It was a busy couple of days at Busch Stadium. Adam Wainwright is coming back in 2023. Pitching coach Mike Maddux wanted to gear down and decided to move on. Hitting coach Jeff Albert made his fetishist critics deliriously happy by saying “no thank you” when offered a new contact by president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. Bench coach Skip Schumaker is the new manager of the Miami Marlins. The Cardinals have to fill Skip’s spot, hire a new bullpen coach, and wait for the opt-out decision – stay or go? – from third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Here are some thoughts from the quick-response desk here in my home office:
1. Coaching-staff changes are welcome and healthy. Rookie manager Oli Marmol inherited virtually all of Mike Shildt’s staff when taking over last fall. And while that was something that Marmol wanted to do for purposes of continuity, he obviously learned a lot during his first season. And as the man in charge, he saw his co-workers in a different light in 2022, and probably had some ideas on how the Cardinals could freshen up and do better at the dugout-field level in 2023. Marmol wasn’t looking to fire people … but I don’t believe he was heartbroken by the decisions made by those who chose to depart. This will give the (almost) second-year manager a chance to reshape a staff in a way that aligns more closely with his baseball beliefs.
2. Schumacher was a fine bench coach, liked and respected by all. But the Cardinals have no shortage of quality candidates that can take over the role without a hitch. The new bench coach must be the right personality fit with Marmol – but also willing to question and challenge the manager in a professional, productive way. Marmol wants that. Stubby Clapp, Pop Warner, Triple A Memphis manager Ben Johnson and retired Cardinal Hall of Famer Matt Holiday are appealing choices. Social media (loudly) wants Albert Pujols, but Pujols wants to wind down from the baseball life and spend more time with his children. As he goes through a painful divorce process this is a difficult time for Pujols. I’d be very surprised if he wants to jump into coaching right away. I think a bench coach has value, but I think most people overrate the importance of the job.
3. I wrote a separate column on Wainwright that you can find here on Scoops. Long column short: it’s awesome that he’s coming back because he’s meant so much to the fans and the franchise. But I have no idea how well he’ll be able to pitch in 2023 at age 41 (and later 42) and this must be more than just another Hero Tour. Wainwright has to pitch better in 2023 and show that he’s not tumbling into a steep decline. The Cardinals will have a new pitching coach in 2023, and a new voice maybe able to help him.
4. Jeff Albert made a smart decision to get the hell out of here. Obviously he would never get a fair shake from the wolfpack that absolutely despised him and blamed him for everything to the point of concocting things to throw at him. Had he stayed, Albert would have been the perpetual scapegoat, and an easy target for the lazy minds that think it’s 100 percent Albert’s fault anytime a Cardinal goes into a slump … and the wolfpack was highly aroused by former Cardinals who went elsewhere and had even modest success as hitters with their new teams.
THEY GOT AWAY FROM JEFF ALBERT!
THAT’S WHY THEY CAN HIT NOW!
HE RUINS EVERYBODY!
Albert did a terrific job of installing a system-wide hitting program that brought the Cardinals out of the prehistoric age. The young prospects benefited from that as they moved up the ladder in the minors.
At the major-league level, the 2022 Cardinals led the National League and were second overall in MLB in OPS+, ranked tied for 5th in MLB in runs per game and were 5th in onbase percentage and 7th in slugging. In addition, the Cardinals had the fifth-best OPS in the majors when hitting with runners in scoring position, and they lowered their strikeout rate to the fourth-lowest percentage (19%) in the bigs.
The bats were quiet in September, and again in the two-game loss to the Phillies in the wild-card round. Yeah, and when Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado go ice cold and fail to generate power … it doesn’t matter who the batting coach is. If your big bats go small in the postseason, you don’t have a chance. That applies to every other team that sputters offensively in the postseason. Look it up. It’s not that complicated.
“Jeff accomplished exactly what we were hoping him to do,” Mozeliak said during his media briefing on Wednesday. “He modernized our hitting program, our strategy. I think he made a huge contribution to our minor league side. From that standpoint it was a success. When you look at what was happening up here at the big league level, I think people were tough on him. It wasn’t an easy job. Our offense was good this year though. Compared to the league it was good. I was hopeful he would come back.”
Good luck to Albert in his next endeavor.
I’d like to extend my sympathy, in advance, to the next hitting coach that takes over for Albert. A time-honored St. Louis baseball tradition is pitch-forking the batting coach; the fans are utterly obsessed with blasting them and it’s been that way for decades. Bizarre.
One man could tame the wolfpack as the new hitting coach: Albert Pujols. And maybe I should include Matt Holliday. Well, at least for six weeks or so … until the first slump sets in. But on a serious note, I don’t think Pujols will coach. Not now. Holliday? Not sure. But assistant hitting coach Turner Ward is staying on board and could be promoted to the No. 1 job. The Cardinal hitters like him. The wolfpack is on standby. But Albert’s exit is best for everyone. It will change the dialogue, make the job less toxic, and clean and freshen the air. The constant whining over Albert was a big part of the problem … a much bigger problem than Albert’s job performance. No team should have to put up with endless distractions. I give Albert credit for knowing that moving on was best for the people — inside the STL organization — that he cares about. And it will be good for him too. There’s no reason to continue subjecting himself to abuse. Not when he’ll never be treated fairly. His impact made a positive long-term difference for the Cardinals.
5. I respect Mike Maddux and he’s had a very good career as a major-league pitching coach. But I’m ambivalent about his decision to leave. I believe the Cardinals could use some new ideas and a more enlightened philosophy from the pitching coach. Maddux was old school. Nothing wrong with that. But the game has been evolving for quite some time. And the Cardinals must start evolving with it; this team is at a disadvantage with its chronically low strikeout rate. The Cardinals have a chance to modernize the pitching-coach position, and that’s a positive.
6. Nolan Arenado, what’s up? I would expect him to decline the opt-out and stay with the Cardinals. He’s told us, many times, how happy he is to be a Cardinal, and to be in such a baseball-loving town. But I’d be foolish to take that for granted and assume that Arenado will remain with the Redbirds instead of testing free agency. The Los Angeles Dodgers have an uber aggressive front office and need a third baseman (bye-bye, Justin Turner) and Arenado and his wife are true SoCal people. Still live there in the offseason, with family all around. If the Dodgers signal that they want him – really want him – don’t you think Arenado will listen? We’ll get the answers on this in short time. Mozeliak was wise to travel to Los Angeles to pay an unofficial recruiting visit to the third baseman – explaining how they plan to improve the team, and getting his input on team-related matters that are meaningful to him. Arenado wants to be sure that the Cardinals are moving in the right direction.
7. Mozeliak is assuring the media – and presumably Arenado – that the Cardinals plan to grow the payroll for 2023. I believe that. But … how much of a payroll increase are we talking about? If the Cardinals are indeed serious about putting an end to their role as postseason patsies, they’ll have to be more aggressive with their spending. It’s imperative to spend more to truly improve bland, boring areas of this offense, punch up the rotation and add enhanced strikeout smoke to the bullpen. I don’t expect them to solve every issue by dishing monster contracts, but there are no excuses for being cautious.
That’s all for now. If I left something out, I’ll get to it tomorrow.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.