Handicapping the Cardinals' Managerial Search

click to enlarge The Cardinals appear to be entering the home stretch of their managerial race.
The Cardinals appear to be entering the home stretch of their managerial race.
The Cardinals have been conducting interviews and tossing around names in their search for a new manager, and it looks now as if they're likely entering the endgame portion of the process. 

I have to admit, while I've somewhat steered clear of saying too much about the various candidates myself -- largely due to the fact I have a very limited knowledge of what each one brings to the table, at least as far as specifics -- I find the makeup of the group fascinating. Of the major candidates the Cards have publicly acknowledged, only one has a significant amount of previous MLB managerial experience. What that says to me is the organization is more interested in an integrated manager who can learn and grow into the job, rather than another Tony La Russa, who may bring plenty of his own skills and qualities but wasn't perhaps the best fit for the organizational philosophy at times. 

So as the search winds down and the Cardinals' front office prepares to make a decision, let's take a look at the candidates who still seem to have a real chance, and what good and bad baggage each is carrying. 

1. Terry Francona -- Formerly of the Boston Red Sox, Francona will forever be the manager who broke the curse. Unfortunately, the Sawx weren't all they were supposed to be in 2011, and Francona paid the price for their failure to make the postseason. 

Pros -- MLB experience, excellent record of recent success, experience managing a clubhouse full of oversized egos. 

Cons -- Left Boston with plenty of questions about his commitment and leadership. Could be a hatchet job, but still has to be a concern. Clubhouse attendants already concerned about number of KFC buckets to be cleaned up. 

Odds -- I'm going to say 4:1. Francona got a lot of press early in the process, but the Cards seem inclined to skew less experienced. 

2. Jose Oquendo -- Longtime third base coach for the Redbirds, Oquendo is immensely popular among the players and has experience playing and coaching for both Whitey Herzog and La Russa. 

Pros -- Has been talked up as the candidate most likely to have a positive influence on Albert Pujols's contract decision. Known as an excellent defensive teacher. Beloved among the fanbase. 

Cons -- Still has questionable communication skills off the field. Lack of MLB managerial experience. May be ejection-prone, thinking his job is still to get as many men thrown out at home as possible. 

Odds -- I'll go 5:2. There are plenty in the organization who think very highly of Oquendo. I have concerns about his ability to handle the off-field, PR type duties of a manger, due to English which, while improved, is still a handicap. I like his relationships in the clubhouse, but I also wonder if he won't be too tightly identified with the previous regime. 

3. Ryne Sandberg -- Former Cub great and Hall of Famer, may in fact be a candidate only to torture fans of the Northsiders. Interviewed just yesterday for the job. 

Pros -- Hugely respected, hugely energetic. Passionate; has a reputation for commanding great loyalty from his players. Looks a little more like Bruce Campbell all the time as he ages. 

Cons -- Reputation as very old-school in his tactical thinking. (i.e. he looooves bunting) Could very well be carrying some residual Cubs curse in his bloodstream. No MLB coaching experience. 

Odds -- Call it 6:1. I'm personally not a big fan of Sandberg, based solely on what little I know of his in-game tactics in the minors. It would be awfully entertaining to see him win a title in a Cardinal uniform, though. 

4. Mike Matheny -- Former catcher for the Cards, currently working as an analyst for Fox Sports Midwest. He's also served as a roving instructor in spring training the last couple season for the Redbirds. 

Pros -- A guy already well-versed in the organizational philosophy. Has a reputation for understanding and dealing with egos and personalities very well; credited with mentoring Yadier Molina. Likely would be an easy integration into the hierarchy. Is rumored to be handsome by various females. 

Cons -- Virtually no coaching experience to speak of. Like, seriously, none. Has expressed hesitance in the past to spend too much time away from a young family. Is not personally found to be handsome. Not a deal-breaker, mind you, but I wouldn't mind having some eye candy in those after-game pressers. Sigh...

Odds -- 2:1. I think Matheny is gaining momentum as a candidate, and his interview is rumored to have gone extremely well. Would definitely fit the template of a young, inexperienced manager brought in to grow with the team as the player development system sends more and more talent to the big club. Right now I get the feeling Matheny may very well be the favorite for the job, something I never would have predicted when this whole thing began. 

There are a few other candidates, with Chris Maloney being one of the more notable names out there. Maloney is currently the manager of the Cards' Triple A team in Memphis, so brings with him a pedigree of working in player development and has personal experience with a fair number of the Cardinals' current crop of youngsters. 

Personally, I'm prepared to dislike any of these managers. Or, well, I suppose I could end up liking one of them, too, but let's face it: that's just not all that likely. 

Who the Cards ultimately go with should give plenty of insight into where the organization plans on going over the next few years. We've seen the team as a house somewhat divided the past few seasons, as Tony La Russa exerted his pull on an organization increasingly dedicated to in-house development. John Mozeliak has his chance now to put his own stamp firmly on the Cardinals, with absolutely no ambiguity as to who is calling the shots. Who he hires will say plenty about how he sees the manager fitting into the overall organization. 

Personally, I believe the Cards are looking for a candidate from within the org, or at least one with very little experience, both for ease of integration vertically and also because I think the team would like to retain a fair amount of the coaching staff. Dave Duncan is obviously legendary, and Mark McGwire had a hand in crafting the best offense in the National League this past season. A manager already firmly established would likely bring his own coaches, while a guy like, say, Mike Matheny or Oquendo would almost certainly hold on to what I think the organization believes are very valuable resources. Just a thought. 

We should know soon, whoever the new manager is. The Cards have made it clear they hope to get the new hire taken care of quickly, so they can get on to other matters. This will be the more important offseason for the Cardinals for years to come, after all. Let's hope Mo and Co get it right. 

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