One of the unknowns surrounding St. Louis Cardinals’ spring camp is how new manager Mike Matheny is going to handle the team. Since he has not managed before, at any level, we cannot go by the past. We know he was a very good catcher. We know he played hard and was a “winner”. We can make some assumptions based on the fact that he was a catcher (pitching and defense will be important), but you know what they say about making assumptions. One thing that I see straight away is that Matheny is not going to sugar coat potential issues with the team.
In a brief snippet of information provided by Rick Hummell from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, we got a couple quotes from Matheny that make me feel more confident in his abilities to manage the team beyond the fact that he’s a smart baseball mind. He mentions that he would be more open to keeping an extra infielder on the roster versus a third catcher. The idea is not what made me nod in approval. It was the exact statement he made which did.
"“But you look at the infield guys we have. At third base, you’ve got David (Freese) and you’re hoping he’s durable. We’re cautiously optimistic, watching his feet and ankles.“You’ve had hamstring issues with Raffy (Rafael Furcal) at shortstop. You’ve got Lance (Berkman) with the knee issues in the past, at first base. And we’ve got kind of a wild-card at second base.“So, it’s not exactly like you’ve got Cal Ripken all across the infield. We’re going to have to have some flexibility there — and then there’s a conscious effort to help our defense up the middle this year.”"
I absolutely love this. He tells it like it is. He is not going to hide behind the veteran players and placate them by telling the media, ‘Oh, he’ll be alright, he’s a gamer.’ Matheny isn’t about to say things to make his players look better than they are. Managers tip toe around their players all the time. It shows a weakness when they do and the players read it and take advantage of it. Matheny’s comments show the players that they better be ready to play or he’ll find someone who will.
In a one-minute quote he covers a couple hot points. First, he knows he has a team full of injury threats. He didn’t even mention Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig or Adam Wainwright who all have the potential for health issues this season. He also throws out a line that suggests the second base job is completely up in the air and that defense may be the key there versus the bat.
The line about defense up the middle also signals that Furcal may need to watch his back. He is not exactly covering the position like he did in his younger days. If his bat is asleep like the end of last season and the playoffs, and he is unspectacular in the field, could he find time on the bench? A benching is probably not likely considering what he is being overpaid. Yes, I said overpaid, and this will be a point of contention for me all season. Matheny knows his pitching staff is filled with ground ball pitchers. If the players in the field can’t get to the grounders, and they can’t hit, they possess little worth to him.
It is good to know that Matheny is not going to try to be the players’ buddy. He’s the manager. He has to put the best team on the field. He has to build a strong bench because he is well aware of the deficiencies that could arise. While he shouldn’t throw players under the bus (he didn’t here), there is no room for sugar coating the obvious. By the looks of it, this will not be a problem for Matheny.