Winter Meetings interview with Mike Matheny

Winter Meetings interview with Mike Matheny

Q. Can you describe what this week is like with a lot of things in limbo?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah. There's no question a lot of it's revolving around continuing to make conversations with Jason and trying to figure out how that looks and that will determine how we move forward. I know that those conversations happen, and we agree that they can.

In the meanwhile, we've made some moves that will help us be better as a club.

Q. Have you had direct conversations with Jason this winter?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, we're a texting culture, so we -- whenever he was given awards and he put some things on his mantel this winter, I always followed up. He was quick to reply, and we'd go back and forth a little bit. Just let him know that I'm thinking about him.

At this point, to put on the hard sale pitch from that perspective, it's a waste of time. I've had all of Spring Training and the season and postseason to show him what we're about, and we've stayed in close contact all year. It's been an honor and a pleasure to get to know him as a person and realize that he's in a spot right now to make a tough decision. It's a no lose situation in my opinion. He's in a good spot to figure out what's best for him as we're trying to figure out what's best for us also.

Q. Mike, you've been in a situation this winter where you all as an organization have tried to recruit somebody who's never been in your organization for a big contract, and now you're looking at the other side, a guy who has been in your organization. Do you think that's an edge? Have you learned that's an edge in any sense? Or do you think it will be?

MIKE MATHENY: I would hope it would be. I would hope that there's something that they've seen with how we go about our business that's attractive in returning. You'd love to create an atmosphere where a guy says, hey, I just can't imagine being anywhere else. But there's a business component to this, and it needs to make sense for both sides. Just try to do what we can to make sure for each guy, not even trying to play up to some guys because we're entering contract negotiations. Just try to invest in them as people and hope it's a great experience.

Now, does that necessarily play out and trump all things when it comes to a situation like this? We're not naive. It comes down to a business decision, but hopefully -- and I do believe just from conversations with Jason it was a great experience for him because it certainly was a great experience for us, and we hope that it's something we can continue with.

Q. What's etiquette with a player? From your perspective, how much you can recruit and how much you just, like you say, want to congratulate?

MIKE MATHENY: That's a great question. I don't know the answer to that. I just stay in touch with him. Like there's a number of players that aren't on our team anymore, and I know their birthdays and things going on with them and their families, and I stay in touch with them, just never overstepping to the point where it's uncomfortable for them, but always keeping the door open. If there's any questions, whether it's somebody in that situation in a negotiation or somebody that's just trying to wade through life. I believe that's what I do. I'm fortunate to be able to be part of their lives.

Q. How much of a necessity, whether it's Jason or somebody else, is it to add an impact bat to your offense this year?

MIKE MATHENY: We come into the winter trying to figure out how to get better and being able to keep the things we had and anticipating that guys are going to improve is all part of that plan. I think it's at the top of the priority list right now. There have been times through this off-season already that things didn't quite work out, and you just adjust. I think that's how you have to go about this. Right now we're focusing on trying to figure out the best that we can do and see how it comes together.

Q. Would you agree that offense is something you need to improve to kind of maintain the success you have? Is that a fair statement?

MIKE MATHENY: I would think it's a very fair statement that our pitching was outstanding last year. I anticipate it getting better. I thought we did a nice job of scoring more runs than the other guy, and that's kind of the bottom line.

I think there's -- I go position by position. We've been through this before, and I know there's more from each guy, just like they know there's more, and that's part of our job as a staff, and that's part of their job as a competitive athlete to try to figure out how to get more.

But we're never closed minded to the point of ruling out the idea of bringing in outside help, but I do think that we have a number of players who did improve from last year already, things that they've learned, and I'm anxious to watch them kind of continue to go in that direction.

Q. What can you do -- you talk about the coaching staff having to play a part in that, and some of that's instruction, but also some of that is deployment, I would imagine. What can you do? How much do you think about where Matt Carpenter fits in the lineup and some maybe more radical changes than you had this past year to kind of goose the offense?

MIKE MATHENY: This is the first lineup question I've had this year. You guys are normally way earlier than this. I think deployment also has the face of usage and how we're able to try and take some of that information that we're getting to try and figure out how to get guys the rest that they need, and those are things we're trying to learn from, and I know that I'm trying to put all of our collective heads together and take the information and figure out how to help our guys over the long haul with getting them the amount of rest that they need, being able to bring in a Gyorko that can help us get rest for guys that we know have worked hard. So that's part of it.

Lineup is going to be the same answer as every year. We throw some stuff out there and see what sticks and try to figure out where we have the greatest need, where we have the ability to maximize where a certain guy is. You start putting different players with different work assignments for the winter too, and maybe a guy is working on his eye, maybe a guy is working on lifting the ball a little bit more. Give them the chance to achieve the things they want to achieve over the winter before we start putting in concrete what our lineup looks like. Just let them go improve.

That's why every one of these guys, they're not going back to just getting in shape or Spring Training, they're going back to wherever they're going this winter to get better, and that's where we're going to get better.

Q. How is Yadier Molina?

MIKE MATHENY: Everything we're hearing is strong. I'm hearing the word from doctors that he's right on track, and everything should be good for a normal, healthy Spring Training.

Q. Understanding your primary focus is always internal, what is your perspective on what the Cubs are doing?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, same thing we are, trying to get better. Made some big moves. There's a few teams who have made some strong moves, and that doesn't surprise us at all.

No question, it's typically something we talk about in these kind of settings is the National League Central, and it's not going anywhere.

I imagine Milwaukee is going to be a better club, so is Cincinnati. And the other two teams we know well aren't going in the wrong direction. So they're going to continue to try to push forward just like we are.

Then it all comes down to you can do whatever you want this time of year. It all comes down to competing, and we look forward to the fact that you're going to have to earn it. If you're going to win the division in the Central, you're going to have some scars and some bruises. You're going to know you're in a fight. I anticipate that's the way it's going to be, and I would hope that's how they view us as well.

Q. Mike, you guys might add some pieces to the starting rotation. I know you're very comfortable with the guys that are coming back, but how much comfort do you take in the fact you'll have Wainwright for a full season?

MIKE MATHENY: That keeps getting overlooked. It's easy to start picking apart we lose two pieces with Lance being out for the year and with Jon going to Chicago, but having Adam back as the ace and healthy and strong is a huge asset for our club.

Again, we'll continue to look and see how we can get better, but I do have faith in some of our internal options. I think there's some guys who improved dramatically and really made a statement last year that they can come in here and compete for us. We'll wait and see how it all plays out.

Q. You've got Pena as a backup catcher now. Can you just describe going into the season your mindset on you play Yadier -- last year he was on pace to get his most innings played. How do you approach that with Yadier and Pena, who's a pretty good ballplayer?

MIKE MATHENY: We bring Brayan in and understand what he brings to the table. He's done a nice job offensively. Always been known as a real good teammate, controls the game well, and he's an asset for us. We're going to have to continue without drawing it up right now and saying this is the playing time for any particular player on our team, just wait and see.

It's a slippery slope when you start trying to stockpile too much for a guy who's doing well, and knowing that there's an injury potential that could go. We talked about this in the past. But I also don't want to turn a blind eye to some of the information we're getting, maybe some ways we can improve just by some scheduled days. And that's a topic that I've already been in discussion with with some of our front office personnel, analytics people, and trying to put a game plan together so we can talk it through with these guys and figure out what's going to be best for them individually and for us collectively.

Q. How hard of a sell do you expect it to be with Yadier?

MIKE MATHENY: It's going to be a hard sell with all of our players because it's an inherent reward. Really kind of it's more of something on a personal level for each guy that has figured out how to grind, how to grind through a season, and the self-satisfaction of knowing that you've pushed through some things that most people typically wouldn't. That's always been a great challenge of playing 162 games, and that's so unique to our sport. And the guys who have been rewarded for a long period of time in this game are the guys that get in there and just keep going.

So you're trying to almost rewire something that's been programmed into these players that's something I hold very dear, as well, is the ability to go out there because there's days -- and we would be the first in this group. We'd be the first to kind of look down our nose at a guy who pulled himself out, right? There's a sense of just going. So we're balancing that with what do we think's best for the long term for our club and for these guys no matter where they are?

So it's a tough sell, but I think, as we talk about getting better, we can't close our eyes to information that may help us get better.

Q. It's kind of a cool problem to have, though, knowing that we're planning, if I may, for October. You've got this extra month on the calendar. That's the mindset.

MIKE MATHENY: I think also just for a good strong finish, and for whatever one of our players you want to pick out that that is beginning to get to an age that there's some data that helps support. This is a time that's very critical for us to make sure we're taking care of their bodies. Not that the younger ages aren't, but they're a little more resilient.

I think it's just, once again, taking the information and trying to put a plan together, and those plans can fluctuate. They're going to be able to change. We do give our guys, I want to hear -- I want to hear their thoughts. This isn't a dictatorship when it comes to how we go about our business in the clubhouse, but it's also something we're very serious about is trying to make sure we're making right decisions even if it doesn't seem like the right decision for the club.

Q. Mike, when you were talking about challenging guys to kind of improve on things, whether to get more lift or a better eye, did you challenge anybody to develop to be the lead-off hitter? Because in the past we've talked about how you need somebody to take that role before you reconsider it. Did you challenge anybody to say, hey, look, that role is there if you want to try to be the guy who can be an on base monster for us?

MIKE MATHENY: We don't force that on anybody. A lot of times we do a lot more listening. Tell us the kind of player that you think you should be, and then they usually will throw the question right back at us. What kind of player do you think I should be? If we get that opportunity, which we have with just about all of them, it's an opportunity to say, this is an area I think you can improve on, whether it's getting on base a little bit more, and then use your ability, once you get on base, to cause havoc. Or you're a guy with, listen, the way the ball comes off your bat, it might make sense for a little different swing path here, to where we can loft the ball a little bit more. Let's try to maximize some of the strengths that you have. But if they don't have buy-in, we're wasting our time.

So it's something that really needs to go hand in hand with how they see themselves and then what we see for them. A lot of times you will get some guys like I don't really know the kind of hitter I am, and that's kind of the issue because I think I can be a little bit of everything, and it kind of goes, well, here's something I see. Here's something our club could really use, and we think this is probably maximizing your potential. Those conversations happen pretty often.

The time to work on those isn't necessarily October or September. Those happen right now. So John Mabry does a great job. He and Bill Miller as a tag team group have done a great job with ongoing conversations with these guys about the kind of hitter they can be and what can help take them to the next level.

Q. Do I characterize that right, that it's got to take somebody proving that they can be the lead-off hitter for you to kind of reexamine that?

MIKE MATHENY: It's an important spot in the lineup, like they all are. There has to be a certain skill set to be able to take advantage of that spot. We haven't had a whole lot of guys that just jumped off the page to fit that.

Q. Earlier, you brought up Gyorko's name. How do you envision him working into things, and what do you think the acquisition means?

MIKE MATHENY: I think it really goes to the question we were talking about earlier with rest and having a very viable option to give Kolten a day maybe against a tough lefty. Or the same thing for Carp. A guy that can play shortstop if you need him to and even give Jhonny a little rest. We've even seen him play some first base. I think it's a very well rounded player who is a potent bat.

I'd say on top of that too, we bring a guy in, and we also just want him to play. We don't want to necessarily say you're designated at this particular role, just come in and do your thing. You never know how this stuff plays out. This could be an injury. There could be someone struggling. We need you to step into a more important role.

Come into Spring Training ready to compete and just compete for a spot. Not necessarily one particular position. He understands the idea, as we brought him in, was kind of the super utility guy, but there's always the opportunity for him to step in and figure out how he can put things together. We see a high up side from him, power with the kind of at bats that he takes, that he could be a great addition to our club.

Q. Tony La Russa has done it all. He's in the Hall of Fame. Should be done. Instead, he's out there making deals with the guys and getting Greinke and getting Shelby and stuff. Can you just put into words what you're seeing out of our old pal and how he's doing as an executive?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, he's made a splash. The Diamondbacks have really been a team everybody's looking at right now, and I know that's exciting for Chip and the whole club. There are people looking at the Diamondbacks as a legitimate contender to go along in the West.

I believe, and they believe that they have improved before they even get to Spring Training, and rightfully so. They brought in some really good players.

Q. Do you think there is any chance the team will get starting pitcher, free agent pitcher?

MIKE MATHENY: We don't rule out anything. I know there's a couple Asian pitchers out there right now that are very good players. I've seen them. I've watched their film, and I'm very aware that they're out there.

Once again, a lot of this is hinging around trying to bring back a player that we've had, and after that, we'll adjust and evaluate.

Q. Have you ever seen Kenta Maeda.

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I've seen his film. Good pitcher, had a great year last year. He was obviously a standout in that league.

Q. How much has your voice grown since your first Winter Meetings? How much louder decibel do you speak at?

MIKE MATHENY: Literal? You know, I enjoy being around every aspect of our business, and I'm very fortunate that Bill has allowed me to be around and to learn. I've loved to kind of learn what goes in -- we had a terrific meeting this winter with all of our analytics and have our guys come in and kind of teach what it is that they do and how we go around putting valuations and how we do predictions. That stuff is so interesting to me.

Then the same thing goes, because it falls right into place when we get here, because we start talking about need and putting valuation on players from across the league or players from overseas, and how do we go about trying to figure out what that would equate to on what we have a need for?

So I do a whole lot more listening than I do talking, and I also know that at one point they're going to come to me and ask, and that's been a great balance. I believe that's grown over time. Mo and I are in constant communication, every single day during the season. That just translates into the off-season, hey, this is what we're thinking. This is where we're going. What are your thoughts? I feel that's a great compliment that they want to hear, not just my thoughts, but for me to be a voice for our staff and try and give them what we see on the baseball side, either as a need or possibly as an evaluation of maybe a player that we're interested in.

Q. Has your view of how a team is built changed then? Both by managing one and knowing the pieces that go into a successful club, but also by understanding the valuations and maybe the trade-offs that have to be made?

MIKE MATHENY: I mean, I would hope I've learned something. I mean, every time you go through a season and you watch how the different pieces come together and you see it missing one particular piece, what does that mean to the overall product, I think you'd have to be wearing blinders not to pick that stuff up.

Then you start putting importance about, wow, I never really knew that that particular spot was such an important part for us, or this is something we really struggled with, if we had that piece. I think that comes maybe more with time. And then listening to guys who have been in this position, guys who have been coaching for a while, and taking what they deem is important and trying to put it into practice, whether it's important for us right now.

I think that question also changes every year, and I think the game changes somewhat with the demands and then the talent, whatever kind of talent is coming through the game at any particular time.

Q. Is the Gyorko addition kind of an example of that lesson, that super utility role? Is that a lesson from last year on team building, do you think?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I think we went in last year with the same kind of goals and ideas of being able to have a lot of depth to where we can go and rest guys at certain times. You get in the middle of a fight, and especially the kind of games we had to play last year. It seemed like every one of them we were just kind of hanging on for our life.

Yeah, having a little more depth is something that was definitely learned. I think that's also, to go to your question, it's kind of an evolution in the game, just like how the bullpen's been used. That's something that's changed over time. You just try and take the information that you're given and try and roll with it, and then try and surround yourself with really smart people that can push the needle on being ahead of that curve too, trying to figure out something on the front side that might be an edge for us.

Q. You were on a club that won 105 games and you managed a club that won 100 games. What's the common denominator? Do you see it? Beyond obviously the talent.

MIKE MATHENY: No, that's where I was going. Really good players. The 2014 was just a perfect storm. I thought ownership did a great job of bringing in some guys at the right time and health. But that was just an incredibly talented team. We out-talented people most of the time in 2004.

I would say this past season, I think we have talent. Don't get me wrong. We had a lot of games won by heart, and that's something you can't teach. That's one of the reasons why last season was so special for me is I watched a group of guys -- yes, there was adversity. That was the visible stuff with how many injuries we've had. But below the surface, there was a lot more going on.

Also, the type of games that we had to go compete with and compete in every day was a great challenge to our guys that they didn't back down from. So it was pretty special. I would say almost two very different teams between the '04 team and last year's team.

Q. Mo yesterday talked about Brandon Moss, described him as bullish on what Moss could be next year. As you look back at Brandon's two months with you, do you sense him maybe trying to do too much?

MIKE MATHENY: Yes, and I think that's very natural. It's very human to show up into a new environment and try and really shine. He came in as excited as any player I've ever seen and then wanted so badly to do a fraction of what he just was doing where he was.

Things could have just gone so radically different had a couple of those balls early carried for him a little bit more, had he been in maybe another city at a particular time. But he then began to press, which once again, completely normal, completely natural. But this is a guy that brings a very interesting skill set. And Mo's bullish because there's only so many guys that hit 20-plus home runs and has that kind of potential for power on the back side of an injury, and the versatility of being able to play a good first baseman and the flexibility to be in the outfield.

So it's exciting to think about. I know he's still very happy to be a St. Louis Cardinal right now, and it will be a great opportunity for him next year to show what he can do.

Q. How do you view first base? Do you need outfield resolution before you can kind of think about first base?

MIKE MATHENY: I think, once it does come back to where we are in this free agent situation with Jason. Right now I see it as Matt Adams is there. We know that Brandon Moss will be there as well, even though two left-handed bats.

I thought Steven Piscotty did a nice job of improving over there. So we've got a few different options.

Q. Did you learn anything about yourself as a manager in regards to managing Yadier Molina, knowing -- back to one of my stupid questions from earlier. Did you learn anything about -- do you feel like maybe you played him too much or not enough or how would you look back at how you've handled Yadi?

MIKE MATHENY: I thought Yadi had a terrific season. Once again, took home some hardware this winter. We win a lot of games because Yadi is behind the plate. There are days where maybe it might not look like it's the right thing to do for him physically, but what he's able to do behind the plate, even though physically it might not look right, very hard to put a value to.

So with that being said, very proud of how Yadi fought through this past season, at times not feeling as strong as he wanted to, but still a huge impact for our club.

To answer your question, you look at how our season played out and what he was able to do, I'd say it was a successful season. Yadi played a big part in that. Now, is there a way for us to help him maybe improve, those are the things that we're trying to get our hands on. How do you replace him?

You do hope that Brayan Pena can come in. Tony Cruz did a terrific job. We're going to mitt him. And we haven't talked about Jon Jay. We're going to miss him, and we wish the two of them the very best.

But we try to bring people in that can help jump in and help us as a club. Sometimes it might mean more rest. I'm not telling you -- maybe it doesn't. Once again, Yadi got hurt last year, not from overuse. He got hurt from one particular play, just like the year before. So you go into the season trying to stockpile just so you don't play him very much for two months and he does play and gets hurt, those are times when you could have used him. It's a tough balance, but we're just trying to do what's right for our players and for our club.

Q. Can I ask a summary question then on the lineup here, just real quick? Just a theory question. When you look back, how curious is it that you ended the year with your home run leader and RBI leader being your leadoff guy and I think a guy who hit 13 home runs and 60 RBIs as your cleanup guy? I understand the situation that brought you to that point, but it does seem kind of like counterintuitive?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah. I think, as you make your mind up, you need to be observant in how pieces come together. I don't think there are many people that watched our club that didn't see a dramatic difference in how Matt Carpenter went about his at bats in the leadoff spot than when he was somewhere else.

So you can take all the stats that you want, if it doesn't look right, you're not doing yourself any favors to try and keep forcing a square peg into a round hole. So we're going to continue to try to challenge our guys and hope that it makes -- it becomes real obvious where everybody should fit.

But certain guys look real good in certain spots. You don't mess with them. You just hope that the other guys can plug in and do their part.

Q. When you talk about changing the offense from one year to the next, how much of it is just really a conversation of having Holliday there and having Holliday be Holliday?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, he's a great run producer, great run producer. We know he's a guy that can come in in big situations and he can carry us for a while too. I think every one of our guys has that capability. Not having him for a portion of the season certainly hurt.

You're still watching things like how the ball comes off his bat at a rare level that very few people in the league can do. It shows you that it's just a matter of getting into a good groove and staying healthy.

Q. Do you have a chance to talk with him much?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I do.

Q. Pretty even keel guy most of the time. Do you get any sense that he's pretty eager to -- I'm going to use the wrong word, but kind of reclaim, prove he's the same hitter that he has been?

MIKE MATHENY: I think he holds himself to high expectations, extremely high, higher than anybody else could every single season. So he's just as motivated to me, when I talk to him, as he's ever been. I know he's up for trying to figure out how to have a healthy season and kind of put up the kind of numbers that he knows Matt Holliday can put up.

Q. Are you hearing positive things from Carlos about his shoulder? Martinez.

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, a lot of it's rest.

Q. Do you have any thoughts on what they should do at second base and what may be ahead as far as the collision rules there?

MIKE MATHENY: I have my thoughts. We were given very clear directives that all that stuff's kind of being discussed and to not take a strong stance one place or the other. So I'll follow those.

Q. So I'll check back with you.

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, after they make the rule, whatever rule that is.

Q. Then you'll say you agree with the rule?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, it's brilliant.

Q. So we can cut to the chase and say Matheny will eventually agree to the rule?

MIKE MATHENY: No, you guys, while they're in the middle of trying to fine tune some stuff, we're right now at the crux of a couple different issues that they're trying to tackle. I think any of us as managers making a strong statement maybe one way or the other probably isn't going to help things. Just let them run the course, and then we're free to have our opinions, and I'll share those with you. But not right now.

There's some great minds trying to figure out what's best for the game of baseball right now. Let them do their thing.

Q. In general terms, you have to be pleased where this conversation has gone from where it started, just, I mean, what? What are we talking about, two years ago, when -- yeah, Orlando. Can you describe just the leap it's taken from that time where you walked out uncertain there was going to be a change to the plate until now, when it is part of the constant conversation?

MIKE MATHENY: I'm pleased with how baseball is just being proactive instead of reactive in general, especially when it came to something that was so near to me, which was, obviously, head injury. I think they've done a great job, and I think they've reaped the benefits of it too with the number of injuries that have been able to be prevented. It just made sense.

So I think every year they're trying to, once again, listen to the fan base, one, listen to the people inside of the game also. And what's going on that would be the best for the game and to kind of think outside the box and maybe make some changes or be aware or open to some changes that may just sound completely against all baseball history. I think they're doing a nice job of just trying to do what's right.