The St. Louis Cardinals appeared to have their Opening Day roster set ahead of tomorrow's first game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but a last-minute change is taking place due to unfortunate circumstances. Backup catcher Brayan Pena slipped in the dugout, per Derrick Goold, and will now need knee surgery that will place him on the disabled list. Eric Fryer is likely to replace Pena on the Opening Day roster.
With Yadier Molina aging, overworked, and suffering various injuries over the past few years, the Cardinals felt it was important to bring in an established, well-respected backup to provide insurance. Brayan Pena met that criteria and the Cardinals committed a two-year contract worth $5 million. That insurance seemed well worth it when Molina underwent a second procedure on his thumb during the offseason and put Opening Day in doubt.
Molina has recovered quickly from his repeat surgery and will be ready for Opening Day, but that insurance policy is no more, at least in the early going. It is possible that Pena might not be out all that long.
Brayan Pena is going on the DL with a loose body in his left knee. Surgery scheduled soon, but recovery could be as little as two weeks— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) April 2, 2016
Yesterday, Jeremy Hazelbaker looked like the biggest surprise on the Cardinals Opening Day roster. That spot might have been usurped by Eric Fryer. The Milwaukee Brewers drafted Fryer in the 10th round of the 2007 MLB draft. Over the last nine years, Fryer has bounced around the minors, playing in the system of the Brewers, Yankees, Pirates, and Twins getting cups off coffee with the Pirates in 2011 and 2012 as well as the Twins in each of the last three seasons. The Cardinals signed him to a minor-league deal this winter.
Fryer has a total of 65 games and 158 plate appearances in the majors and a year and a half of service time. His hitting line in nearly 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances was .237/.328/.328 and his ZiPS projection for the year is .223/.289/.300 so offense is not a big part of Fryer's game.
Fryer was chosen over Mike Ohlman, who is already a part of the Cardinals' 40-man roster. After adding Ruben Tejada and Jeremy Hazelbaker along with putting Lance Lynn on the 60-day disabled list, the Cardinals 40-man roster is full, meaning a corresponding move will need to be made. Jhonny Peralta could be headed to the 60-day disabled list depending on how quickly the team feels he will be back. Otherwise, the team will have to place a player on waivers to add Fryer to the team.
This is certainly an unfortunate development for the team. If there is a silver lining, the Cardinals have four off-days in the first month of the season so a backup catcher will not likely be needed too much. Of course, that goes against everything the Cardinals were trying to accomplish when they signed Pena in the first place. The best case is for Pena's surgery and recovery to go smoothly. This is not even close to the blow the Diamondbacks were dealt last night with A.J. Pollock, and the injury to Jhonny Peralta is still the worst of camp for the Cardinals, but Pena's injury deals a blow to the Cardinals depth.
Potentially of note, Tony Cruz did not win the backup catcher job in Kansas City and will be in the minors to start the season. Whether the Cardinals would explore opportunities outside the organization is not really clear, but the team is one thumb aggravation from looking at Eric Fryer and Mike Ohlman as everyday catchers.