Ruben Tejada, the player signed after Johnny Peralta was injured, will not be on the Cardinals' Opening Day roster. Running out a grounder against the Yankees earlier today, Tejada strained his quad. The severity is not yet known, but he will not be on the Opening Day roster. That means in all likelihood, Jedd Gyorko will be the Cardinals Opening Day shortstop as the Cardinals finalized their roster by adding spring surprise Jeremy Hazelbaker. Matt Bowman also made the roster after Jordan Walden was hurt.
Gyorko was in a battle for shortstop with Aledmys Diaz after Jhonny Peralta had surgery on his thumb. The Cardinals appeared comfortable enough with the Diaz/Gyorko combo, unwilling to make any major moves or give up piece in a trade. Then, Ruben Tejada was released by the Mets, essentially falling into the Cardinals' lap. Tejada was more or less handed the job at shortstop with Gyorko back to his role as utility infielder and Aledmys Diaz optioned down to minor league camp.
The Tejada injury had the potential to bring back the Diaz and Gyorko fight, but the Cardinals appear unwilling to make Diaz the Opening Day shortstop. Gyorko, who has most of his experience as an average second baseman, will now take over at shortstop with Greg Garcia as potentially the only backup at second base, third base, and shortstop. Gyorko is one beneficiary of this decision. The other is Jeremy Hazelbaker.
Hazelbaker, picked up from the Dodgers towards the beginning of last season, hit very well last season and has continued to do so this spring. Joe Schwarz suggested we exercise some caution given the totality of Hazelbaker's record.
Thus, while Hazelbaker has been quite productive since signing with the Cardinals back in May 2015, one must put his performance, particularly from spring training, into context. Virtually any baseball player, especially one of fourth-round talent, can get hot for a few months, just the same as any baseball player can experience a cold streak for a few months. Hazelbaker is definitely an interesting option to consider going forward, and given what he has gone through in his professional career, I am definitely rooting for him. That being said, it is hard to put too much stock in six months of high quality play (including this spring) over seven years of relative mediocrity.
Where Hazelbaker will get playing time is not exactly clear. Without Hazelbaker, there were six players for four positions in Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham, Brandon Moss, and Matt Adams splitting time at the three outfield positions and first base. With Holliday, Grichuk, and Piscotty entrenched in everyday roles, that might lead to just one open spot per day for Pham, Moss, and Adams. Adding Hazelbaker could complicate matters.
Mike Matheny will have a difficult job doling out playing time with only one backup for three of the infield positions, and three backups for the outfield and first base. Playing the hot hand is not a thing that actually exists, and at this point, we do not really know what kind of performances to expect from Moss, Adams, Pham, and Hazelbaker. Taking into account talent, defense, and hitting ability, Tommy Pham seems like the best candidate for playing time, but Matheny appears to have a soft spot for Adams and Moss commands the highest salary.
Hazelbaker, 28 years old, is a really nice story and could make a nice bench bat for the Cardinals. He is playing the best baseball of his life and he has worked his way onto the Cardinals Opening Day roster. He joins a crowded outfield, but if he hits well and Matheny likes him, he could carve out some playing time.
The other major roster news seemed very likely after yesterday's news the Jordan Walden would not make the team. Matt Bowman, who would have had to pass through waivers and be offered back to the Mets if he was not on the 25-man roster, will make the team as long reliever, which Joe discussed this morning.
With those announcements, the roster looks set.
Seung Hwan Oh