General manager John Mozeliak's offseason plan came together on Monday.
In November, Mozeliak refused the Braves' ask for Carlos Martinez as part of a trade for Jason Heyward. Instead, the Cardinals sent two-year incumbent starter Shelby Miller to Atlanta and kept Martinez. Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny had earmarked Martinez for the eighth-inning righty setup role in the immediate aftermath of the club's 4-1 NLCS loss to the Giants. With an opening in the rotation, Mozeliak got the Braves to include righthanded flamethrower and one-time closer Jordan Walden in the Heyward deal, which allowed the Cards to call an audible on their plan for Martinez. He was no longer an integral part of the bullpen blueprint; now he would compete for a rotation spot.
This gambit was not at all surprising given the front office's reported interest in having Martinez break camp as a member of the starting rotation a year ago.
As the Hot Stove burned, Mozeliak added Martinez (and Wainwright and Wacha and Lackey) insurance in the form of righthanded swingman Carlos Villanueva. The Cards inked Villanueva to a minor-league contract with a non-roster invitation to major-league camp in Jupiter. The deal included an opt-out clause that Villanueva could exercise on March 29 if he was unlikely to earn a spot in the St. Louis relief corps. On Monday, the Cardinals met with Villanueva and informed him that he had made their bullpen.
The move also gave a strong indication as to the Cardinals' decision regarding the fifth starter spot. St. Louis chose the pitcher who had a leg up in the fifth-starter derby since November: Martinez. The Villanueva and Martinez announcements mean that Marco Gonzales, the other ostensible candidate will start the season in Triple-A Memphis. A member of the club's 40-man roster, the lefty will likely be the Cards' No. 6 starter on the depth chart.
The moves are not particularly surprising. Last year, the Cardinals put Martinez in the early-season bullpen but then refused to shift him to the rotation when Joe Kelly injured his hamstring because they didn't want to move him back and forth between roles. Villanueva, however, has made a living moving back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, so he is a nice complement to a rotation with injury and workload questions. Further, the club won't be concerned about shifting Gonzales back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation (like they were last year with Martinez) because he'll be on a starter's schedule in Memphis, ready to step in if need be. Villanueva gives the club pitching depth and versatility while Gonzales gives them an excellent sixth option—just as Mozeliak planned it.
Just like that, the opening-day St. Louis pitching staff came into focus. This means that it's time to update the spring training roster matrix. Here's how the color-coding works:
- Name in white font: Righty.
- Name in yellow font: Lefty.
- Name in orange font: Switch-hitter.
- Red: Player likely to make the 25-man roster at that position.
- Navy: Player involved in a spring-training competition of some sort. We have one (or maybe two?) remaining. Who will make up the St. Louis bench? Fox Sports Midwest indicated in a tweet yesterday that the final spot would go to either Friend of the VEB Podcast Ty Kelly or Peter Bourjos. If true, Randal Grichuk and Pete Kozma have each cemented a spot on the pine pony. I'm hedging my bets with this incarnation of the roster matrix: I put Bourjos, Grichuk, Kozma, and Kelly in navy.
- Royal Blue: Member of the 40-man roster unlikely to make the opening-day MLB 25-man roster.
- Light Blue: Non-roster invitee (NRI).
- Light Gray: Member of the 40-man roster who has been optioned to Triple-A already this spring.
- Dark Gray: NRI who has been reassigned to minor-league camp already this spring.
- Green: Injured.