Good evening BotB readers. Tonight we’ll have a little talk about the Cardinals’ presser from 4:00 p.m. today (8/28/18). That was the press conference in which they gave Mike Shildt the manager title, sans “interim,” and signed him to a contract through the year 2020.
Joining the roundtable tonight are the do-everything social media genius Tara Wellman, everyone’s favorite CardsCards, another do it all in Nicholas Childress, the newest writer at Birds on the Black in Ben Cerutti, and a man that has been pumping out solid content this week in Chuck Brownson.
Chuck: So the big news of the day is the Cards dropping the interim tag from manager Mike Shildt. What’s our initial take on the timing?
Ben: I personally am not a big fan of the timing. I’m a big fan of the manager and an even bigger fan on the person. I believe it was the Two Birds on a Bat podcast that was talking about how “We’re the St. Louis Cardinals” (with pride) and how in the offseason, whether we decided to go with Shildt in the end or not, we should be able to pull in basically any manager we darn well pleased for an interview. I don’t know if I would have wanted anyone else, but I’d have loved to hear about who we were able to pull in and see what was out there and made available.
Nick: My initial reaction was that it is pretty exciting. Love the work he’s done so far and would love to see it continue. Though when I continued to think about it, like Ben, I was skeptical of the timing. My thought process might have some holes, but I didn’t feel like it was really a necessary move. The way the Cardinals are rolling right now I just don’t want anything to change and I don’t see the reason to make the move right now. I guess I don’t really have any evidence to prove that it is the wrong decision, but what does waiting until the end of the season hurt?
Chuck: A lot of the national media finds the timing a little curious, like the team is overreacting to the Cards’ play over Shildt’s 38 games. It’s pretty clear the organization didn’t have to make this decision now.
Ben: I think that narrative is completely overblown. The guy has been in the organization for a decade and a half, yes? How many games did he manage in the minors? How many wins did he have? How many championships did he earn? How many prospects ears and minds and hearts has he touched and made into what they are today? How many of them are currently playing for him at the MLB level?
Tara: The timing is odd, only in that there seems to be little reason to “rush.” The product on the field and off has been extraordinary since Shildt took charge. But it’s nearly impossible to quantify that in a way that accurately assigns him all the credit. And yet, it’s impossible to ignore the obvious impact he’s had. So sure, they could wait and proceed with interviews. But they’ve been building Shildt up for just such a moment, so if all they really needed to see was what their theoretical plan looked like in real life, then the results are quite clear.
Chuck: I’m really of both minds. First, his time with the organization and these players means he’s more than just “the guy who sat next to Matheny,” as Joe Sheehan tweeted earlier. On the other hand, he has been manager for just 38 games and there have been other changes (the bullpen, the outfield, Carp’s incredible run) that have undoubtedly affected the team’s performance aside from Shildt’s managing.
CardsCards: As I noted on Twitter earlier, Carp’s incredible run started much earlier and went for 54 games under Matheny. During which the Cards were 4 under. This isn’t a Carp illusion. It’s a team wide shift.
Chuck: During the game tonight, Ricky Horton implied that the decision needed to be made now so that the team didn’t go into the stretch run with this uncertainty hanging over it. Thoughts on that take?
Nick: Doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. I’m obviously not in the clubhouse, but I didn’t really feel that there was any urgency to make that move right now. I doubt Shildt really felt that either the way they are playing right now.
Ben: I agree with Nick. I think Horton was trying to think of an explanation on the spot - then again, I’m not in “the room” with the guys so maybe there was that sense hanging over them that I was not aware of.
Chuck: I agree with both of you, Nick and Ben. I’m not buying Ricky’s explanation. To me, the team is thinking only about playing the game and doing their thing and I doubt that there is any festering anxiety about the uncertainty of who takes over next year. It just doesn’t seem to jibe with what we’re seeing on the field.
Tara: I think, if anything, a decision now simply reinforces the work that’s been done and the direction they’ve moved in the last 5 weeks. Perhaps that boosts confidence even more or simply confirms what both players and staff have already been feeling. But I don’t think today’s move was necessary for the success to continue.
Chuck: I think you’re right, Tara. So that begs the question that we started with: why today? Why not wait and see what’s out there at the end of the season? Why not let the team keep doing its thing and -- even if you’re going to bring Shildt on permanently anyway -- drop the interim tag when the season’s over?
Ben: I guess that last line of yours, Tara, is kinda what I was trying to get at but didn’t do very well. It wasn’t necessary right now. As I said. I do believe he could very well be the right man for the job.
CardsCards: Might we consider the sincere possibility that you are all clueless idiots? I say that with all due respect as I haven’t bothered to read what you’ve said, but based upon past history I’m sure it’s wrong. We are talking about Mo here. John Mozeliak. Dude still hasn’t decided what to have for breakfast. 11 years ago. This team is notorious for taking their time with everything and making darn sure they are doing what they want before actually making a move. Mike Matheny was a moron from day 1. Took them 6 ½ years to fire him. If they are hiring Shildt today, it means they are damn sure this is the time for this move. It’s not like there aren’t positives to it being right now either. Basically what I am saying is everyone should just shut up and listen to me.
Ben: I’m sure we’re all a little clueless. :) That’s what makes this fun, CC!
Nick: I’ll confirm that I am, in fact, a clueless idiot.
Tara: Why today? Let me play devil’s advocate: why not? If the decision was already made, what point is there in dragging out the announcement? Plus, this allows them to work to secure any additional staff from the Minor League teams, or to work with Shildt on whatever the plan is going forward.
Chuck: Tara’s probably right. There’s a good chance they were going to do this anyway as long as the team didn’t play terribly so maybe may as well make it official. On twitter, Mark Saxon reported that the organization ran this by Oquendo before finalizing it, thus satisfying the league’s requirement that they interview at least 1 minority. I asked him if talking to the team’s 3rd base coach was enough and he said that the process would have had to have been more rigorous in the offseason. So maybe it was just easier to do it now since they had decided to do it anyway.
Chuck: The take from Cards’ fans has been almost unanimously positive. Is this something we should be excited about?
Tara: Immediately following Matheny’s dismissal, I found myself hoping the team would go outside their own four walls, so to speak, and bring in fresh ideas. Then, Mike Shildt started to do his thing. I’ve been impressed on the daily with how he does his job and who he is as a person. He clearly has the respect and attention of his players, and as long as THEY are excited about him, I have full confidence that Shildt has the baseball chops for the job. Be excited, even if also acknowledging the inherent risk of hiring another “new guy” (whose level of newness doesn’t even remotely compare to that of Mike Matheny’s ...or, say, Gabe Kapler, for that matter).
Ben: Tara, that’s something we discussed earlier was my desire to have an outside influence somewhere in the higher-ups of the organization. Whether that’s manager (not any more, obviously), bench coach, quality control coach, or somewhere in the front office - as they did with the Mike Maddux hiring, even though they had Bryan Eversgerd climbing the ranks in the minors as a pitching coach in his own right. Something I’ve believed in for a while is that the organization is having an issue with internal groupthink that sometimes has them struggling to think outside of the box. I think maybe that’s why President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak was moved to that new title from his old General Manager title, truthfully. And maybe, just maybe, that has helped.
Tara: I will say this, Ben. I’d grown pretty weary of Mo’s “same old, same old.” But I’ve also been pretty intrigued by the unusual decisions that have come in rapid succession since Shildt was given control. My working theory is, the staleness came from a gridlock of ideals between the FO and the field staff. If Mo and Co have the freedom to operate the way they’d actually choose to, knowing the field staff will be working in the same direction, things might feel less stale after all. I could be completely wrong, and it wouldn’t be the first time! Ha. But I’m more willing now than I have been in a long while to sit back and see what happens.
Ben: +1 to that, Tara. Then again, winning cures a lot of ails.
Chuck: I agree 100%, Tara. This organization, not just on the field, appears 180 degrees different from the Matheny era. It’s like he was holding the whole organization back, not just the players in the clubhouse and on the field.
CardsCards: Tara, we all probably thought of going outside, but just like when a relationship ends, sometimes it’s best just to date her sister. And yes, that’s often something to be excited about.
Nick: My ex had six sisters.
Ben: 16.7% of the way through, Nick! I’ve got faith in you!
Chuck: I’ve been excited by Shildt since he was named. I’ve always been a fan of his use of data in the dugout and his instruction with the younger players in the organization. My only concern -- then and now -- was that he never played professional baseball. Would that inhibit his ability to relate to players, especially potential free agents and others who didn’t come through the organization. To me, that’s still the lingering question.
Ben: So far, I feel like we should give Shildt an A+ on relating to players, despite that shortcoming.
Chuck: I agree, Ben. Maybe there’s too much made of that shortcoming. On the other hand, nearly everyone on the team has known Shildt for a long time.
Chuck: What can we glean from the fact that the extension (2 years) is a relatively short one by managerial standards? Anyone the team would’ve hired in the offseason would’ve surely gotten more than a 2 year contract.
(bite me, CC)
Chuck: It’s possible the 2 year extension is an acknowledgement by the organization that they let the Matheny experiment go on too long. His results started out great, too. The team was in the World Series in year 2 and then things went south pretty quickly thereafter.
CardsCards: I take little stock in a manager’s contract length unless they are a lame duck. It really only matters if firing them leaves the team on the hook for a lot of cash, and initial reports indicate that Shildt is being paid in Speedos, old pantyhose, and a case of the perfume that his mom wore when he was a kid.
Tara: It’s hard to presume too much here, but I don’t think it’s coincidental that the 2-year contract seems a lot like the porridge that was juuuuuuuuust right. Not to long that they’re stuck if it doesn’t work, not too short that Shildt feels the contract pressure every single day. It’s a chance to see if this experiment that’s been building for many years can work. And if it does, then they’ve got the guy they wanted all along.
Ben: I agree, Chuck, that with it being so short it could be an indictment of themselves regarding their previously employed manager, it could be them being quite cautious in that regard. However, what Tara and CC wrote brought something else to light for me. Wasn’t Matheny’s contract supposed to have run through 2020? I’m wondering if Shildt’s lower monetary total for 2 years is due to the fact that they still owe Matheny money over that time and that possibly Shildt could earn his way into a higher paycheck after those two “trial years” are over - and not so coincidentally, the Cardinals funds are freed up a bit in terms of how much their off field product is making?
Chuck: Someone on the broadcast tonight, either Dan or Ricky, wondered aloud whether -- if Shildt’s interim tag hadn’t been dropped -- he might be a candidate for other managerial openings in the offseason. Could that have played an impact on their decision today?
CardsCards: I can’t imagine him taking another job while the Cardinals were a possibility. My belief is that he will be buried in his Cardinals uniform, likely after being murdered by one of the psychotic Matheny defenders on Twitter.
Tara: I’d tend to agree with CardsCards (about Shildt’s loyalty, not the last part… to be clear! Ha.), although it’s entirely speculation. Shildt seems like a Cardinal, through and through. Seems his managerial dreams were directly related to this team. In many respects, I’d suggest that played a significant role in the decision to give him the job - the ownership and FO are extremely high on the idea of maintaining the legacy of the past. Shildt can do that while simultaneously pushing them forward. That’s the beauty of Shildt and his extreme commitment to this particular organization.
Chuck: My initial thought was that his W-L record might get him interviews in the offseason but it’s also pretty easy to wonder if that success was caused by his close relationships with the younger members of the team and question whether or not that would translate to a bunch of players he didn’t know. So I could see him getting other interviews, but probably not hired.
Ben: Between his relationships with the players coming through the system, the fact that he seems to run a very positive clubhouse vibe with open communication, and a style of play that has made the fanbase excited again - I would argue three things his predecessor was unable to outwardly accomplish in the last few calendar years - I think that the timetable you laid out above, Chuck, might have been pushed up drastically into a contract extension less than ¼ of the year later.
Nick: The Cardinals have finally started running, moving, and playing a lot more exciting baseball. It could be a product of the young guys that have come up, but I’m willing to give Shildt some credit for that. The Matheny-led Cardinals always talked about wanting to be more active on the base paths and take that extra base, but you never saw it happen the way it is happening now. I believe that they finally feel comfortable to do so, and that is something that I really love about the change that has taken place.
Chuck: Nick, those are really good points. At times I think we did see it with Matheny but it always seemed to end up in someone getting picked off or trying to score from 1st on a double when he had no chance. There was always talk about taking the extra base and being aggressive but it seemed to end up like me trying to steal a base against Yadi. Now, Carp is being aggressive on balls in the dirt and he doesn’t look like a complete moron for trying. That’s got to be tied to Shildt, right?
Nick: Like I said, I’m ready to give Shildt credit for that. I think 40 games is a fairly decent sample size. I’m not sure how to dig into that information, but I would love to see how stealing, taking an extra base, and overall baserunning have differed since Shildt took over.
Chuck: So that wraps up our first Birds on the Black group chat. I know I’ve had a good time and I’m sure the others have as well. Thanks for reading. Next time we promise to get more from the unusually taciturn CardsCards.
CardsCards: Please remove me from this list.