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Transaction Analysis 8/31: Cabrera Added as the 26th Man—An Explanation of the 26th man Rule

Plus a historical note on back-to-back doubleheaders

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

This morning the Cardinals announced that they have recalled LHP Genesis Cabrera as the 26th man for the doubleheader scheduled today.

Initially the Cards had planned on adding RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon as the 26th man so he could start game 2 of today’s doubleheader, and made a move designed to effectuate that that I will explain tomorrow when the Cards officially add him to the 25-man roster. But the postponement of the Cardinals’ August 30th game changed matters. Cabrera was initially scheduled to start on August 30th for Memphis at Iowa, but he was scratched and Tommy Parsons was recalled from AA Springfield to make that start. Cabrera’s being scratched indicated that he would, at a minimum, be recalled to the Cardinals by September 1st for long relief protection. There would have been no other reason to scratch Cabrera from that start, for which he would have had 5 days of rest. Now that Ponce de Leon’s start has been pushed back a day due to the postponement—and thus it would be a waste for him to serve as the 26th man—it makes all the more sense for Cabrera to take that spot.

The 26th man rule, first in effect for the 2012 season, allows the club to expand its 25-man roster by one player for a doubleheader that is played on August 31st or earlier. It is not needed for games after that, because at least for this season, a club can use its whole 40-man roster for games starting on September 1st if it wants. If one of the 2 games that is played in the same day is the continuation of a suspended game, the extra spot is not available in the continuation of the suspended game, but only in the full second game that follows. Thus, when the Cards added Dominic Leone as the 26th man on June 14th, he was not available to pitch in the continuation of the suspended game against the Mets. But he was available to play the full game that took place right after, although he ended up not being used.

In addition, the 26th man is not available in the first game of a doubleheader that is scheduled as a result of a postponed game in the same series if the rescheduled game takes place the day following the announcement to reschedule the postponed game. For that reason, Lane Thomas was only available for the 2nd game of the doubleheader against the Royals on May 22nd because that doubleheader resulted from the previous day’s game being postponed. But because the doubleheader today was scheduled due to the postponement of the game the Cards had scheduled against the Reds on June 5th, Cabrera is eligible to pitch in either or both games today.

Reasons Cabrera was chosen over RHP Junior Fernandez could include that Cabrera is left-handed and that he is more fresh, having last pitched on August 24th. Fernandez pitched on both August 27th and August 29th. In addition, Ryan Helsley and John Gant are the only pitchers we have on the roster currently that have really been used as long relievers, and it couldn’t hurt to have Cabrera for that role as well in either game. Fernandez did throw 2 innings once for the Cards on August 21st, and has done so multiple times in the minors, including one 2.2 inning outing and a 3 inning outing with AA Springfield and one 3.1 inning outing with AAA Memphis back on June 25th. But as a starter, Cabrera has much more experience in throwing 3 or more innings at a time.

The deciding factor between Cabrera and Fernandez, however, could have been a quirk in the 26th man rule. The rule requires that the club adding a player as the 26th man to return its roster to 25 immediately after the second game of the doubleheader. The 26th man is not officially recalled from an option to the minor leagues, he is just merely added. The 26th man himself must be returned to the minor leagues, unless he has already spent 10 days on option to the minor leagues before being added, in which case he can be kept and someone else can actually be optioned to the minors instead.

Here’s why this distinction make a difference. Suppose that Cabrera is not needed today for whatever reason. The Cards will make a paperwork transaction after the game to return him to the minor leagues, but he won’t go anywhere. Cabrera has already spent 10 days on option, having been sent to Memphis on June 24th. With the Cardinals allowed to expand their active rosters to 40 tomorrow on September 1st, he could be recalled immediately that day and be available to pitch at some point during the doubleheader that day instead.

Fernandez, however, was just optioned to AAA Memphis on August 22nd. If the Cards had added him as the 26th man, he would have only had 9 days on option before being added. Today would not have counted as a day on option, and the rule makes it clear that sending him back today after the doubleheader would have not constituted an option. Because he had not spent 10 days on option, he would have to be returned to the minors after the second game. The difference between Fernandez and Cabrera, however, is that Fernandez would have to spend an additional day on option to make it to 10 days before the Cards could recall him. It doesn’t matter that the Cards can expand their roster to 40 on September 1st, as the 10-day option rule still applies. The 10-day option rule applies even if the minor league season is over. If Fernandez had been added today but not needed for whatever reason, he would not be eligible to pitch in either game of the doubleheader on September 1st. He would have to spend 1 day on option to the minor leagues to get to the required 10 days, and he then could come back on Setpember 2nd. For flexibility reasons and to avoid the possibility of waste, adding Cabrera instead was the better move.

Since being optioned to Memphis on June 24th, Cabrera has made 10 starts. He has struggled with the long ball this year in Memphis, allowing 20 HR in only 99 IP. In his last 6 starts, however, Cabrera has come on strong with the strikeouts, with only 11 BB to 47 SO over 37.1 IP. In his last start on August 24th, he went 7 IP, while allowing only 1 hit, 2 BB and 12 SO.

Rotation Outlook

With doubleheaders on back-to-back days, the Cardinals are going to need 7 starters to avoid having a starter throw on 3 days of rest. Here is the rotation outlook for the next 5 days:

8/31: Hudson and Wacha

9/1: Mikolas and Ponce de Leon

9/2: Wainwright

9/3: Flaherty

9/4: Spot start

My prediction is that the Cards will purchase the contract of RHP Jake Woodford some time soon and have him make that start on September 4th. It is possible that Cabrera could take the start but only if he pitches a real short outing today. Last season, John Gant pitched 1 inning in relief on July 25th, then started the game on July 29th after only 3 days of rest. In that start, he took the loss after lasting only 4.1 IP and giving up 2 HRs. Cabrera is a long shot to take it, and if he doesn’t, the Cardinals have no real choice other than Woodford. Alex Reyes is still on the shelf, and Austin Gomber has only thrown 3.1 IP over 3 appearances since he returned to action on August 23rd. Those are the first innings he has pitched since May 13th, and I highly doubt the Cards will deem him ready.

Historical Note on Back-to-Back Doubleheaders

The Cardinals will follow today’s doubleheader with a doubleheader tomorrow. I was interested to research the question of how often the Cardinals have played doubleheaders on back-to-back days. My research showed that it used to happen quite frequently. The Cardinal franchise entered the National League as the St. Louis Browns in 1892, and that is the year club considers to be the genesis of the franchise, even though 1892 club owner Chris Von der Ahe owned the club of the same name that played in the American Association from 1882-1891. With 1892 as the start, 2019 is the 128th season of the franchise.

In the 127 seasons before this one, Cardinal teams have played back-to-back doubleheaders on at least 156 occasions. The first time was September 1-2, 1896, both on the road. The first doubleheader was against the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, and the second the very next day against the Boston Beaneaters. In the 61 seasons including 1896-1956, the club played doubleheaders on back-to-back days every season, often several times a season, except for 1912, 1925, 1928, 1941, 1950 and 1952. This season is the 63rd season since 1956, and it has only happened 14 times since, with this being the 15th occasion. The years that it occurred since 1956 are 1959 (home against Phillies), 1961 (home against Cubs), 1962 (home against Pirates), 1965 (home against Mets and Phillies), 1970 (at Cubs and Pirates), 1976 (at Montreal Expos), 1977 (home against Mets), 1979 (at Expos), 1981 (at Expos), 1982 (at Mets), 1987 (home against Dodgers), 1992 (at Phillies), 1994 (home against Braves) and 1998 (at Mets).

I said in the paragraph above that back-to-back doubleheaders have occured on “at least” 156 occasions. That is because the club has actually played doubleheaders on 3 or 4 days in a row over the years and I wanted to avoid double counting. The Cardinals played doubleheaders on 3 days in a row in 1896, 1897, 1898, 1902, 1911, 1913, 1915, 1916, 1919, 1921, 1923, 1927, 1947 and 1948. The last time that occurred was August 28-30 1948, all at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis with 2 games against the New York Giants on August 28th, followed by 2 games each against the Brooklyn Dodgers on August 29th and August 30th. The year before, in 1947, the Cards had to do it on the road from July 11-13 with 2 games each at the Polo Grounds in New York against the Giants on July 11th and 12th, followed by 2 games at Shibe Park in Philadelphia against the Phillies.

The Cardinals actually played doubleheaders on 4 days in a row in 1898, 1911 and 1917. The 1898 club (the last year the club was known as the Browns) closed out their season with 4 straight doubleheaders on October 6-9, and had already played doubleheaders 3 days in a row from October 1-3. That amounted to 16 games in 9 days to end the season. The October 6-9 games were in an unusual configuration that resulted in the club playing the Cleveland Spiders in St. Louis at what was then called New Sportsman’s Park (but later renamed to Robison Field) for 2 games each on October 6th and October 7th. On October 8th, the club played one game against the Spiders in Cleveland, then the records say they played on the road against the Chicago Orphans for the second game that day. The final 2 games were against the Orphans, also on the road. From May 29 to June 1, 1911, the Cardinals played 8 games straight in 4 days against the Cincinnati Reds at home. The last time the club played a doubleheader on 4 days in a row was from August 31-September 3, 1917. The Cardinals played 2 games each against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh on August 31st and September 1st, then came back to St. Louis to play the Chicago Cubs for 2 games each on September 2nd and September 3rd.

The last time the Cardinals played a doubleheader on back-to-back days happened 21 years ago on August 20th and August 21st, 1998, and it was on the road against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. Tony LaRussa was batting the pitcher 8th, and the 4 starters he used were Donovan Osborne, Darren Oliver, Matt Morris and Manny Aybar. The Cardinals managed a split. The last back-to-back doubleheaders at home were on July 21st and July 22nd, 1994 at Old Busch Stadium against the Atlanta Braves. Joe Torre used Omar Olivares, John Frascatore, Tom Urbani and Rick Sutcliffe to start the games, and the Cardinals won 3 out of the 4 games. The 1994 season was cancelled due to the strike after 19 more games.

With back-to-back doubleheaders only happening 10 times in the last 50 years, and once in the last 20, it’s fair to say that you’re witnessing a bit of history this weekend.