The speculation about the St. Louis Cardinals somehow shedding manager Mike Matheny to sign former Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon makes interesting internet fodder.
But Redbirds rooters need to come to terms with the fact that it's just not going to happen.
While fans may not like some of Matheny's strategic moves, that doesn't necessarily equate to the front office being unhappy with his overall performance as manager.
If we look past the fact that Matheny's Cardinals have advanced to the National League Championship Series every year he's been in charge of the dugout, which is a pretty big reason for ownership to like him, there are other factors in play.
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First, as a young and inexperienced manager, Matheny doesn't have the clout with ownership to appeal over GM John Mozeliak's head as Tony La Russa used to do with regularity.
That's probably a very appealing factor for Mozeliak when he's trying to design the roster. But he likely also appreciates having a relatively weak manager when it comes to the hot, new trend in baseball, defensive shifts. It was made pretty clear early in the season that Mozeliak tells Matheny what to do on the field a lot more than what is expected in a traditional relationship between a manager and general manager.
I sincerely doubt that a high profile, experienced manager like Maddon is going to take a job where he has little say over the players on his roster and the guys in the front office are sending down notes about who to play and where to play them.
Finally, as I have said time and again, the ultimate goal of professional sports franchises is NOT to win championships unless the owner is a egomanic who also happens to be a multi-billionaire. Like any other business, the real goal is to make money. So, as long as the Redbirds are making the playoffs four out of five years and putting 3.5 million behinds in the seats at Busch Stadium, I don't think the guys who sign the checks have a lot of reasons to be upset with Matheny.
That's not a criticism of ownership. In the expanded playoff era, playing well enough to get into the playoff picture is what it takes to have a chance to win. Look at the 2014 World Series: Both teams were wild card entrants. Being good enough to draw well and make the playoffs not only gives teams a chance to win with the roll of the dice, it also puts people in the seats and money in the budget to keep the team competitive in the future.
Besides, they hired him knowing Matheny had no experience. The expectation was that he was a smart guy and a good leader and that he'd pick up the nuances of being a manager over time. In that regard, the skipper has done nothing to make the bosses believe he is behind on the growth chart.
So, if the Cardinals threw all those facts out the window and decided to make a run at Maddon, they would have to contend with the fact that reports indicate no less than 10 clubs have contacted the former Rays manager's agent to inquire about his services in roles ranging from field manager to an executive position.
If we assume that the Redbirds would be some sort of favorite for his services because Maddon said he rooted for St. Louis when he was a kid, there is the pesky little fact that it's estimated that he will command a $5 million a year contract for five years, or $25 million total. The Cardinals would have to want Maddon pretty darn bad to throw that sort of cash at him -- while Matheny signed a three-year contract extension less than a year ago that will pay him for the 2015-17 seasons.
Finally, there is the fact that while Matheny is 44 years old, Maddon is going to be 61 before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. If he completed his five-year contract with the Cardinals, there is at least a 50-50 chance that he retires at 66 (or at least moves into a front office job) and the Cardinals would have dumped a guy they consider to be an up-and-coming star manager for a short-term solution.
As good of a manager as Maddon is, I can't see even a little chance of him becoming the St. Louis skipper.