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Winter Meetings interview with Mike Matheny

MLB.com

Q. Mike, kind of reflecting back on where your team was coming into this off-season, how necessary did you see it to add an impact bat to your offense?

MIKE MATHENY: It's been a conversation, obviously, all the way through the season. We had some guys step in and do some pretty impressive things in the middle of our order. When you look at the ask of a young Paul DeJong to step into that role, but also realizing we've been very fortunate in this organization.

For a while where you have a Mark McGwire kind of fill that spot in the order, then you have a Pujols followed by a Matt Holiday, who was that presence. As you watch teams that have sustained success, there's typically a presence in the middle of that lineup. So that has been a focus of this club, still believing that we can develop those style players, and we have some guys that are developing into those kinds of players.

But right now, to put a couple players or a player in that spot is a priority.

Q. Do you think it could end up being a couple players?

Q. Mike, kind of reflecting back on where your team was coming into this off-season, how necessary did you see it to add an impact bat to your offense?

MIKE MATHENY: It's been a conversation, obviously, all the way through the season. We had some guys step in and do some pretty impressive things in the middle of our order. When you look at the ask of a young Paul DeJong to step into that role, but also realizing we've been very fortunate in this organization.

For a while where you have a Mark McGwire kind of fill that spot in the order, then you have a Pujols followed by a Matt Holiday, who was that presence. As you watch teams that have sustained success, there's typically a presence in the middle of that lineup. So that has been a focus of this club, still believing that we can develop those style players, and we have some guys that are developing into those kinds of players.

But right now, to put a couple players or a player in that spot is a priority.

Q. Do you think it could end up being a couple players?

MIKE MATHENY: I think always open. I think you walk before you run, so try to get any kind of piece that fits at this time would be a huge step in the right direction and never closing the door to the potential of even adding to that.

Q. Mike, you can't probably say anything until it's official, but obviously Ozuna's name has come up.

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I've heard.

Q. Any general thoughts on him that you could share even though he's not officially a Cardinal?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, good player. I think our organization did a great job of being very aggressive, even kind of maybe outside our norm, with the talks that happened with Stanton. Those are not a secret. Trying to show our fan base the commitment that we have to try and make our team better.

As you have those conversations, you do start opening up doors, and what else could that look like if it does not come through, which it didn't.

Ozuna is one of those names that you have to have great respect, especially as much we see him, not just through the season, but in Spring Training we've see him quite a bit.

Yelich is another player that's been thrown out there. There's a number of players throughout the league that you have great appreciation for. You watch the way they go about their business and try to position it as if that would be a good fit in your own club.

Once again, we're at that point where, yeah, there's a lot of talks going on. We're at that necessary point of talking through health always, no matter what the player is. It's not just a formality. Always trying to figure out does this player fit with our club? Can you make something work? And also you're always talking about whether there's any health issues that the medical team needs to look at.

So a lot going on, a lot of moving pieces to make any kind of move work.

Q. How do you see your outfield lineup shaking up? You have players that can play different positions out there?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, depending on the pieces we have. I think Tommy Pham did a great job showing his ability to play centerfield. I think it's no secret that Dex can play there. Something to be very aware of and something we're appreciative of is the humility of our players to maybe go to a spot where they haven't been before, or as some of them are recruited to be here to play a certain position, but to understand kind of how our team unfolds and what our need is and try to put the needs of the team above their own. That's hard for any of us to do, but we've had guys that have done that on a consistent basis, guys bouncing from position to position, guys bouncing from different spots in the lineup.

You go in with your ideals of what you would like to see, and you're going to have to be flexible, and I thought our guys have done a great job of that in the past. Some of our better players kind of leading the way with that, which then makes it an easier sell to the younger guys.

But every year, as you bring in new pieces, I think we're all going to have to be very fluid with how it comes together, and it does take special people to handle that and do it in a way that doesn't create issues inside the clubhouse.

Q. Have you personally had that conversation with Dexter?

MIKE MATHENY: We've been in somewhat contact. Once again, you don't necessarily go there too far until you know what all plays out. I think that's a conversation that -- yeah, we've had personally that conversation, even throughout last season, just talking about -- just being real. Talking about where every player goes as just their career progresses and what that could potentially look like. And then you bring in new pieces that you didn't necessarily see coming.

Who would have ever thought we'd bring up a player from A ball last year who's predominantly a centerfielder, and how would that potentially play? And that was something we expected, so there's no reason to have the conversation ahead of time. The same thing goes right now. We just wait and see what happens, what pieces we have, and then have those conversations on the back end.

Q. Mike, bigger picture, every manager will sort of talk up the division they're in. I'm curious it being -- there's no sort of rebuilding team at the bottom in your division, starting over. It's a pretty competitive division. Do you sort of view it that way? Usually there's a team or two trying to start up, but you have five teams that are all right there.

MIKE MATHENY: Strong division, no question about it. Every team we're seeing is making progressive moves to get better and not just be relevant, but to win this division. That's the way we go into it too. We've been fortunate because there are teams, obviously, as you go through different phases, but I don't see any team in our division being in that particular spot. You look at whatever team you want in every one of them. Matching the lineups and whatever arms they have through their staff. Very talented.

Not too many years ago, just a couple years ago, you're looking at multiple teams fighting for those spots in the wild card. It's going to be a strong division for a while.

Q. Mike, when you looked at your lineup last year and considered the changes that could be made for this coming year, what did you think would be the most transformative as changing the look of the club or even the success of the club?

MIKE MATHENY: I think it goes back to that impact bat, whatever we could do to have that presence in the middle of the order that you see in so many of these teams. There's so many, even as you watch teams through the playoffs, almost all the way through, you have a solid lineup, and there's always that group in the middle, the established bat that you kind of supplement and add the other pieces to. So I think that was the one that stood out more than anything else.

Q. Could you see adding two and really changing things?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I don't think that's off the table. I think Mo and Gersh and Bill have been very forward with the fact we'll do what we need to do. There's obviously going to be some lemons to what any organization can do, but the St. Louis Cardinals have been committed this off-season to make the moves possible to help our club take it to another level. Once again, not to compete, not to be relevant, but winning. Winning. That's what most of the teams are here talking about.

What are the pieces that are keeping us from being where we feel we should be? A presence in the middle, whether it's one bat or more, is something that we feel is very important.

Q. What do you think is driving that? Do you think it's the opportunity, the trademark it presents? Do you think it's the financial opportunity that you guys have with the payroll you have? Or do you think it's two years of finishing out of the playoffs?

MIKE MATHENY: I'd say it's the last more than anything else. We've been very accustomed to being a part of October, and that's a -- I don't want to ever lose that. I don't want our guys to ever feel that that's being spoiled. We work very hard to be a team with sustained success here long before I got here and to keep that torch going. What are we doing that's not allowing us to be there, or what can we do to get us back? I think those are great questions to ask.

First and foremost, we always go back to controlling the controllables, which we're going to talk a lot about culture, we're going to talk a lot about the way that we work and the way we improve. We feel those are things we can control.

From a staff, we take the best players we can get, but we also have to be honest evaluators of where we think we can improve, talking about the presence in the lineup and also talking about the need in the back end of our bullpen. Those are things we feel are places where we can improve, plus the things that we can do individually to continue to help our players improve and grow.

Q. Mike, if money is the number one thing in free agency, there have always been a couple of organizations that, I'm sure you heard over the years, the players say I'd like to play for that group, the way they go about their business. Is that still in play, do you think, in today's free agency world?

MIKE MATHENY: You know, I'd like to think so, but bottom line, I don't blame players. A lot of times it comes down to what team shows you the most that they want you, and it's going to come down to an offer. Now, it goes in phases during careers too where guys have been part of maybe a team that hasn't won much, and it's something that they desire or they've been there, lost it; and they want to get back to a team that competes. And then they're going to have to take an analysis of whether or not the team that they're talking to has plans to move in that direction.

Once again, I hope that's something that we're always in the conversation about because I believe it's someplace that we should always be. But all in all, that's always been a big selling point for our organization is the fact that it's not necessarily anything that we as a staff bring as much as what our fan base brings.

It's a unique atmosphere. It's a great place to play. It has a different vibe. Even a year, last year that we fought like we had to, we draw 3.4 million people. Even in front of 40,000 people every night that just live and die with how you do your job. That makes it a great atmosphere, and it does make it a great selling point.

Q. We heard Joe Maddon say yesterday with Chicago that he really stays outs of the business side of it. I'm interested in how hands-on or involved are you with Mike and the guys as far as free agency pickups or sealing the deal?

MIKE MATHENY: I'm as involved as they need me to be, one. And I feel very fortunate they keep me in conversations. I like to learn too. So as we're going through different ideas and possibilities, we're here, we're spending time together, and it's a great opportunity for me to sit with our analytics department and pick their brain. As we're comparing a couple different players, and they're flying through their computer so fast you can hardly keep up with them trying to show me some of the data that supports the moves that we're making because we have some brilliant people upstairs. So understand that side of the game.

And then for them to hear some of the things that we see and then try to put value to that also, I believe it needs to be a collaborative effort. We're fortunate in our organization that it has been that way, and they humor me. They'll slow things down a little bit and speak my language a little better and help me understand where it is that they're going, but I think it opens up doors then for application into what I do.

So then I can take -- we build up that rapport and that relationship to the point of them helping me understand some of the analytics of decisions that I make and then helping me grow in some of the things that we're deficient in and areas where we can improve.

I think any team that is having success right now, you're seeing some of that cohesiveness between the information and then the people and trying to figure out how to maximize both departments.

Q. Does your input in that situation maybe increase if it's a player that you guys play against often? Like a player in the league that you have experience watching, managing against?

MIKE MATHENY: Sometimes it's what I see. Other times, it's also networking and touching base with other -- not just teammates, not just other coaches of potential trade players or free agents; it's talking to some of the support cast, whether it be former trainers or clubhouse people -- anybody that can give us a little insight. Tell us about the person. We've got enough data. Tell us about the player. How will this guy particularly fit?

It's a balance of all of the above. But if you value culture, which we do, and we're not just trying to get everybody that's a clone, but we're looking for people that believe in the sum of the parts that really makes up that whole and how much each individual guy, if he can get outside of himself, can make us better. It's something that we feel, as you talk to some of the experiences they've had in other cities, it can be a very valuable tool.

So we take every resource possible, and the organization has been good about including, not just myself, but the rest of the staff.

Q. As far as getting a back end in your bullpen and you've reached an agreement with Frierson, do you feel you need another arm back there, given who you lost to free agency and what you have in the bullpen?

MIKE MATHENY: Pretty incredible transformation a year ago with Seung-Hwan Oh doing a fantastic job for us, one of the better closers. And Trevor Rosenthal sitting right there, you had an eighth inning guy. And you bring in Brett Cecil and think you're covered on the back end.

Next thing you know, we have to go get a Juan Nicasio. I think that shows you can't get enough. We have our eyes open and ears open. We have a few good young arms that we believe could be an option.

The team is backtracking to us talking about winning. You're not seeing winning teams at the end of the season that don't have a legitimate back end of their bullpen, and that's guys who have been there, done that, and have had some prolonged success in that position.

Q. Would you like experience there? If you're looking for a closer, someone who's done it?

MIKE MATHENY: I think that's part of the equation. I don't think it's the entire story, but I think it does have to go into consideration. I think that you can certainly -- we've seen it. Some of the young power arms that are coming up, you can put them in that spot and give them those opportunities and see what they do with it. That's a pretty tough way to start your season. If you have an opportunity to maybe get a couple arms who have pitched in the back end of the game, not necessarily the ninth, but preferably so, guys who have closed out games. It's a different animal.

I understand the numbers that might not support that as well, but from a humanistic side, it's a different animal, and it's good to have some guys who have been there and done it and had success there.

Q. What has your conversation been like with Matt Carpenter about where he might play?

MIKE MATHENY: We're not making any broad statement about what Matt Carpenter needs to do at this point. I stay in touch with Matt. Most of it is just about him being the kind of player he wants to be, which comes back to, no matter where he would be on the field, it's about athleticism. It's about moving. It's about the quick twitch. It's about first step. It's about strength. It's about speed. It's about the inconsistency in his approach, what kind of hitter he wants to be.

I think it's too premature, without knowing the rest of the pieces of our puzzle, to tell Matt what he should do, except just go get better. He's so driven for excellence anyhow, that that's an easy conversation to have.

Going back to the question earlier, the humility that he's shown over the last several years from being an all star at a position to then be willing to go another. I had him midseason last year telling me, if I needed him to go somewhere else, he'd do that too. It's so rare for a high level player to have that kind of mentality, but it also, I believe, sets the tone for the rest of our club.

When the younger players come up, that they understand that for a team to have the kind of success and to maximize the ability they have, sometimes we have to think outside the box and possibly put a player in a different position than what they would typically be.

But as soon as we get that information and we have a good idea, I think it's good for them to know. I think in December it might not be as important as January. January, I'd like for wherever each of our players is going to be, for them to have a good idea what the expectation is for them coming into the spring position specific, and those conversations will continue to happen. But at this point, it's just get ready to improve yourself as an overall baseball player and thank a guy like that for being available to do whatever we need him to do.

Q. Do you think you start Spring Training with a conversation about him and Dex about leadoff and how to kind of approach that No. 1 spot?

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I think as we get closer -- some of those conversations have already happened. Matt, in particular, he gets very offended when we talk about him not being able to hit in a certain spot in the order. It sounds -- and as you said, you would think it really shouldn't work that way, but we can't deny how it played for our club last year and for him in specific.

Once our offense really started hitting its stride, Matt was in the leadoff spot, and that same humility that I talked about with Matt in positions, you can talk about Dex bouncing around in the order. We brought him in here with the idea of being our lead-off hitter, and ended up needing him to hit in a different spot in order for it to be better for the entire club. And I really appreciate how Dex went about that.

I want to hear what they like, what they want too. I think it's crazy not to at least understand what it is that they would like to see, the kind of player that they view themselves as, and then try and move in that direction. But sometimes you have to have those conversations that are just blunt, the fact that this is what our team needs and we need you to fill that spot. These guys have been impressively good about doing whatever the club needs.

Q. Mike, where can we expect to see Ozuna in the lineup?

MIKE MATHENY: Nothing's been done yet. I can't speak on that right now.

Q. Mike, you mentioned the possibility of another bat being on the table. Positionally, is there an easier way for that to work? Obviously, there's a number of third basemen that have been rumored to be available for various teams, things like that.

MIKE MATHENY: I think that any way -- it's amazing conversations that start with other clubs. I enjoy that aspect of these Winter Meetings as well. So much just spitballing is going on. All of a sudden, a name pops up, and someone sends a text in to one of the front office members, and you start thinking how that would apply and what effect it would have. So it's all across the board.

I think the idea is how can we be better, and that's kind of your common statement you're going to hear from every GM, every manager.

I don't think you close the doors. I think you remain very, very open to whatever might happen, whatever might be out there, and then adjust accordingly. I don't think -- I don't think that you'd be doing yourself any favors to close doors at this point and just kind of see what comes across your table.

Q. Do you think philosophically, if you guys did make an acquisition of a big bat via trade, someone who you had control over for a while, would make more sense than a one-year guy?

MIKE MATHENY: I think that's a trend in the game for sure. When you're letting go of cost controlled assets to bring somebody in for a year, you're not seeing -- oftentimes, your team is leaning in that direction when you can go in the other, and I get that. Just trying to understand the economics and the long-term view of not just our organization, but how the rest of the game is seen, how their budgetary restraints and trying to keep control of players as long as they can.

I get that, and I see the value, but every once in a while, I think too you open up that door. Can we bring this guy in? What do we got to do to try to maybe sign him up for a long-term deal? So all those things are always on the table.

Q. What is the value of the meeting you guys had with your staff? Were you guys able to kind of achieve through that or get to know one another? What were some of the kind of conversations you had and things that you guys did?

MIKE MATHENY: Just two full days of meetings kind of, one, getting everybody together. Some introductions needed to be made. Excited about our staff, excited about adding some new pieces, bringing back some older pieces. But just the idea of communication, making sure everybody, first and foremost, understood this is your role. We had guys that I wanted to make sure they all heard.

I've said this about Willie McGee a couple times, that I just can't say enough about. He's going to be serving multiple roles for us in the fact that we'd be crazy not to use him as an assets with John Mabry and Bill Miller on the offensive side. We're going to need him to help out our base runners and base stealers. His priority will be with helping our outfielders. And with the young outfielders we have, I just believe he's going to be a priceless tool to us.

Obviously, getting Jose Oquendo back into the mix, and we all understand the kind of coach he is, the kind of third base coach as well as infield instructor.

Just making sure we understand the on-field, but also what the Spring Training responsibilities are, and also making those contact points with the players. These are your guys. These are things they could probably use maybe a little guidance and direction, whether it's some advice for some of our base stealers. That's a contact for Willie. And just all across the board to make sure that their open lines of communication start this early in the off-season.

Q. Mike, given the amount of information in the game today, do you think the modern day player understands the game any better than players in previous generations?

MIKE MATHENY: I think the modern day player understands the modern day game better. You just have to adjust and adapt. I think our guys are much more in tune with the analytics. They weren't relevant in previous generations. So I think they'd be doing themselves a disservice.

I know our guys are understanding the TrackMan data better. They want that information in, and it's accessible to them. Many of these guys are hitting in facilities that will have hit tracks that's talking to them about their launch angle. The TrackMan data that talks to them about their exit velocity, those sort of things are just commonplace conversations anymore.

We're starting to see that almost as a necessity as we train to make sure we're not just going through repetitions, but we're going through quality repetitions, and making sure that what they are wanting to do, if they're wanting to improve their power, there's probably some metric that's they're going to have to follow to get that better chance of that happening.

So much like front office and clubhouse staff, how that's kind of integrated, I think the players are also understanding the value. So we're making those conversations happen with our front office personnel to where the players see this as a resource, not just to the coaches, but also an open resource to the players.

Q. Are you surprised that Willie was ready to commit to a major coaching job and even Jose coming back? At what point did you kind of learn of their interest?

MIKE MATHENY: I knew things were heading in that direction with Jose, even during the season last year, but Willie was a surprise for me. First and foremost, I applaud our guys, and anybody that could, should be in the game, when they make a choice to be more relevant at home, that's something I deeply respect because I know almost all of them would love to be in uniform, but when they make that sacrifice, especially in those pivotal years in their kids' lives where they prioritize and make that family their focus at that time.

So, yeah, it surprised me that -- I knew where Willie's kids were, and a lot of times, it's just whether or not the family structure sees it as a viable option. So I was extremely happy. I've thrown it at Willie almost every year, and I just kind of anticipate the same answer; and he shocked me when he said that he had already spoken with his family, and they believe it's time. Just have great respect of how that methodical process had developed. We're going to be better for it.

Q. You haven't heard on Mike Maddux yet, but can you describe the conversations you've had with him and how you think he's going to impact your staff?

MIKE MATHENY: A guy that's seen it all, whether it's internally, family-wise or some of the staff. Just look where he just left and the kind of talent he had. He's a guy who's helped develop some Cy Young style pitchers. For us, I think, it's going to be a great voice to some of these young talented players as you look at the development of Carlos Martinez, there's a whole other level there. And the baseball world really hasn't even seen Alex Reyes yet, who we're probably going to have to go a little slow with this year, but he should be a very important piece to what we do to go along with some of the more established.

But you talk about a Luke Weaver and you talk about the development of a Flaherty, and you want that voice to be coupled with the ace style leadership of an Adam Wainwright. When you have a pitching coach and a very successful veteran pitcher that can both be voices to these young players, it's very fertile ground for them to capitalize and maximize the potential that they have to develop.

Q. It wasn't very long ago that lineups were basically the same every day. If I hit fifth, I hit fifth. Today's player, whether it's the analytics and whether it's a matchup thing, certainly a lot of structure has changed over the years. Is there an awareness now that you might not be a 3 hole hitter? You might not be a 5 hole hitter. To win this game tonight, we might be doing more than I would have done a generation or two ago.

MIKE MATHENY: And I get the importance of consistency. I think every manager that has sat up here would like to tell you, I'd love to write eight names in for 150 games, and they'll line up exactly how they should and how you think it should look, and you just let it roll. That would be really nice, but that's not the game that we're in. It's more how the pieces come together. And there should be a couple spots that are pretty solid.

I think it comes back to -- and we've mentioned it a couple times -- it's almost changing the mindset. If we can get outside -- it's hard to do because everything we see externally is telling us it's kind of about us and our numbers. But if we know collectively we're going to have a good chance for success, we have to kind of separate from some of that to the point where what's better for us as a club? If guys cannot take such ownership to necessarily a position or necessarily a position in the order, it's going to help our overall chance of success, which, to me, when you buy into that, a natural byproduct is going to be that individual success, but you're going to be part of a winning club. You're going to be part of a winning experience that, once you go through that, you'll never want to go back to anything different.

So I think it's kind of rewiring, and we try and do that through conversations like this and through conversations that we'll have throughout Spring Training to try and help guys see what we believe it looks like to be part of a winning culture, and part of that is not taking such ownership to things that pertain only to you.

Q. Mike, how about your initial reaction to Stanton?

MIKE MATHENY: First of all, as I said earlier, I was just very impressed the fact that we were involved in those conversations. That's a big step for our organization when you start talking about that kind of commitment. So I was excited to think about, which I think it was just that step forward that our ownership was making to say, listen, St. Louis Cardinal fan base, we're going to be relevant this winter, and this is going to be something that we're taking very seriously. We know that we can get better. We're willing to step up and make our best step forward.

Unfortunately, that didn't work, but I think that just kind of parlayed into, okay, now what are we going to do? We're excited about how that will look as we get closer to Spring Training.

Q. Could you talk about the usage of Miles Mikolas, and if you have a chance to meet him today.

MIKE MATHENY: Yeah, I met Miles briefly. He was coming up to do his official meet with the front office while I was heading to another meeting. I've been in contact with him, just to explain to him how we view his potential role. We look at him as a starter. Been very excited of what we've seen in him in Japan and how great of a job he's done there. Lines up really well with what we see as a potential starter for our club.

So for him to prepare to come in and compete for that spot and realize there's some great opportunity there. One of those guys that it's a great story of what he was able to do with his career by going over to Japan and pitching the way that he has. Hopefully, that translates into success over here for a long time.

St. Louis Cardinals