Some major names – including Joe Girardi’s – have been connected to the Cardinals managing job. But there are a couple early signs that the preferred candidate may already be in place, and that just may be interim manager Mike Shildt, a near complete unknown before his surprise July 14 ascension to the role.
Shildt is 11-8 with the Cardinals so far, which isn’t earth-shattering, but that record includes eight games against the first-place Cubs, the archrival. So while his record to date isn’t all that dissimilar from that of dismissed predecessor Mike Matheny, he passed the first step by avoiding an early burial at a time the Cardinals were at a low ebb.
“We’re not drawing any conclusions at this point. But he has definitely done a nice job,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said by phone, when asked about Shildt’s chances to keep the position full-time.
Girardi in many ways is the most attractive managerial candidate out there, and with his well-known connections to Mozeliak and the Cardinals, there was plenty of early speculation about his chances. There was also some speculation about home run champ Mark McGwire and a few others. But all indications are that Shildt, a long-time minor-league manager with the Cardinals, has the first chance, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as a formality.
Mozeliak mentioned how Shildt, who he originally hired as a part-time area scout more than a decade ago, is very familiar with much of the roster, players who came up through St. Louis' very fertile system. A reliance on drafting and developing, and the vaunted system, is the M.O. of the Cardinals (no pun intended), and people around the team view his familiarity as a great positive.
Despite the early speculation, Girardi may ultimately have a better chance with the Cardinals’ main rival – though anything with the Cubs may take years, as they have the legendary Joe Maddon as their manager, and he continues to do an excellent job. Girardi doesn’t discuss specific jobs, but it is believed that’d be OK with Girardi, who can afford to wait and is believed to enjoy his high-profile analyst’s job with MLB Network.
There’s no evidence anything’s afoot with the Cubs and Maddon, but if there’s ever a real call to make a change there at some point in future years (with managers, you never know), word is that Cubs people have great respect for Girardi, a former Cubs player, Northwestern alum and Peoria, Ill. product. That’s surely a thought for another time; the Cubs seem on their way to a return trip to the playoffs.
Girardi has consistently declined to address the Cardinals job, which is the right thing to do considering Shildt’s the current manager, and while friends of his suggested he’d be interested in the St Louis job, one close acquaintance suggested that couldn’t possibly be known since Girardi is so private that he’d only talk about that with his immediate family. The friend wouldn’t say whether the job would interest Girardi (only that we couldn’t possibly have heard it).
Girardi texted a few weeks ago to confirm he’s generally interested in managing again, but didn’t respond to a recent text. His agent Steve Mandell did not return a call.
Others say that while Girardi and Mozeliak have a rapport, and their relationship in fact goes back to Colorado Rockies days more than two decades ago before they teamed up briefly when Girardi finished his fine playing career in St. Louis, the closeness of their connection may have been exaggerated in earlier reports here and elsewhere.
Girardi hasn’t ever made a deal about money, but financially, St. Louis may not be a fit. According to paperwork received by Fancred, the Cardinals are committed to paying the $5.3 million remaining on Matheny’s contract (the details suggest he was making $1.9 million this year and is to make $2.1 million next year and $2.3 million in 2020), though Mozeliak would only confirm that Matheny’s contract runs through 2020.
Girardi was making $4 million annually at the end with the Yankees. So Shildt may be a better financial fit, too.
The Cardinals, always known as among the most fundamentally sound of teams, shockingly have been beset by defensive and base running lapses the past couple years under Matheny. But Mozeliak noted that that’s been a “focus” under the interim’s helm and that “if you take a snapshot of the past couple of weeks, things are improving.”
An elevation of Shildt to full-time status wouldn’t shock anyone at this point. He is indeed very close to Mozeliak, who plucked him from nowhere before he became a disciple of Cardinals legend George Kissell and worked his way up from coaching in the New York Penn League to manager at Triple-A Memphis and, eventually, the Cardinals.
“It’s a really great story,” Mozeliak said.
The Cardinals gave Matheny rope to make his own calls, but also may not mind having a more collaborative effort between manager and front office, either. Indeed, in that way, too, Shildt may turn out to be the right fit.