The Winter Meetings traditionally end with the Rule 5 Draft, where teams can take players from other organizations who have been with the team for a while, but haven’t yet cracked the 40-man roster. The teams selecting a player get to keep that player if they keep him on the active 25-man roster all season, with only limited disabled list time allowed. In the major league portion of the draft, the Cardinals lost shortstop Allen Cordoba to the San Diego Padres.
Cordoba was one of those mentioned by Derrick Goold that the Cardinals were at risk of losing. Cordoba does not meet your typical profile for a player close to the majors as Cordoba has never played full season baseball. In his preview at FanGraphs using his KATOH method for evaluating prospects, Chris Mitchell rated Cordoba highly:
Allen Cordoba is just 20 years old, and is coming off of a .362/.427/.495 season with 22 steals in Rookie ball. It’s probably safe to conclude that Córdoba is not ready for the show, but he’s clearly quite talented for his age. Perhaps some team will roll the dice, hoping his speed, defense and contact-oriented approach would make him a passable, utility infielder in 2017.
This is what John Sickels had to say about the Padres’ selection:
Cordoba is from Panama and was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. Both his 2015 (.342/.401/.421) and 2016 (.362/.427/.495) seasons were highly successful, although he has yet to play at any level higher than the Appalachian League. Cordoba features impressive tools including a strong throwing arm, shortstop-quality range, and better-than-average speed. He uses that speed very well, swiping 33 bases in 40 attempts over the last two years, and also does a good job making contact and controlling the strike zone. The main concerns here are lack of power and his birthday: he’s already 21 and the Cardinals promoted him quite slowly despite his strong performance. Like Torrens, he needs to play and it remains to be seen if the Padres can keep him on the roster without harming his career.
The Cardinals currently have 39 players on their 40-man roster, as the team non-tendered Seth Maness after the deadline for protecting players for the Rule 5 Draft. If Seth Maness had been given his release earlier, Cordoba could have been protected. Based on statements by John Mozeliak, it appears Maness was kept on until the Jaime Garcia trade, but after the acquisition of John Gant, Maness became expendable.
However, Maness’ recent performance, expected salary over a million dollars, and injury to end the season lend to an argument that he was expendable prior to hat date. One could also make an argument that if the Cardinals had prepared better during the season so that Mike Mayers did not make a start, there would be another empty slot on the 40-man for Cordoba.
All that said, Cordoba isn’t necessarily a goner. In order for him to stay with the Padres they need to keep on the major league team all season. You might recall that the Padres did this very thing with Luis Perdomo last season. Perdomo had never pitched above High-A, but the Padres put him in the bullpen to start the season and eventually let him make 20 starts. He did not pitch well, but he probably should have been developing his game in Double-A as opposed to major league hitters.
What you might not recall is that Perdomo was one of four players the Padres picked last year in the Rule 5 Draft. Of those four, two were returned to their prior teams before the season started, and one month into the season, the Padres paid cash to the Mariners so they could send Jabari Blash down to the minors. The Padres selected three players in the Rule 5 Draft this season, so Cordoba is far from a lock to stay with the team.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Cordoba was the 19th-best player in the Cardinals system, according to MLB.com. That loss stings some, though Cordoba rates well behind shortstops Delvin Perez, the Cardinals top draft pick last season, who is three years younger than Cordoba, and Edmundo Sosa, who is slightly younger than Cordoba and has played in higher levels of the minors.
In the minor league portion of the draft, the Cardinals lost two more players and picked up one. Their losses included 27-year-old infielder Matt Williams and 25-year-old Kyle Grana. This is what Sickels had to say about Grana:
Age 25, signed as undrafted free agent in 2013; posted 3.12 ERA with 63/27 K/BB in 52 innings in High-A with just 39 hits; old for the level but has always pitched well, fastball up to 95 and a good curve, but 6-4, 250 pound build stands out; could be very useful if he throws strikes.
The Cardinals did not pick anyone up in the major league portion of the draft, but they did select Austin Wilson in the minor league portion. You might remember Wilson from the 2010 draft when the Cardinals selected him in the 12th round out of Harvard-Westlake High School (same school as Cardinals prospect Jack Flaherty as well as Lucas Giolito), and offered Wilson a bunch of money, but he decided to go to Stanford. Wilson was eventually selected in the second round by the Seattle Mariners.
Wilson, who is a big guy, hasn’t quite been able to use his power in games. He hasn’t progressed above High-A, and last season struck out in 36% of his plate appearances. He’s put up an average hitting line the past two years despite the strikeouts, but given that he will be 25 when next season starts and hasn’t yet excelled in the low-minors, his odds of making the majors are pretty slim. The Cardinals are taking a flyer on him, likely based somewhat in what they saw in him a half-decade ago, and really have nothing to lose with this selection.
In all, the Rule 5 Draft was a disappointment given the Cardinals could be giving away a halfway decent prospect for $100,000. Cordoba still should be a ways away from the majors, but the Padres might give him a life-changing opportunity making half a million dollars to play baseball. It’s hard not to hope for the best for him. The Cardinals have a lot of depth in the minors and had to make some difficult 40-man decisions. It’s possible, but not too likely this decision will come back to haunt the team.