The Pujols Departure Makes Like Easier for Matheny

No manager—especially one who’s brand new and has never done it before—wants to have to come to an agreement on the clubhouse power structure upon walking in the door.

Mike Matheny, whom Albert Pujols was said to like and respect when the two were teammates with the Cardinals, was going to be in just such a situation taking over for Tony LaRussa as the Cardinals new manager. Pujols was said to prefer Jose Oquendo as the new manager. Undoubtedly that will be referenced as part of the list of reasons why Pujols left; this is twisting the issue away from what really was the motivating factor—money—into something other.

If the Cardinals had given Pujols a similar contract as what the Angels gave him, he would’ve stayed. They didn’t and he didn’t.

Already we’re hearing whispers from the netherworld of rumor and innuendo that may or may not be accurate.

“I thought Albert didn’t seem happy.”

“There was something off.”

Blah, blah, blah.

This is just the beginning as an explanation is sought.

Here’s the answer: the Angels paid him a lot more money than the Cardinals were going to.

Period.

This affects Matheny because he doesn’t have to cater to anyone in that clubhouse; that’s immensely valuable to a new manager. The only player on the current Cardinals roster that he played with as a teammate is Chris Carpenter.

That’s not a small thing.

Joe Girardi walked into a similar situation with the Yankees when he took over for Joe Torre, was managing a large segment of contemporaries and former teammates. What made it worse was dealing with a bunch of bratty superstars who’d grown accustomed to Torre and the known rift between Girardi and Jorge Posada that was never adequately repaired.

Matheny has a clean slate.

It’s doubtful any of the remaining stars—Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina—are going to give him a problem; nor do they have the cachet that Pujols had to try and exert their will over a rookie manager. Pujols isn’t the type to bully and take over the room as a Josh Beckett would, but that doesn’t mean he’d be a perfectly good soldier if the two disagreed about something, anything.

Is it easier to run a team on the field without a weapon like Pujols? Of course not. The Cardinals just lost the best player of this generation and one of the best players ever, but to think they can’t function without him is absurd; the Cardinals will absolutely be better off in the long run without that gigantic contract for a player reaching his mid-to-late-30s clogging up their payroll. That they wouldn’t have the DH position to stash him when he can’t play the field anymore and the contract and his stature would make him untradeable would make the situation exponentially worse.

Right now it’s remarkably simple for them: they move Berkman to first base and find a right fielder. They’ll have a ton of cash left over to keep Wainwright and Molina and possibly lock up David Freese through his arbitration years and have the foundation for a good team without that one Hall of Famer stalking the middle of the lineup and paying him $25 million a year during his inevitable decline.

The Cardinals didn’t want to lose Pujols, but the fallout will be muted by the World Series they just won and that they’re going to acquire a name player to fill the gaping hole in the lineup.

There are outfielders available and Carlos Beltran on a 3-year contract is a perfect addition; the offense won’t be diminished all that much and with Wainwright returning, the pitching will be the strength of the team.

Much like the Stephen Strasburg injury where, I’m convinced, there were numerous people within the Nationals organization who were somewhat relieved that he got hurt and there was no one to hold accountable for it, there will be people with the Cardinals who aren’t all that bothered to see Pujols go. They’ll never admit it publicly, but it’s the truth.There was going to be a transition from LaRussa to Matheny and now it’s made much easier without Pujols to run interference on what the new manager wants to do.

The Cardinals will survive.

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  1. #1 by Nat76 on December 13, 2011 - 10:11 pm

    Completely agree that this should give Matheny more leeway on decisions and if anything a psychic noose has been lifted from his neck. He no longer has the pressure of getting something together in the next 3-4 years of the “Pujols” window. Cards fans expect a lot, but they’re reasonable and understand that the current team isn’t built for a championship. Playoff contention? Yes.

    As for the Pujols signing simply coming down to money: I don’t agree completely. The Angeles offered roughly 3.5 million per year more than the Cards, which all things considered when you’re going to pull $22 million a year anyway, isn’t really consequential. The bigger problem was the gamesmanship the front office displayed in getting Pujols extended over the past couple of years and then re-signed after the WS. Pujols wanted to be a Cardinal for life, but then he was offered a 5-year deal at a lowball figure, which sounds like anything but “Cardinal for life”. He was underpaid in his last contract and probably felt that he at least deserved a decent long-term deal. $275 or $300 million that was getting spouted off was unreasonable. IMHO, this was more a reaction to the insult of the 5 year deal. Had they offered him 5 years at 25-28 million per and another 5 years at a lower guarantee but w/ incentives, he would have bit…last year.

    The story is kind of like the girl you had in school who you didn’t treat quite as well as you should have in hindsight. You neglect her a bit. She complains for a while, but then stops complaining as she loses interest. Then you realize you effed up and give her what she wanted/deserved, only to realize someone else is willing to give her that + a little more now. Had you not screwed up in the first place, she’d still be with you for what you offered, even though it is comparatively less than the new guy who buys her flowers once a week.

    • #2 by admin on December 15, 2011 - 3:35 pm

      If the Cardinals were lukewarm about paying Pujols to come back, then they played this perfectly. It works especially well in a confluence of events sort of way that Tony LaRussa retired right after winning the World Series. The amount of capital they accrued from the WS win and the “turn the page” aspect with Matheny to go along with that loony contract Pujols got is making Pujols look greedy and the Cardinals look like they did the best they could but have to move on.

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