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Transaction Analysis 8/12: Molina Activated, Arozarena Added, Cafecito to IL, Knizner Optioned

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals-Media Day Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

During today’s off day, the Cardinals announced the following transactions:

Optioned C Andrew Knizner to AAA Memphis, Activated C Yadier Molina from the 10-day IL

Placed OF Jose Martinez on the 10-day IL (right AC joint sprain), Purchased the contract of OF Randy Arozarena from AAA Memphis.

After being placed on the 10-day IL on July 11th with a right thumb tendon sprain, the Cards sent Yadier Molina on a rehab assignment, where he has played 4 games each with AAA Memphis and AA Springfield, with a two-day break in between switching locations. You obviously can’t read much of anything into his offensive numbers, so it’s only for completeness sake that I point out that in 8 games and 24 plate appearances, he had 3 H (2 singles and 1 HR), with 0 BB, 1 HBP, 2 Sac bunts, 1 Sac Fly, and 1 stolen base. In terms of defense, he started at catcher in all the games but yesterday’s game, where he took a break and served as the DH for Springfield. He caught a whole 9-inning game just once on August 8th, and by my count, he caught 46 innings over 8 games. As far as I can tell from looking at the minor-league games, nobody tried to run on Molina directly, although he was somehow involved in a pick-off play.

We all know that Molina plays when Molina wants to play, so don’t be surprised to see him in the lineup right away for tomorrow’s game against the Kansas City Royals. Molina has struggled with his thumb for a good while, and his offensive output has suffered this season. He’s started only 67 of the team’s 116 games so far, and in 71 games on offense, he has regressed to a slash line of .261/.286/.368 with a 3% BB rate and a 70 wRC+. The injuries have certainly taken their toll, as he currently has an fWAR of -0.2

Of the 49 non-Yadi starts at catcher, 38 have gone to Matt Wieters and 11 have gone to Andrew Knizner. When Molina spent extended time on the disabled list, many groaned when Carson Kelly was wasting on the bench so that Francisco Pena could get starts, not hit and not throw any runners out. This year, however, we have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of Wieters. Not much is typically expected of a Molina backup, because such players had received almost no playing time until Molina’s IL trips this year and last. While Wieters never has received high marks for his framing, he has thrown out 44% of the runners trying to steal (8 out of 18), which is considered a very strong figure, and which has actually been better than Molina’s 35% (7 out of 20). Wieters does have his own set of contact issues offensively (6% BB rate compared to 27.5% K rate and .281 OBP), but his 10 HRs this year in part-time duty has been a nice addition. Wieters has always had a little sock in his bat, but hasn’t approached his current .463 SLG in over 5 years. Maybe he’s been helped by the juiced ball, but he hasn’t been helped by a .253 BABIP. While he does not have Molina’s ability in stopping balls in the dirt, he’s been a good pickup for the Cards this year, despite fWAR valuing him at -0.1.

Andrew Knizner has been optioned to AAA Memphis. In his two separate stints, Knizner has only started 11 of the non-Yadi games, and in that time threw 3 out of the 4 runners that tried to steal on him. In a small sample of 46 PA, his walk rate remained about the same as his minor league history, but he struck out almost 24% of the time instead of his usual 12 or 13%. He will now go back down to Memphis to catch every day, and for the rest of this season and next season, we will discuss whether Knizner will be the next Carson Kelly in terms of being the young backup who never gets to play in the majors because Molina never tires.

Jose Martinez bumped into the right field wall in the top of the 4th inning in last night’s game against the Pirates. Video embeds are not supported from the MLB site, but you can watch a clip of the incident that led to his injury here. As you can see, it was not a violent collision, but Martinez did acknowledge last night that he was in a lot of pain. Think of the AC joint of the shoulder as in a spot in that nook equidistant from the top of the shoulder and the bottom of the neck, and you can imagine pain there can affect your ability to twist and drive the ball. Martinez was not going to play the outfield against Kansas City anyway, but the Cardinals have decided to place him on the 10-day IL in any case, because he apparently won’t be ready to even hit for a while.

To replace Martinez, the Cardinals have purchased the contract of Randy Arozarena, adding the 24-year old Cuban native to both the 40-man and 25-man rosters. Signed by the Cardinals to a minor league deal on August 1st, 2016, his is the callup many have been waiting for, as Arozarena has torched AAA pitching in 52 games. In 231 PA, he has slashed .368/.442/.562 with a 147 wRC+. He has 7 home runs, 16 doubles, 1 triple, and 26 singles. His strikeout percentage of 16.9% is the lowest it has been since he was in the Mexican League in 2016, and he has walked 8.7% of the time. We have talked about this before, but it bears repeating that Arozarena is currently running a .427 BABIP, and he struggled last year to the tune of .232/.328/.348 in Memphis with an 81 wRC+ in 311 PA and a much more normal BABIP of .278. The offensive surge may be real, however, as he destroyed Texas League pitching to the tune of a 162 wRC+ in 116 PA at the AA level. While Arozarena has not shown the home run power of Adolis Garcia, his overall offensive approach and statistics represent the best Memphis had to offer the Cards.

Arozarena has spent time at all three outfield positions in Memphis, with 20 starts in CF, 18 starts in RF and 8 starts in LF. He was playing mostly RF at first, then was switched to CF not too long ago on orders from the front office, with Lane Thomas moving to LF. Since Harrison Bader was optioned to AAA Memphis on July 29th, Arozarena has played mostly LF. It will be most interesting to see how Mike Shildt manages the outfield rotation with both Arozarena and Thomas on the active roster. Either player might get the DH slot in the 2-game series against the Royals. Could this mean the end of Tommy Edman in right field? We will have to stay tuned and watch.

Let me know in the comments how you think the Cards should handle the outfield situation going forward. Let the kids play both CF and RF and bench Fowler? Mix and match? Should Yadi be eased into everyday duty and rested more? Would you have rather seen Harrison Bader back here, who is eligible to be recalled and has slashed .279/.392/.512 with 3 HR and a 9.8% BB rate in a small sample of 51 PA?

The Cardinals’ 40-man roster is now full with the addition of Arozarena.