Changes to Divisions, Wild Card coming

Major League Baseball announced the approval of the sale of the Houston Astros to Jim Crane this morning along with division and wild card changes for the future.

According to the Associated Press, the MLB’s decision to move the Houston Astros to the American League beginning in 2013 saved Crane’s ownership group roughly $65 million. The move of the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West is designed to balance out the league’s divisions to give them 2 leagues with 3 divisions with 5 teams in division.

What that means for baseball is that beginning in 2013 you are looking at a scheduling model that includes interleague play from beginning to end as that is the only way to balance the schedule with an odd number of teams in each league.

The plan is to maintain the DH for use when American League teams are playing at home and allowing the pitcher to hit when National League teams are playing at home. Which really makes the idea of having a guy like Allen Craig coming off your bench all that more important for a National League club. However, many feel that this is simply a precursor to the Designated Hitter being standardized throughout Major League Baseball and I hate that idea with all of my being. (Can you tell I’m not a fan of the DH?)

Major League Baseball also announced that they would be adding a second wild card in each league beginning at least by the 2013 season, though there is some speculation they will try to plug it in for next year.

Many remember this season how the final day of the season was quite possibly the most dramatic day in MLB history. All that drama wouldn’t have happened with two wild card spots. The final week of the MLB season would have looked and felt completely different. Instead of a dramatic rise to the playoffs, it would have been flat.

While many leagues have looked at changing their playoff format, I’m not a fan of letting more teams into the playoffs. The more teams you let into the playoffs, the more you devalue the regular season. At 162 games, the MLB season is nearly two times longer than the NBA and NHL seasons and over ten times longer than the NFL season. The NBA and NHL let 16 of their 32 teams into the playoffs, the NFL 12 of their 32. The MLB had been the toughest league to earn a playoff spot in, only letting 8 of their 30 teams achieve of a postseason berth.

If you’re going to let everyone in, why play a regular season? Let’s just start with a huge tournament with best of 7 series’ from April to October. Why not? I think if you’re going to expand the postseason, you have to shorten the regular season, but that’s not something they are willing to do.

The speculation by many writers today, while MLB Commissioner Bud Selig says there are many things to be determined about how to implement it, is that the league will have a one-game playoff between the two Wild Card teams to get into the playoffs. I am not a fan of that idea.

First and foremost, it will need time before and after the game to make it happen. Teams will want to play their #1 pitcher in the game, which essentially burns them in the first round of the playoffs making it even more difficult for a team to overcome in the first round. During this time, the other teams are sitting on their couches and losing their edge.

Secondly, I’m a proponent of the idea that it should be hard to get into the playoffs. I think the MLB’s playoff system has been very well executed. I like it better than I like any other league’s playoff format. It’s difficult to get into, but it also allows that team that is still really good but gets stuck behind a juggernaut of a team to get a chance.

As always, we’re going to see how it works out, but for the most part, allowing two wild cards in each league to advance to the playoffs is going to simply shorten the season for a lot of teams. As with the NFL talking about going 18 games while complaining that teams rest players after they clinch a playoff spot, you are essentially making it easier for team’s to clinch and therefore rest players and prepare for the playoffs. Meanwhile, you eliminate some of that drama down the stretch.

Much like NASCAR’s decision to create their own playoff format, this is a gimmick. A gimmick that eliminates real drama and is meant to simply generate it’s own. I hate that.

Color this baseball fan disappointed with this news.

Cardinals set coaching staff

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting the Cardinals’ 2012 coaching staff has been set.

Just two days after introducing Mike Matheny as the organization’s newest manager after the retirement of Tony LaRussa, who had held the role for the last 16 seasons, the Cardinals have revealed their coaching staff.

The big news is that Dave Duncan and Mark McGwire will return to their positions as the team’s pitching and hitting coaches, respectively. Duncan will be entering his 17th season as the Cardinals’ pitching coach and the final year of his contract. McGwire will be entering his 3rd season as the Cardinals hitting coach. Under McGwire, the Cardinals led the National League in several offensive categories.

Derek Lilliquist will also be back in the bullpen as the team’s bullpen coach. No truth to the rumor that hearing aids were a requirement of his new contract.

In somewhat of a surprise, Jose Oquendo will return to the staff at his typical spot at third base. Oquendo was widely considered to be the manager-in-waiting in St. Louis and was the final interview for the manager’s seat. He was passed over for Matheny. My only concern is whether Oquendo buys in to Matheny as manager, which I’m assuming the organization would have checked on before announcing his return.

Mike Aldrete, who served as assistant hitting coach since 2008, will get a uniformed position as he takes over the role as bench coach from Joe Pettini. Aldrete was expected to be the leading candidate to take over the hitting coach position with the Oakland Athletics, but has apparently turned it down to return to the Cardinals.

Finally, Memphis Redbirds’ manager Chris Maloney will move up to the big league club to take over as the first base coach from Dave McKay. Maloney also interviewed for the Cardinals’ managing position. He has been involved with the Cardinals organization 20 seasons as a minor league manager. This is his first major league posting. Ron “Pop” Warner, who managed the Double-A Springfield Cardinals is expected to take over Maloney’s old position in Memphis.

According to the P-D, Pettini and McKay will be reassigned elsewhere in the organization.

Matheny named manager

After an interview process that lasted roughly a week, Mike Matheny stood in front of the cameras and was announced as the next manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was a field of six candidates. Jose Oquendo, Chris Maloney, Ryne Sandberg, Joe McEwing, Terry Francona, and Matheny. According to the team, after each interview they ranked their board of potential candidates. After his interview, Matheny went to #1 and stayed there, despite his lack of experience.

Matheny, 41, has long been predicted by those around the game to make a good manager. He has recently served as an assistant to General Manager John Mozeliak and has been an instructor at spring training for the team as well. Since he retired at the end of the 2006 season due to concussion related problems, Matheny has been involved with the Cardinals organization, leading many to believe that he would one day be destined for the big chair. However, going into the interviews, he was likely the dark horse candidate that nobody gave a real shot to.

He will now be the youngest manager in the major leagues.

Matheny played five of his 13 year career with the Cardinals. He hit just .245 with a .304 OBP, but took home three of his four Gold Gloves while playing for the Cardinals. He was the catcher who tutored a young Yadier Molina before handing the starting job off to him in 2005. Molina has received four Gold Gloves of his own in the years since.

The management decision was rumored to have come down between Matheny and former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona. In my opinion, Francona was only going to be a manager for a few years before we had to find someone else. Both in Philadelphia and Boston his end came when he could no longer reach and motivate his players. Matheny has the potential to be a much more longterm manager than Francona would.

Ultimately, I think the move will be good for the Cardinals.

First and foremost, he is already familiar with the team and has the respect of the players in the locker room. The Cardinals players who are on Twitter, like Jon Jay, David Freese, and Daniel Descalso made sure to applaud their new manager and let us know they were excited to play for him because they like and respect him. Two important keys for a manager.

Secondly, Matheny has worked with John Mozeliak on the front office side. He likely buys into the same philosophy that Mozeliak does as far as building the roster. I felt that since Mozeliak took over as the team’s General Manager that he and Tony LaRussa were oft times at odds about how they wanted to build the roster and what they wanted out of it. Now Mozeliak has his guy in the manager’s seat and those conflicts will likely be limited. But now Mozeliak can’t blame shortcomings on that relationship (not that he did, at least, not publicly).

Thirdly, even though he is inexperienced at this particular job, he is likely to be surrounded by experienced coaches and has a sharp baseball mind. Dave Duncan is under contract for 2012 and is expected to return to the organization as pitching coach. He and Matheny would have worked closely together over the five seasons Matheny spent as the Cardinals’ starting catcher. He also has a good relationship with hitting coach Mark McGwire.

Something Matheny will hopefully remember is that this is a championship team and while you do want to make your mark and make it your coaching staff, some consistency will be good for the team. No need to reinvent the wheel. But I see the desire for him to make it his coaching staff rather than LaRussa’s coaching staff.

At the same time, he needs to be his own manager. Don’t try to emulate someone else’s managerial style, be yourself.

The big question will be how we judge his success. He is being handed a World Series Champion. Is anything less a disappointment?

We as fans need to be careful how high we set that bar for him. It is his first year and he’ll be learning on the job. At the end of the year, I want a team that was in contention until late September and I want to see how Matheny handles games. Does he under manager or over manage? My biggest complaint about his predecessor was that I felt LaRussa could over-manage a game like nobody else and as a result managed us out of some games. There is a fine line to walk and I understand it could take him some time to find the right touch.

In the end, it’s a positive move for the Cardinals to begin the post-LaRussa era.

Oh, and for fun, Arthur Rhodes, who pitched last season for the Cardinals is 333 days older than Matheny.

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Who will be the next Cards Manager?

The Cardinals have had the luxury for the last 16 years of knowing exactly who was managing their ball club. After 33 years of managing Tony La Russa is hanging it up and going out a winner. Its the perfect scenario…the Cardinals have known since August of his intentions and then the remarkable comeback in September and the amazing playoff run that takes 7 games in the World Series in front of close to 50K people in your home stadium. That how you draw it up in fantasy land.

With TLR retiring the Cardinals identified 6 candidates that range all over the board of attributes and experience. Ryne Sandberg and Joe McEwing are quickly shooting up the ranks of potentially being the next great rookie manager. Jose Oquendo is a dedicated Cardinal family member that was thought to be the heir apparent to TLR the last few years. Mike Matheny is well loved and respected by Cardinal Nation and has played an instrumental role as a Special Assistant to the Cardinals in recent years though he has never managed. Terry Francona is the big name that had coached the BoSox for the last 8 years but was relieved of his duties after an epic collapse down the stretch. Then a slew of reports came out about players drinking in the clubhouse while the game was going on and how Francona had lost his players. Last but not least is current Memphis Cardinals manager Chris Maloney who has spent 18 years as a minor league manager mostly with the Cardinal Organization. These 6 candidates tell you one thing about the search: The Cardinals do not have a specific profile for their next manager.

So who gets the tough task of run the reigning World Champion Cardinals in 2012?

My preference is to go with Sandberg with Matheny coming in a close second. I give Ryno the nod mainly for his approach to becoming a big league manager. After a Hall of Fame career he didn’t expect for someone to just give him a big league job…he earned it by working his way up through the minor league ranks. He dedicated himself to learning all the way from a special assistant role for the Cubs in Spring Training to managing in A, AA and AAA for the Cubs Organization before being passed up for his first big league managing position with Sweet Lou was out as the Cubs manager in 2011. Ryno decided to take his talents to the Phils Organization to manage their AAA affiliate. Sandberg has gained respect from his peers and front office personnel across MLB. He is known as a very well prepared skipper and has an aggressive managing style. He likes to force the issue, movement on the base paths and hit-and-run. He is a great mentor, leader and seems to gain the respect from the clubhouse which is extremely important.

I personally am a fan of Matheny as a manager in the big leagues some day and feel he has a lot of the same attributes as Sandberg…but it would be extremely risky to put a manager in place that has never managed the game at any level to prove he can do it day in and day out. That’s why I tend to lean toward Sandberg. Some in Cardinal Nation want to see Ryno as the Cards Manager just to stick it to the Cubs…I’m not in that camp. I think you pick the right manager for the situation that fits into the Organization. To me that is Ryne Sandberg.

The search begins in Miami

For Cardinals fans and Albert Pujols, the ball has begun to roll. While there are reports that the Cardinals were unwilling to boost their pre-season offer to Pujols, he has already scheduled his first tour and meeting of the offseason.

The Miami Marlins are looking like they are considering making big moves this offseason. They’ve already talked to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, two of the top free agents at their positions, and now they have added Albert Pujols to the mix. Pujols will receive a tour of their new ballpark today before meeting with their administration tomorrow.

2012 is all about new for the Miami Marlins. Yes, the Miami Marlins. As part of their deal to build a new ballpark closer to Miami in an effort to draw in more fans, the Marlins will be changing from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins. With that comes new uniforms and logo, which were to be announced today.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s new General Manager Jerry Dipoto has apparently also expressed their interest in both Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. You can bet that at some point Pujols will be making a trip to Anaheim to take a look at their facilities and meet with them.

Meanwhile Nolan Ryan said that he’d be surprised if the Rangers were big players in either Fielder or Pujols while giving a vote of confidence to their current first baseman Mitch Moreland. Moreland, 26, hit .259 for the Rangers last season with 16 homers and 51 RBI. But Moreland isn’t and will likely never be a true impact player in the league. But he doesn’t have to be because the Rangers have guys like Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre.

As a Cardinals fan I’m torn by this news, but know that it’s the way it has to be. Pujols has to do his due diligence and check out the other interested teams, if just to confirm to himself that he is in the best place.

I don’t think the Marlins will play a critical role in the Pujols negotiations simply because they already have a pretty capable first baseman as it is. They would have to make room for him and if they do it before, they risk Pujols not signing. If they do it after, they risk not getting any return on him. It would be a difficult place to be in.

I think the move is more to generate media mentions about the Marlins. Get the new name out in public and let everyone know that these will be the new look Marlins, not the one that trades away all their good players. They hope to have increased payroll next year, but I think for them to go and triple that payroll is expecting a bit too much. However, they need to compete with the Miami Heat (which is easy right now because there is no NBA right now) and they need star players. Pujols and Reyes can both fit that mold. The two of them? Well that’s almost on the same level as the Heat.

The Marlins actually have a pretty prime opportunity. They already have the basis of a solid team. However, contending in the NL East right now, with Philadelphia and Atlanta having the rosters that they do, is going to be difficult. They could basically add in a few guys who could completely turn the face of the franchise around because their existing payroll is so low.

They have the flexibility that the Cardinals would have going into 2013 if Pujols doesn’t return.

Until contract numbers start flying around, don’t get too excited about Pujols visiting other teams. It’s something he has to do to prepare for the decision he has to make. I think we still have a long way to go until that decision is made. Like, somewhere closer to two months.

But it should be very interesting to see who is in and who is out. And will a mystery team come in and make waves at the last minute, much like the Phillies did with Cliff Lee last year?

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