The consensus of the Internet seems to be that the St. Louis Cardinals are bringing back third base coach Jose Oquendo after a one-year absence as some sort of a veiled threat to manager Mike Matheny.
That may not be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard when it comes to the Redbirds. But it’s certainly on the top 10 list.
Are we to believe that the Redbirds wouldn’t drop the axe on Matheny — no matter how he performed — because they didn’t have an heir apparent in the building? Even when Oquendo wasn’t in St. Louis during the 2017 season, he was still within the organization and, presumably, could have been here in a few hours if summoned.
Remember that Oquendo wanted the manager’s job in 2012 after Hall of Famer Tony La Russa left, but the Cardinals passed on him and on former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona to hire Matheny. There’s no guarantee that even if Matheny was fired over the next year or two, Oquendo would get the job.
Another popular theory floating around is that Oquendo was brought on board by the front office to make Matheny uncomfortable by eliminating some of the manager’s control over his coaching staff. If front office boss John Mozeliak wanted to hit Matheny where it hurts, he would have fired the Matheny’s best pal, hitting coach John Mabry. It’s doubtful anyone would have questioned it with the Cardinals setting a team strikeout record each of the past three years.
Actually, the return of Oquendo is more likely to save Matheny’s job than it is to usher Matheny out the door. If I was Matheny, I’d be the first person to shake Oquendo’s hand when he walks through the door.
The Cardinals have seen a disturbing downward trend in defense and general fundamental play. That’s something that has to be turned around. When charged with improving the defense and fundamentals in spring training, Matheny failed badly.
If Oquendo rights the ship and gets the Birds back to where they need to be in the field, and the other recent addition to the staff, fan favorite Willie McGee, can help out with the baserunning and hitting, Matheny is much more likely to be in the St. Louis dugout in 2019 than he would be otherwise.
For years, Redbirds fans have griped about the loss of foot speed from a team that used to set records for stolen bases and make its living going first to third. St. Louis has added players who can run over the past few years including Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, Aledmys Diaz and Paul DeJong. Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra, two players who can fly, are working their way into the picture.
But the steals and other aggressive baserunning haven’t followed. I’m hoping McGee, a guy who stole 56 bases in one season and 352 in his career, can translate some of the potential of the baserunners into results.
I was surprised last season when the Cardinals awarded rookie DeJong the No. 11 when he made his major-league debut. Oquendo wore the number with St. Louis since 1986, three decades, as a player and then a coach. McGee played with St. Louis for 13 seasons which ended 20 years ago and no one is allowed to wear his number still. But Oquendo’s jersey was still warm before it was passed to the next guy.
According to the Cardinals web site, DeJong is still listed as 11 and neither Oqendo nor McGee have officially been assigned numbers. I’m pretty sure which one Willie will get. But will the Birds choose to allow DeJong to continue to wear 11 or snatch it away from him to give it back to Jose?
While Oquendo wore 11 for nearly all of his Cardinals career, he did not wear it for all of his Cardinals career. Oquendo originally wore No. 5 in 1986. Maybe St. Louis will dust off Albert Pujols’ old number and give that one to Oquendo or DeJong.