St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold tweeted last that St. Louis outfielder Peter Bourjos was taking paternity leave and that the Cardinals would replace him on the active roster with righthanded reliever Mitch Harris. The move is an interesting one, if short-lived. Let’s take a look at the considerations.
The Cardinals drafted Harris in 13th round of the 2008 MLB amateur draft. By now you've likely become aware that Harris was enrolled at the United States Naval Academy. His service kept him from making his professional debut until 2013. Since then Harris has thrown just 99 innings in the minors, all of which in relief. He has posted a minor-league K/9 of 7.30 and BB/9 of 3.4. The righty owns a cumulative 2.78 ERA. Harris started the season with Memphis and has 4 2/3 Triple-A innings under his belt.
Harris was a non-roster invitee to major-league camp this spring because he was not on the St. Louis 40-man roster. In order for a player to be on a major-league club’s 25-man active roster, he must be on the 40-man. At the time of Goold’s tweet last night, the Cardinals had a full 40-man roster. Consequently, the Cards needed to make a corresponding roster move to open up a spot for the reliever.
The Cardinals faced two options: designate a healthy minor-leaguer for assignment or place a player on the 60-day DL. Players on the 15-day DL take up a 40-man roster spot; however, those on the 60-day DL do not. With Jaime Garcia and Tommy Pham each on the DL since March 27 and not much reason to believe either might enjoy an imminent return to game action, placing one of them on the 60-day DL seemed like the Cards' path of least resistance. However, the Cardinals opted to designate outfielder Gary Brown, who they acquired off waivers from the San Francisco Giants on April 3, for assignment.
At the time the Cardinals acquired the former first-round pick, I wrote that adding Brown to the organization was a move more about the immediate need for outfielders in the high minors than any potential future need in St. Louis. Brown was organizational filler, not a prospect. The Cardinals’ move today makes that assessment ring all the more true. After 18 days of having Brown in the organization the Cardinals decided a sixth righthander in the bullpen was more useful than Brown as a fourth full-time outfielder on the bench. The organization feels better having Harris in the pen and Mark Reynolds, Pete Kozma, or Dean Anna potentially logging some outfield innings in a pinch than having Brown fill Bourjos’s backup role on the bench. Over a few days at the start of a nearly three-week stretch of daily play the club’s calculation is understandable. Better to potentially cut down on the relievers' workload than have a player on the bench who probably won’t see game action.
The ripple effect in the minors is worth pondering as well. What does the move say about Pham’s health? Might Charlie Tilson, who is hitting .333/.366/.462, .367 wOBA a mere 41 PAs into his second tour with Springfield, move up to the Triple-A rung of the organizational ladder in the near future? When Randal Grichuk is ready for game action, will the Cardinals relegate him to playing every day in Memphis as opposed to once a week (plus pinch-hitting appearances) in St. Louis? Time will tell.
I’ve updated St. Louis 40-man roster matrix to account for Tuesday’s machinations:
Correction: The original version of the roster matrix did not have Anna in red to indicate he is presently on the active 25-man St. Louis roster. It has been corrected.