TACOMA, WA. — The St. Louis Cardinals are enjoying a renaissance under manager Mike Shildt, and they rewarded him the other day by removing his interim status and signing him to a new deal that runs through 2020.
(Hang with me. This has a Mariners’ connection.)
First of all, good for Shildt, who has paid plenty of dues in working his way up through the Cardinals’ organization as a scout, minor-league manager and big-league coach before replacing Mike Matheny on July 14.
The Cardinals responded to the managerial change by playing their way back into postseason contention, going 26-12 before Shildt got the job on a full-time basis. That’s no small thing in St. Louis, where the Cardinals are a secular religion.
I don’t know Shildt personally, but I’m told by people whose judgment I value that he’s a guy who is easy to root for. So, again, good for him.
I say all that as a preface to saying this: I see no rational reason why the Cardinals would make such a move at this time. (The same holds true in Houston, which appears poised to extend manager A.J. Hinch.)
John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, sought to address the club’s timing in extending Shildt: “Why now? We could have waited, but we feel like the time is right…
“It made sense to do it now. Everything is going well, and more importantly momentum is building behind our players. Having Mike Shildt as manager is a tremendous story. I hope the next chapter is even better.”
True, things are going well, which is a great argument for leaving things alone. Want to offer a show of support? Remove the interim label, which is nothing more than semantics anyway. (Every manager is an interim manager.)
Just leave the serious contract talks until the season ends.
This is not a narrow-focused blast at Shildt or the Cardinals, either. Heck, Shildt might turn out to be the game’s next great manager. Keeping him around seems like a good idea.
But this isn’t college football or college basketball, where successful recruiting often hinges on whether a coach is tethered to a school for multiple years. Let it play out.
There is no downside, with the rarest of exceptions, for a club to wait until the season ends before addressing contract issues with anyone other than a key player.
You want to hold onto a pending free agent? Fine. Get the jump on other clubs by negotiating now. You believe it’s an acceptable risk to buy out the salary-arbitration years for a young star? See if you can get it done.
But why extend a manager or a general manager or anyone else in the middle of a season? How does that benefit the ballclub? Yet it happens all of the time — usually, it seems, because ownership gets caught up in short-term success.
It amounts to an impulse buy which, at best, is unnecessary.
That, finally, brings us to the Mariners, who extended general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais in July. The club’s timing made no sense to me at the time — and I think both have done a fine job and deserve to be retained.
Further, I’m not faulting their part in the process. This is on Mariners chairman John Stanton and club president Kevin Mather.
Why shouldn’t Dipoto or Servais (or Shildt or Hinch), assuming they like the terms, agree to an in-season offer? But were any of those guys going to quit if talks didn’t get serious until after the season?
Yes, I know Dipoto quit as the Angels’ general manager during the 2015 season, but that stemmed from a sense of losing ownership support in what amounted to a showdown with manager Mike Scioscia.
The Mariners were 57-34 with a 6 1/2-game lead in the American League wild-card race on July 6 when they announced Dipoto’s multi-year extension. They were still 58-39 with a three-game lead when Servais got his multi-year extension.
Look at things now.
It’s worth remembering, too, the Mariners made a similar impulse buy in late August 2014 by agreeing to a multi-year contract extension with then-general manager Jack Zduriencik.
That impulse buy quickly turned into buyer’s remorse and, barely one year later, Zduriencik was fired.
That’s not to say that will happen with Dipoto and/or Servais. Let me reiterate: I think they deserve extensions once the season ends.
The Mariners are better (and younger) now than three years ago. Dipoto gets credit for that. This club, even with its recent slide, is still outperforming its consensus expectations. Credit Servais.
But unless there’s some hidden factor that hasn’t surfaced, the Mariners had no good reason to extend Dipoto or Servais in July. Just like the Cardinals had no good reason, earlier this week, to alter Shildt’s status.
It is a guiding principle in baseball — I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this over the years from general managers and managers! — that you don’t make any personnel decision until you need to make that personnel decision.
In other words, let it play out, and then decide.
Why clubs don't apply that same approach to managers and general managers is baffling.