ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — When the Cardinals made the surprising move to fire manager Mike Shildt last week, it sent shockwaves through the fan base. As the initial shock from the decision subsides, the conversation shifts to questions about who would be chosen as his successor.
The Cardinals have had just three managers since the turn of the century: Tony La Russa, Mike Matheny, and Shildt. Who might be the fourth? Let’s sort through some of the possibilities.
Names that make sense: Internal candidates
Oliver Marmol: The 35-year-old rising coaching star has been a member of the Cardinals organization since 2007, when the team drafted him as a player in the sixth round. He shifted to the coaching side of the table in 2011, starting out as a hitting coach at the rookie ball level that year. Marmol advanced quickly through the organization, with stops as manager of the Johnson City and Palm Beach Cardinals before he vaulted straight to the big-league level to serve as the first-base coach in St. Louis.
Marmol was named Mike Shildt's bench coach in 2019, serving as the manager's right-handed man. Any discomfort over the notion of a coach who worked so closely with the outgoing manager being considered as his possible replacement was dispelled by the former manager himself. During his classy Zoom statement issued Monday, Shildt seemingly offered his blessing to Marmol to pursue the opportunity, sharing that his former bench coach “has my deepest and most trusted respect.”
Marmol’s lack of experience as a big-league manager won’t work against him in this search—given the front office’s evident desire to dictate the philosophies to be implemented by the next field manager, it would be shocking to see the Cardinals hire a manager who does have such experience. His relative youth could be viewed as a question mark, but considering Marmol’s rapid ascent through the organization’s coaching ranks over the past decade, the club clearly values what Ollie brings to the table.
It’s likely that Marmol will someday manage at the big-league level; the Cardinals could take this moment to decide that St. Louis should be where that happens.
Stubby Clapp: If the Cardinals don’t take that leap with Marmol, the most likely reason would be that they want to take it with another highly-respected internal candidate. Short of managing in the big leagues, Clapp has about as impressive of a baseball managing resume as is possible. He managed the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds to back-to-back Pacific Coast League championships in 2017 and 2018 before joining the St. Louis staff as the first base coach for the 2019 season.
Following Jose Oquendo’s full-time transition to Florida, where he now works to develop the younger players in the Cardinals’ minor-league system, it was Clapp who slid into the role of infield guru for the big-league club. He’s been a candidate for managerial openings in recent years for both the Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates, and it feels as though it’s only a matter of time until the 48-year-old gets his shot.
Whether that opportunity arrives with the Cardinals may depend on whether John Mozeliak believes Clapp can better carry out the organization’s vision more effectively than Marmol. Both are quality candidates, but the desk in the manager’s office fits only one chair.
Names that make sense: Outside candidates
Though continuity is still viewed by the Cardinals as a worthy objective in the aftermath of their second managerial firing in three years, it’s possible the front office views this moment as a chance to pivot to a new voice for some fresh perspective. Still, the external candidates garnering the most attention in the speculation chambers of social media are names with meaningful connections to Cardinals history.
Skip Schumaker: A World Champion with the Cardinals in 2011, Schumaker is beloved throughout the fan base for his contributions to the organization as a player. Could the next chapter involve Skip as the skipper of the club?
In his post-playing days, Schumaker has built a resume that makes him worthy of consideration for an MLB manager gig. After finishing up his playing career with the San Diego Padres, Schumaker joined their coaching staff in 2017. He started out as the first base coach before working his way into the associate manager position, which he held during this past season. When San Diego fired manager Jayce Tingler at the conclusion of a disappointing campaign, the remainder of the coaching staff was free to pursue other opportunities throughout the league. After all, the new manager might want to handpick his coaching staff.
Of course, the new manager in San Diego could be Skip Schumaker. It’s also possible he finds a head job elsewhere—St. Louis, perhaps.
If Schumaker’s ascension as a hot managerial candidate piques the interest of those within the Cardinals front office, their firing of Shildt in this particular off-season could represent a ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ mindset. If the Cardinals don’t hire Schumaker now, they’ll be facing him in the opposing dugout before long.
Carlos Beltran: Here’s another name about whom that previous sentence is probably true. To refer to Beltran’s first managerial gig as short-lived would be an understatement—the Mets fired him before he ever managed a game. That came after the revelation of the extent of his involvement in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Beltran was a veteran player on the Astros in 2017, and was implicated as a chief contributor to the scheme.
Beltran wasn’t barred by Major League Baseball for his involvement—in fact, no Astros players were punished at all for the sign-stealing ordeal. The Mets just Mets’d the situation. Enough time has passed by now that it’s reasonable to suggest that Beltran could have regained his status throughout league circles as a highly-sought prospective big-league manager. Beltran has a connection to the Cardinals, having played two All-Star seasons for the franchise in 2012 and 2013.
Beltran was originally hired by the Mets for their managerial opening one year after the Cardinals lifted the interim tag from Mike Shildt. Though the Cardinals didn’t consider Beltran for their opening that year, he was considered a big-name candidate by the time the Mets landed him in November 2019, and could be due for another look from forward-thinking MLB clubs.
The best of the rest
I would classify it as an upset if the Cardinals were to hire a candidate outside the four names listed above. If it happens, here are a few more names to keep in mind.
Joe McEwing interviewed for the Cardinals managerial opening in 2011, but lost out to Mike Matheny in that search. He's currently the third base coach for the Chicago White Sox, on Tony La Russa's staff.
Mark McGwire checks the box of having a prior connection to the franchise, but the former St. Louis slugger and hitting coach doesn't feel like a plausible answer. He's been discussed by outsiders as an interesting name, though, and he was once known to be interested in future managing opportunities. He departed the Cardinals of his own accord, but hasn't coached in the big leagues since 2018.
Joe Espada has interviewed previously for MLB managerial openings, but has remained in the role of bench coach for the Houston Astros since his hiring after the 2017 season. In 2018, the 46-year-old coach served on the same Houston coaching staff as current Cardinals hitting coach Jeff Albert. Yadier Molina was recently quoted expressing enthusiasm at the idea of the Cardinals hiring a manager of Puerto Rican descent. Espada would fit that billing, as would the aforementioned Carlos Beltran.
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