Mike Matheny admits that players’ contracts matter when it comes to assigning bullpen roles

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We’ve talked a lot in the past about how the save is one of the only if not the only statistic which dictates how the game is played instead of the other way around. Closers get saves, saves are considered valuable, so you make sure your closer gets his saves, regardless of whether or not that pitcher may be better-used in a non-save situation.

Everyone knows how this works, but rarely do you hear a manager actually come out and admit that saves — and the nice fat closer contracts for which they form the basis — come into play when it comes time to decide how to use a reliever.

Mike Matheny of the Cardinals said it, however, when talking about internal discussions the Cards have had regarding maybe using the closer in non-save situation. From Derrick Goold’s column at the Post-Dispatch:

Matheny said Sunday it’s appealing, but the save stat cannot be ignored.

“You want to be respectful, too, to what these guys are trying to do individually,” Matheny said. “For us as a team to move forward certain things need to happen and a lot of times it’s trying to create an atmosphere where each of these guys are able to achieve everything, and there are contracts involved. There are personal statistics that help drive personal achievement as far as salaries go. For us to be completely oblivious to that, I think is a mistake as well.

“Then you start having some friction,” Matheny continued. “There are outside influences that are constantly pushing these guys toward the statistics that are going to get them paid someday, right?”

Matheny admits, however, that the save is, in fact, an arbitrary stat and that maybe it’d be better if salaries aren’t based on it so much.

For what it’s worth, we’ve seen several relief pitchers get big deals because they have great stuff, not just great save stats in recent years. Our Drew Silva notes on Twitter that Andrew Miller had one career save entering free agency last winter and still got a four-year, $36 million contract. Likewise, Ned Yost chose a few non-closers for the AL All-Star team this year. Managers and front offices are smart enough to know where real value is in a relief pitcher. That said, arbitration panels may not be, and then there’s the whole idea of ego and “role” that Matheny alludes to complicating it.

Still, some pretty notable candor from Matheny here. Thoughts on this, Huston Street?

Royals fire manager Mike Matheny after 65-97 end to season

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians.

The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, when the club hoped it was turning the corner from also-ran to contender again. But plagued by poor pitching, struggles from young position players and failed experiments with veterans, the Royals were largely out of playoff contention by the middle of summer.

The disappointing product led owner John Sherman last month to fire longtime front office executive Dayton Moore, the architect of back-to-back American League champions and the 2015 World Series title team. Moore was replaced by one of his longtime understudies, J.J. Picollo, who made the decision to fire Matheny hours after the season ended.

Matheny became the fifth big league manager to be fired this year.

Philadelphia’s Joe Girardi was replaced on June 3 by Rob Thomson, who engineered a miraculous turnaround to get the Phillies into the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Angels replaced Joe Maddon with Phil Nevin four days later, Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo was succeeded by John Schneider on July 13 and the Rangers’ Chris Woodward by Tony Beasley on Aug. 15.

In addition, Miami’s Don Mattingly said late last month that he will not return next season.