that middle of the order a little bit more, where you could use Dex at the top and you can see a Tommy (Pham) in a two spot, and then Ozuna has done such a great job in that clean up. Then we’re talking left, right, looking a little different as we have some splits.”
Carpenter later reiterated to the media that he truly doesn’t care where he hits in the lineup, despite the numbers showing his performance is better when batting atop the order. With all the options for different spots in the lineup, it will be interesting to see whether Matheny can strike a balance to produce an optimal outcome with this group.
Where will Carp play in the field?
After the team committed to him as the full-time first baseman prior to 2017, Carpenter is suddenly back in the discussion as an infield utility man. He shared Monday his comfort-level rankings of his positions—second base, followed by first base, then third base—but could see playing time at all of them this season.
“The conversations with Matt directly have been, ‘Just be prepared to kind of get a lot of work in,’” Matheny said. “I think it will come down to what it looks like when we get down there, how comfortable he feels in certain positions and how many repetitions he’s going to need in different spots to feel comfortable. Then we’ll kind of see how our roster plays out at the end of spring.”
Cards benefit from coaching carousel
Among the changes to the Cardinals this winter has been the game of musical chairs within the coaching staff, which has seen the departure of Derek Lilliquist and the arrivals of Mike Maddux, Jose Oquendo and Willie McGee.
Of the trio of coaching additions he discussed, Matheny’s excitement when talking about McGee was most palpable—he was practically giddy describing the moment McGee told him via phone that he would accept the offer to join the staff full-time.
“I said, ‘Really? Wow I wasn’t expecting that,’” Matheny said. “I thought the best chance we had was, ‘you know, let me think about that a little, Mike.’ I can just hear his voice. Because even telling him, ‘I need you to show up to St. Louis a little bit more,’ he’d say, ‘let me think about that. I need to meet with some people and make sure I’m not stepping on any toes.’ Willie is just true humility, as all of you know. I think to our fans, it probably doesn’t even look real. How genuine this guy is just so rare. But he didn’t miss a beat. Right away you could tell he’d been thinking about it. He realized that he can bring some value. I can’t wait to spend time with him myself.”
Though Matheny says McGee doesn’t have a fancy title in his new role—just ‘Coach’—he anticipates his impact as a full-time coach with the team will be tremendous.
“Impactful coaches are just so rare and Willie has had that,” Matheny said. “He’s had it all the way through our minor league system. I’ve told everybody I could until I was blue in the face: this guy is an incredible teacher. And he’s not a guy that’s going to go out there and just say stuff to say stuff. He’s very, very deliberate about when he needs to say something and how it needs to be delivered.”
As for Oquendo’s return, Matheny dismissed the notion that the team’s much-maligned struggles in recent years with Oquendo’s areas of influence—base running and infield defense—served as any added motivation in a getting a deal done to bring him back.
“I think once again, it’s timing,” Matheny said. “He had some stuff going on physically and just wasn’t able to do—that’s how this started. We just followed his lead of what he needed.
“No, when it comes down to people’s personal lives, it’s not our space to be convincing. We just listen. Just like Willie—the other times I’d talk to him and he’d say listen, it’s not right for my family. Who am I to get in the way and tell him that he’s wrong?”
The most interesting element of Matheny’s thoughts on adding a veteran pitching coach like Mike Maddux to the staff was how he believes Maddux’s credibility can impact Carlos Martinez. Matheny feels that Maddux—who has experience working with elite pitchers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg—could help elevate Martinez to the next level in his game.
“Just take a look at that staff he had to deal with last year,” Matheny said. “Now you have a voice, someone who’s worked arm and arm with some of the better starters in the league. And those are some of the conversations that to me, quite frankly, Carlos Martinez needs to have.
“He shouldn’t be content with being the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals. He should be content with being talked about at the end of the year as the best pitcher in the league. And to have a pitching coach that has been around that level of pitcher--you want to get somewhere, usually you want to go find somebody who’s already been there.”