It's a pretty sweet gig to take the helm of a world champion baseball team while having no prior managing experience, but the honeymoon is about to end for Mike Matheny. The hiring decision has caused a range of reactions, as he beat out Jose Oquendo, Bobby Valentine, et al.
What are the first 10 things he should do?
I'm going to assume everything is fine between Matheny and Mark McGuire and Jose Oquendo, two members of his staff who were rumored to be in the running for the job he got, but I wonder if things are going to be a little strange for a while.
While we're talking about coaches, better figure out how pitching coach Dave Duncan likes his coffee. He's the key to the whole thing.
OK, is Jason Motte the closer? Probably.
What's the mix for the rest of the staff?
Tony La Russa and Duncan developed a symbiotic relationship over the years, lending this heightened hive mind awareness of how best to use each pitcher out of the pen for each situation. As a former catcher, Matheny probably already has an intrinsic idea of pitcher/bullpen use, but there will still be a gap there from La Russa's 30-year expertise.
I guess shortstop Rafael Furcal could be the standard lead-off man, but he didn't show much in the postseason and his age may be betraying him. He seems more like a No. 8 hitter at this point.
Then there's Ryan Theriot, Skip Schumaker, Jon Jay and Allen Craig rotating around.
I just get a strange vibe from him. I'm not sure what it is.
He seemed checked out in one of the most compelling World Series ever until he got caught off third base and busted his hand on the bag. That kept him out of Game 7, which I actually was relieved about.
He's an awesome hitter, though—career .315 over eight seasons.
Lance Berkman had an incredible bounce-back year. He capped this with a clutch World Series performance, notably his game-tying hit in the 10th inning of Game 6.
I like him a lot, but has he peaked? Did the Cardinals get that one last great season out of him? He'll be 36 in February (I thought he was "older," and by "older" I mean older than me...), and I wonder if he'll regress a lot after this year.
If he does, do the Cardinals have a backup plan for left field?
Matheny's hire as manager frees up a few extra million dollars to toss Albert Pujols' way. Matheny can sweeten the deal by becoming Pujols' best friend—or find something he can blackmail him with.
There's a dividing line in baseball between sabermetricians and old-school managers. The former says the bunt is a tactic long past its time with more risk (an automatic out) than reward. Old-school managers like La Russa loved using it to demoralize an opposing team.
My sense is Matheny's style will be small ball, national league. But when to bunt, when to hit and run, and when to do the ultimate sleight of hand, the suicide squeeze needs to be carefully considered for the coming year.
The No. 1 question since the Red Sox meltdown.
No one could glare like Tony La Russa, and it's an unappreciated weapon in a manager's arsenal—also, the art of getting tossed from a game to get the team fired up. Currently, these psychological tactics are all academic to Matheny.
Matheny can't be the next Tony La Russa. He shouldn't even try. La Russa had his own style crafted over years of manning the dugout foxhole. Matheny needs to find his own style and place himself at the center of 25 supremely talented athletes who just won one of the most memorable World Series of all time.
The point being, the pressure will be on.
I don't know how many Cardinal fans really expect the Cardinals to repeat, but they will field a competitive club and the return of Adam Wainwright bolsters the pitching staff. Fans and players should expect a dip, but will also expect results. The fastest way to do this is for Matheny to find his style, find what motivates these guys and keep them playing a hard nine.