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Transaction Analysis 8/30: Thomas to IL, O’Neill Activated from IL

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals announced today that they have placed OF Lane Thomas on the 10-day IL, retroactive to August 28th. To take his place on the 25-man roster, the club activated OF Tyler O’Neill from the 10-day IL.

Lane Thomas just had a string of bad luck. In the August 26th game against the Brewers, Thomas pinch hit for John Gant in the top of the 7th, and he stayed in the game in RF. When his spot came back up again in the top of the 9th, Ray Black hit him with a 99-mph fastball on the left elbow. The next night, Thomas came into the game to play LF in the bottom of the 8th as part of a double switch. He came to bat in the top of the 9th with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 1 out, and Devin Williams hit him square on the right wrist with a 95-mph fastball. Thomas threw his helmet in frustration, and pictures of his hand showed it was an ugly sight of black and blue.

We were told during the broadcast of Wednesday’s August 28th game that x-rays were negative, but Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch reported today that Thomas had a CT scan yesterday which revealed a fracture, and he is now likely lost for the season. Thomas was brought up a couple of times from Memphis this season before July 29th, but it was on that date that he replaced Harrison Bader on the Cards’ 25-man roster, and he has seen his most significant action since. I won’t belabor the point here, but many felt he didn’t get enough action while he was up here. All in all, in the majors this season, Thomas had 44 PA and slashed .316/.409/.684 with 4 HRs, with 3 of the HRs coming as a pinch hitter. In the field, he only got 3 starts in CF during his time here, with one of those starts coming back on April 24th. He also logged 10 innings in RF and 3.2 innings in LF.

Tyler O’Neill made the opening day roster, but has been placed on the IL twice this year. The first time was on April 16th, when he suffered a problem with his ulnar nerve in his right elbow while making a throw from the outfield. He was activated on April 26th in the minimum time, but was optioned to AAA Memphis to make room for RHP Luke Gregerson, who came off of the IL. O’Neill was recalled on June 29th when the Cards had to place Marcell Ozuna on the IL with a broken hand, and he received the majority of starts in LF while Ozuna was on the shelf. When the Cards activated Ozuna from the IL on August 3rd, instead of having an interesting conversation about O’Neill’s playing time, the potential discussion was mooted when O’Neill himself went on the IL in the corresponding roster move with a left wrist strain.

O’Neill played 6 games on a rehab assignment since, 3 each with AAA Memphis and AA Springfield. In 25 total PA, he went 6 for 22, with 4 singles, 1 double, and 1 HR, to go along with 3 BB and 11 SO. While it is a little disconcerting that O’Neill struck out 44% of the time, he was a tad rusty, as his first plate appearance following his August 3rd placement on the IL came on August 21st. Nevertheless, O’Neill’s contact is something people will keep an eye on. He made improvements in that area in 273 PA in AAA in 2018, with a 10.6% BB rate and 24.9% SO rate. But in the majors in 2018 in 142 PA, he walked just 4.9% of the time, while striking out over 40% of the time. This year in the majors, he improved from that figure a bit, but his K% was still high at 33.8% When he went down to AAA this year, both his BB% and K% were worse than his 2018 AAA marks, including a 5% increase in K%.

The Cards are likely going to have to make a decision in the off-season about what they’re going to do with O’Neill. He’s an exciting player on many levels, but the truth of the matter is that he doesn’t appear to be suited for a bench job. And he has nothing left to prove in AAA. He has power, but has always demonstrated problems making contact in the major leagues, and has not responded well to part-time duty. In addition, almost every time there has been a window of opportunity for O’Neill to make some headway in the starting lineup, he comes down with one injury or another. If the Cardinals don’t project him for a significant amount of plate appearances next season, they might want to work out a trade with a club that does, getting some pitching in return.

TRANSACTION NOTE INVOLVING DREW ROBINSON

Yesterday, I wrote an article for the site about the Cards’ release of Drew Robinson that you can find here. In that article, I noted that a club is not permitted to release a player unless it has first placed that player on unconditional release waivers. Placing a player on unconditional release waivers takes the player off of all rosters, and once the player clears waivers, he is then given his release. While the Cardinals’ Twitter page said that the club had given Robinson his release, I was not clear if they actually meant that that was the date they had placed Robinson on unconditional release waivers, or whether he had already cleared waivers, and the Cardinals gave him his release on that date.

Because I had seen this issue confused in the past and reported as interchangeable events, I was curious. The distinction is important because a 40-man roster spot opens on the date the player is placed on unconditional release waivers. As it turns out, Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch clarified my confusion today. He reported today that Drew Robinson has cleared waivers and is now a free agent.

This means that the Cardinals’ Twitter page was wrong on August 28th when it said they had given Robinson his unconditional release. Instead, what they actually did, and should have reported that they did, was to place Robinson on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. Or “placed him on unconditional release waivers” for short. Having not cleared waivers on August 28th, the Cards could not have and did not release Robinson on that date. They released him today. Many releases during the season follow a DFA, and thus the distinction doesn’t come up often. But because the Cardinals didn’t need Robinson’s 40-man roster spot immediately, the released him without designating him for assignment, which brought the issue to the forefront. It may be a minor point, but I always want VEB readers to trust that they will get the most accurate information from me here.

CARDINALS’ BENCH

Wieters, Munoz, O’Neill, Carpenter/Edman