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Mike Matheny hiring opens a few more million for Albert Pujols

Nov 13, 2011, 10:53 PM EDT

matheny ap AP

The Cardinals were 10 1/2 games back on August 25. They weren’t supposed to make it to October.

The Cardinals drew an NLDS matchup with the 102-win Phillies. They were supposed to get out-pitched.

The Cardinals faced the high-powered Brewers in the NLCS, then the higher-powered Rangers in the Fall Classic. They weren’t supposed to win either series.

But all of those odds and predictions were defied.

Now, to add a surprise cherry to the astonishment sundae, the Cardinals — kings of the old school — have hired the youngest manager in MLB. A 41-year-old former catcher with zero managing experience and barely any official coaching gigs on his résumé.

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Mike Matheny, revered for his defense during a 13-year playing career, was named replacement to Tony La Russa, the third-winningest skipper in baseball history, in a press release delivered to the media late Sunday night. He will be officially introduced at a formal press conference Monday morning at Busch Stadium.

While recent speculation presented subtle hints, the hiring was a surprise. Terry Francona, with his big name and decorated resume, seemed a better fit for the Cards’ veteran core. Jose Oquendo, some suggested, would help carve an easier path to the re-signing of Albert Pujols. Even Ryne Sandberg drew buzz.

But the Cardinals made up their mind on Matheny before they even spoke with the former Red Sox manager or the former Cubs great, according to Tim McKernan of KFNS 590 in St. Louis and InsideSTL.com.

The Cardinals had their man almost as soon as the search began, and maybe even before.

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Guessing a front office’s strategy can be an exercise in frivolity, and it often is in the case of the close-lipped Redbirds. But this sure feels calculated, and the steps ahead would appear to be shaking clear.

La Russa was earning salaries of nearly $5 million per year by the end of his tenure in St. Louis, more than any other manager in the sport today. Matheny is sure to cost less, by perhaps as much as $3 million annually. Then there’s the decision to name Daniel Descalso as the club’s 2012 starting second baseman just weeks after the end of the World Series and the suggestion that Tyler Greene might fit at as a regular shortstop, all of which leaves Skip Schumaker and his $2.7 million 2011 salary as a non-tender candidate.

Make no mistake: the Cardinals like Matheny. They consider him a born leader, and someone well-versed in what is affectionately called “The Cardinal Way.” But they’re also freeing up every bit of payroll they can.

If Pujols is going to command a yearly rate of $23 million or more over the next seven, eight, or nine seasons, the Cardinals need to be more well-oiled. They need to run more efficiently, with better structure from top to bottom and more cost control in the big leagues. It’s something that GM John Mozeliak has known since taking over the job in October of 2007, and his decisions are now clearly being led by the idea.

Matheny is efficient. Descalso is efficient. So is almost the entire bullpen. And the talent budding in the farm system — as seen in top-grade prospects like Shelby Miller, Kolten Wong, Carlos Martinez and Oscar Taveras — should keep the organization humming at econo-grade even if Pujols scores an SUV-sized deal.

Mozeliak has truly built something great, and the Cardinals are suddenly as streamlined as it gets in the capricious world of professional baseball. It would take multiple catastrophes for Matheny to screw it all up.

  1. ultimatecardinalwarrior - Nov 13, 2011 at 11:13 PM

    Q: Are the Cardinals going to win the NL Central for the next 5 years?

    A: The Cardinals are going to win the NL Central for the next 5 years.

    /sorry about the ruthless homerism, but you know it’s true.

    • blueintown - Nov 14, 2011 at 8:13 AM

      It’s not.

  2. cup0pizza - Nov 14, 2011 at 12:26 AM

    Like the hire

  3. nlucas550 - Nov 14, 2011 at 2:00 AM

    It is a interesting hire. Matheny is a bright dude, with a ton of upside … However, learning on the job at the big league level will not be tolerated in St. Louis.

    http://dailygrindsports.wordpress.com/

    • paperlions - Nov 14, 2011 at 7:33 AM

      MLB managers have a tiny effect on the games compared to other sports. You can learn on the job all you want, and rarely will it affect the outcome. In addition, the guy won’t be in the dugout on his own, he’ll have plenty of input into decisions with which he may be unfamiliar (especially managing the pitching staff). Plus, Cardinal fans/media are about as forgiving as any other…if there was ever a place to learn on the job, it is StL.

      • stlouis1baseball - Nov 14, 2011 at 9:33 AM

        Paper: Don’t know that I agree with the premise of MLB being a good place to learn on the job. But I do agree with your last sentence….”Cardinal fans/media are about as forgiving as any other…if there was ever a place to learn on the job, it is StL.”

  4. spudchukar - Nov 14, 2011 at 2:50 AM

    Were I an outside agent in the negotiation process, this would be my recommendation: 2012, 29 mil. with a guaranteed 29 mil for the next five years with incentives that could push the total salary to 30+. Further years would be contingent on the next 5 years production, some sort of automatic contingency, if reasonable goals are met, with an added bonus for continued success (numbers) in the succeeding years, complimented by future years for each season’s (2) accepted by both parties. Signing for less now under the understanding that management fears regression in productivity should be rewarded yearly for the doubt. Something similar to the ongoing escalating wage scale. With the caveat of always being the highest paid player, if the numbers are indicative of performance. Sure it sounds naive, but someone please point out to me how it would be unfair.

    • paperlions - Nov 14, 2011 at 7:30 AM

      That kind if incentive structure is not permitted in MLB contracts. You can have options vest or bonuses enacted for games played or ABs, or for award voting, and apparently, bonuses can be given for reaching milestones (as in the ARod contract)….but you can’t have clauses that reward players for hitting .300 or hitting 40 hrs or anything else of the sort….the MLBPA wants guaranteed contracts, not incentivized ones.

    • uyf1950 - Nov 14, 2011 at 8:03 AM

      As paperlions said the CBA does not allow for the kind of contact(s) you are talking about. But even if it did, why would Pujols agree to a contract that at best only guarantees him about $150M (regardless of the number of years) when he can get at least a $200M plus contract guaranteed.

    • uyf1950 - Nov 14, 2011 at 8:23 AM

      spudchukar my friend. You mention above about and I quote “…understanding that management fears regression in productivity…”. It seems to me the Cardinals didn’t have any concerns about Albert exceeding the value of his recently expired 8 year/$111M contract. I guess the point I’m trying to make is the Cardinals could have said to Albert in 2007 listen your performance far exceeds your compensation let’s tear up the rest of the contract and pay you what your real value is to this team. Had they, they could have signed him for say 9 or 10 years in 2007 and secured is services for his “prime” years (ages 27 thru 35/36). Without any real concern of regression as you put it. Albert is a very special case you can’t underpay a guy to the tune Albert has been underpaid and then ask him to “take one for the team”. Because to be fair he’s already taken a few for the team. At least that’s my opinion.

      • cintiphil - Nov 14, 2011 at 9:09 AM

        You are so right, that only the truly unwashed & stupid can’t understand the logic.

  5. cintiphil - Nov 14, 2011 at 9:07 AM

    This is a foolish decision, but good for the central division in the NL. This dumb idea will result in a rush to the top for the other teams including the Reds, especially if the cards do not sign Albert, because they are so cheap. No team or organization can excel if the manager at the top is not the best in the business. Matheny may be a great guy, but who knows what kind of manager he will be? When you are at the top, you have to work hard to stay there. This is not that kind of move.

    • stlouis1baseball - Nov 14, 2011 at 9:41 AM

      Cincy: You have always seemed very resonable to me in your previous posts. But it appears you may be salivating at the mouth a bit on the Matheny hire (as evidenced by your several posts over the weekend and again this morning). While I may be a bit concerned with M.M’s lack of Managing experience…I am very comforted in the fact that he will have virtually ALL of the Coaching staff back AND virtually ALL of the players respect. They absolutely love the Guy. Hell…even Oquendo is backing the Matheny hire and said immediately he wants to return as 3rd Base Coach. Regardless…as long as Dusty is at the helm for the Redlegs…I do NOT anticipate a “rush to the stop” coming from them. On that note…as Paper said in a previous post…the Redlegs are spending waaaaay more monies for their Manager. I can’t (under any circumstances)…envision Matheny doing any worse (at a far better price no less).

    • Kevin S. - Nov 14, 2011 at 1:25 PM

      How are the Reds supposed to rush to the top while employing Dusty Baker if you need a manager at the top?

  6. cintiphil - Nov 14, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    We will see next year who is correct. Just remember that the guy at the top is important, not just the Lt’s who work for him. Part of my comments are about your owners who are well known here in Cinti. They are known for cheapness. Again, the guy at the top who is not giving all to be the best. I know full well that signing Albert will not guarantee a title to the cards, however without him, it will be much more difficult, and I think that it opens the door wide for the rest of the division to file through. I will agree the most stupid decision is the Brewers not even making an offer to Prince.

    • stlouis1baseball - Nov 14, 2011 at 10:08 AM

      I am well aware of DeWitt’s Cincinnati connections…his association with Castellini, the fact they both held simultaneous ownership shares in both the Redlegs and Cardinals franchises AND the fact that he is known to squeak when he walks (the primary reason a lot of us Cardinals fans refer to him as “DeWallet.”) I also know he is a very shrewd businessman. He bought the Franchise for something like 160 million and immediately sold the surrounding parking garages (and all parking rights) for 90 million. Now…he owns the Cardinals for roughly 70 million. He is also one of literally only a handful of true Billionaire Owners in MLB. I also know he wants to win. And now he has a Manager who makes less than the Pitching Coach (which frees up additinal monies for “other” FA signings). Namely…@ First Base. Let’s see what happens…and leave the “predictions” for Nostredamus. After all…as Drew mentions in the first part of this article…the Cardinals stomped all over everyones “predicitions” this year.

      • cintiphil - Nov 14, 2011 at 10:33 AM

        Agreed. Lets wait until next year to predict. However, I will say given your facts about the total cost of the birds and what this guy has in assets, makes his moves even more cheap than I thought. Unless he knows that Albert is not going to walk for more money, refusing to move off his first offer is not smart.

      • stlouis1baseball - Nov 14, 2011 at 11:03 AM

        Cincy: Why would they move off their 1st offer prior to it being warranted?
        This makes zero sense from a Business perspective.
        No different than the business I am in.
        For example…let’s say I have quoted you 10,000 widgets at $25,000.
        Unless or until you contact me stating you have been offered those same widgets for $20,000 why would I lower my price? No different than the A.P. negotiations.
        Why would the Cardinals offer him more monies (and expose their hand)…until or unless another team is in the game for additional monies?

  7. cintiphil - Nov 14, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    I suppose my comments about it only apply if they refuse to offer more or match a competing offer. We will have to wait and see what other offers he gets.

  8. spudchukar - Nov 14, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    Two ways around the “incentives” restrictions. First, which is primarily semantical, simply substitute bonuses, for each accumulative number. Rather than offering 5 extra mil for reaching 40 HRs in 2012, simply insert 450 total or whatever number is equivalent. If that isn’t palatable then one or two year contracts with as many vesting options as MLB allows. It does create an uncertainty, but if the vesting options are significantly weighed in the players favor, a good degree of leverage could be maintained by the player.

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