I won’t say Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan is incorrect in the assessment he gives in his most recent article that Mike Matheny is the right choice to manage the St. Louis Cardinals. Passan and Matheny’s supporters may be absolutely right about that. Despite having no previous managing experience whatsoever, Matheny has the look of someone who could succeed at the job. However, I will say I think it may make it more difficult for the Missouri club to re-sign free-agent superstar first-baseman Albert Pujols; which was already an iffy thing at best to begin with.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to believe Pujols could end up staying right where he is. After all, St. Louis has been his home for the better part of a decade, and Cardinals fans look at him as only a small step below the greatest Cardinals player of all-time, Stan Musial. It also must be remembered Pujols has won two titles with St. Louis and probably has a lot of feelings of loyalty toward the club himself. Yet, nothing is assured–not when Pujols was snubbed by St. Louis management last year and is seeking a high-priced, long-term contract–and the hiring of Matheny could make the job of general manager John Mozeliak in trying to retain the services of the prodigious slugger even more difficult.
I know Pujols speaks highly of Matheny, and the former Cardinals catcher seems to have the deep respect of some of the leaders among the players for St. Louis such as Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright, but that might not be enough for a player of Pujols’ caliber who is exploring free agency for the first time in his career. The sensational first-baseman might see this as a real opportunity to explore a transition to a team where he can legitimately write another chapter in his legacy without the danger of being tagged with the downfall of his club.
I don’t think it takes much to recognize that Pujols’ numbers have been declining a bit over the past three years, and while the Cardinals are a great team with some great players (there’s no way they would have won the World Series if they weren’t), there might just not be enough in the lineup to provide him with the cover he’ll need as he himself transitions from being the best player in baseball to something a little less.
While it’s still a longshot, the fact the Miami Marlins wooed him over this past weekend when they had him take a tour of their new retractable-roof ballpark might not be insignificant. If they are also able to land New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, the South Florida club would provide Pujols with a plethora of talented young hitters to surround himself with. I mean, who doesn’t believe Albert would enjoy seeing Reyes at the top of the order with Hanley Ramirez right behind him in front of Pujols, and with Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, and possibly Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes following after?
That kind of protection in the lineup could extend Pujols’ good years by at least another two or three, and mean the difference between being seen as one of the top five or ten players in baseball history, and being seen as one of the top 25 players. Think that isn’t weighing on his mind.
I don’t know what will happen, and I certainly don’t for a minute doubt Matheny could end up being the Cardinals manager for the next decade or so, but he might just be managing the St. Louis club without Pujols manning first-base for them. If that’s so, I think a lot of Cardinals fans will be measuring his success against that loss even more than they probably should.
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All stats and information taken from personal notes and verified at Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, and Yahoo! Sports.
Read more by Daniel Barber aka Hotnuke at TFS Sports.
*Daniel Barber has rooted for all Miami teams since he was a child or since their inception having been born right above Miami.