The Pujols Departure Makes Like Easier for Matheny

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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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Replacing LaRussa

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Let’s take a look at some of the potential replacements (from my own addled head) for the retired Tony LaRussa as manager of the Cardinals.

These are in no particular order.

Terry Francona

It’s a ready-made situation; the players he’s managed, coached and played with have always spoken highly of Francona; he can handle anything.

The Cardinals and the mostly club-friendly media in St. Louis would be a welcome respite from the crisis-a-day atmosphere in Boston.

His tenure with the Red Sox didn’t end well and when he had to do some legitimate managing with a Phillies club that wasn’t very good, he did poorly.

The Cardinals are a contender, but they’re not stacked nor do they spend like the Red Sox.

He’d be agreeable to Albert Pujols.

He’s not an automatic for the job.

Joe Torre

Torre’s current job as executive VP of operations for MLB appears to have been at least as aggravating as managing and it’s nowhere near as financially lucrative. The only plus side is there’s less travel.

Torre was an MVP as a player with the Cardinals and the manager before LaRussa. Presumably his wife would give him the nod if he really wanted to do it on a 2-3 year deal to try and win another championship.

He’s got the star power and status to replace LaRussa and the Cardinals veterans—especially Pujols—would be onboard.

Jose Oquendo

A longtime LaRussa coach who deserves a chance to manage somewhere. I’m not a big fan of hiring someone from the staff to take over as manager, especially for a legend. It rarely works and I believe in bringing someone in from the outside or an organizational person who hadn’t been in the clubhouse.

Mark McGwire

I think he’d be good at it; the players like and respect him; but he’s never managed before and he’s very shy. He probably wouldn’t take criticism well.

Mike Jorgensen

A longtime respected member of the Cardinals front office who managed the club briefly after Torre was fired in 1995. He’s never shown an interest in managing, but going down on the field for a ready-made team for a couple of years might appeal to him. He’s 63, so it’s unlikely.

Tony Pena

The Yankees respected bench coach is loved by the players and is a former Cardinal. He deserves another chance as a manager.

Dave Duncan

Teams approached him years ago and he was never interested in managing. He’s 66, is short-tempered and doesn’t need the scrutiny.

Any other suggestions are welcome.

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