I’m seeing a lot of headlines on the interwebs, bugling the name of ex-Yankees manager Joe Girardi as the favorite to become the next Cardinals’ manager.
I don’t know if any casino is making book on this…
But the betting favorite for the Cardinals’ managing job is the guy who holds the Cardinals’ managing job.
That would be Mike Shildt.
Shildt is the obvious favorite for these common-sense reasons:
1–Shildt has the gig right now and is in position to make the most of his opportunity. He doesn’t have to have his agent call the Cardinals. No need to satisfy the review of a search committee. There were no job interviews. Saturday night, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch fired Mike Matheny and went straight to Shildt. That was the process that got Shildt the job. The Cardinals turned a troubled team over to him. An underperforming, messy, disjointed and demoralized team. A team that, through Matheny’s final game on Saturday, had a .443 winning percentage since May 7. Just to frame that in the correct perspective, that .443 win% over a stretch of 2 months and 8 days ranked 22nd among the 30 MLB teams, 12th among the 15 NL teams, and fifth and last in the NL Central. If Shildt can reenergize and unite the Cardinals, get underwhelming hitters on track, deodorize the defense, spiff up the base running and lead the Cards to a significantly improved showing and maybe a wild-card playoff spot … then what would be the point of looking for another manager? Shildt, right now, has one massive advantage over every other candidate: he’s in the job, can show that he’s worthy of the job, and can earn the job beyond 2018.
2–Shildt isn’t some guy; he has deep roots in the St. Louis organization. Shildt was a special favorite of franchise icon George Kissell (father of the Cardinal way of baseball instruction.) Shildt won awards for his performance as a manager at three different levels (Rookie A, Class AA, and Triple A) in the Cardinals farm system. His teams won three league championships in the minors. Shildt did it all: Coaching, scouting, teaching, managing. And he handled a wide array of assignments with distinction.
3–Shildt has managed a long list of future big-leaguers, Cardinals’ big-leaguers, on their way up. This isn’t a complete list, but it is a thorough one. Let’s start with the position players: Harrison Bader, Kolten Wong, Greg Garcia, Jose Martinez, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Matt Adams, Aledmys Diaz, Carson Kelly, Stephen Piscotty, Charlie Tilson, Breyvic Valera, Oscar Taveras, Ed Easley, Ruben Gotay, Tony Cruz, Nick Martini, Alex Mejia, Rafael Ortega, Xavier Scruggs, Jermaine Curtis, Travis Tartamella, Colin Walsh, David Washington, Cody Stanley. And the pitchers: Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Marco Gonzales, John Brebbia, Sam Tuivailala, Mike Mayers, Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons, Josh Lucas, Ryan Sherriff, Mitch Harris, Nick Greenwood, Keith Butler, Tyrell Jenkins, Dean Kiekhefer, Sam Gaviglio, Tim Cooney, Michael Blazek, Sam Freeman, Eric Fornataro, John Gast, Jorge Rondon.
4-Shildt’s history with so many Cardinals gives him a head start in establishing or strengthening relationships, and he has a good opportunity to win the loyalty of the players. “He’s a pretty good communicator,” outfielder Dexter Fowler said. “You can tell already. The guys that played for him (in the minors), they love him and that says a lot.” Added third baseman Matt Carpenter: “He’s been in the organization and knows so many of our players who played for him. He cares about our guys and he has a good feel for what we’re trying to do as a team. Those are good qualities.”
5–Shildt’s biggest advocate is John Mozeliak. Shildt’s first job in professional baseball was a scouting position for the Cardinals, and Mozeliak hired him. Shildt was appointed to his first minor-league coaching job by Mozeliak. Received his first minor-league managing job from Mozeliak. Was brought to the major leagues by Mozeliak, and named to the Cardinals’ coaching staff in 2017. Was promoted to third base coach, and later bench coach, all with Mozeliak’s blessings. And Mozeliak didn’t hesitate to make Shildt the Cards’ interim manager after dismissing Matheny. In a conversation a couple of years ago, Mozeliak told me he definitely could see Shildt becoming the Cardinals’ manager one day. Given the history between Mozeliak and Shildt, we can even conclude that “Mo” has been grooming Shildt for the job.
6–Shildt is an enthusiast of advanced metrics. Very important. Matheny had an aversion to analytics, and preferred to manage a team based on how things were done in the 1990s. This is a key job consideration, given DeWitt’s commitment to advanced metrics, and his funding of one of the best analytic departments in the majors. This makes Shildt compatible with the organizational philosophy of relying on metrics to gain a tactical or personnel edge.
7–Shildt has one of the smartest baseball minds in the organization. He is intellectually curious, is always searching to enhance his knowledge and is a forward-thinking individual. And that represents a dramatic change from the previous manager. Shildt’s depth of brainpower would make him a candidate for any position in the Cardinals’ baseball operation, including that of an assistant GM or GM.
None of this means that Shildt will definitely keep the job past the end of the 2018 season.
If Shildt can’t get the Cardinals on track to improve, play smarter ball, and seriously contend — then outside candidates such as Joe Girardi will get a long look.
But he’s already a match for what the Cardinals are looking for: Intelligence … an more astute tactician … a knowledge of Cardinals history … an understanding of what this team needs … a genuine (not sanctimonious) nature … a warmth in his ability to communicate with players of all ages … a more relaxed personality who won’t stress his players out … confidence mixed with humility … a willingness to hold players accountable instead of letting them slide, but doing it by showing them respect and appealing to their professionalism … a fluency with analytics … an established working relationship, and chemistry, with the front office. And his continuity is a plus.
It’s Shildt’s job to lose. He keeps it by winning. Shildt has something that no other candidate possesses: the key to the Cards’ manager’s office and 68 games to show that the late George Kissell knew how to identify a winner and a leader. It’s among the reasons why Kissell’s favorite baseball son is the favorite for the job.
Thanks for reading …