The Cards made a flurry of roster moves of today, and the timing, in my judgment is rather surprising.
Matt Carpenter has been activated from the 10-day IL. Most recently placed on the injured list on July 2 with a lower back strain, he started a rehab assignment with AAA Memphis on July 23rd. Over 2 games there in 7 PA, he went 0-6 with 1 BB and 1 SO. His rehab assignment was converted to AA Springfield on July 26th, and in 5 games and 19 PA, he went 0-15 with 4 BB and 4 SO. His assignment was converted back to Memphis on August 1st and that night, he finally got a hit, going 2-3 with 1 BB, 1 double and 3 RBIs. The next day on August 2nd, he went 0-3 with 1 BB and 1 SO.
In total, over 9 games and 33 PA, Carpenter went 2 for 26 with 1 double, 7 BB and 8 SO. Of course both Carpenter himself and the club know better than I how he feels. And, of course we’re talking about a small sample size, and I was unable to watch him play those games. But does that performance scream that he’s ready?
The decision to option Rangel Ravelo to make room for Carpenter makes little sense given the construction of the roster. In Lane Thomas, we have a real outfielder to start in center field and move Fowler to right field, or to come in as a defensive replacement pretty much anywhere in the outfield. He’s had some contact issues, but he does have pop. Whether he needs to be or not, Carpenter is back at 3B and leading off in today’s game as expected. You would think this would move Tommy Edman to the bench, where the switch-hitter could spell Carpenter, give DeJong an occasional rest and maybe pinch hit for Wong against tough left-handers.
In a stunning move that I can’t even begin to explain, Shildt has decided to start Edman this afternoon in RF and bat him 8th. What can we say about that? At least we don’t have a player with a .281 OBP and a 3.7% BB rate leading off? This represents a colossal waste on at least 2 levels. First of all, what does Lane Thomas have to do short of bribery and begging to get a start in the outfield? I don’t remember if Edman played the outfield in college, but I can tell you that in his first 3 minor league seasons from 2016-2018, he played zero innings in the outfield. His entire minor league outfield experience boils down to 2 starts and 14 innings this year for Memphis in CF. Shildt put him in CF for 1 inning earlier this year with the big club. That’s it. Will he be better than Yairo Munoz? It would be hard not to be. But is now the time to have fun, experiment and try some things? With the major league club? In a pennant race? And does Edman’s offensive production so far in the majors scream out that he needs more playing time?
Now to be fair, I have to point out that Edman’s offensive numbers in Memphis were better than Thomas’s. Edman slashed .305/.356/.515 with 7 HR, only a 15.1% K rate and a 107 wRC+. Thomas, on the other hand, slashed .268/.352/.460 with 10 HR and a 97 wRC+. Thomas hit more HRs and walked 4% more, but he also struck out 26.3% of the time, and it took him a .343 BABIP to get his line, while Edman’s was normal at .289. Edman has had 218 PA in AAA this year, compared to 304 from Thomas. Are you prepared to say from that that Edman is the better offensive player? If you go back to 2018, where each player played in AA Springfield and had over 400 PA, Thomas beat Edman in wRC+ 123 to 108. That was considered to be Thomas’s breakout season where he hit 21 HR and did it all with a normal .298 BABIP.
Let’s assume for the sake of this conversation that Thomas regressed, and Edman progressed to the point where he’s categorically better than Thomas offensively. I’m not personally prepared to say that, but let’s just assume it. How much better is he? So much better that it’s worth playing Edman out of position? Thomas is actually a good outfield defender. While Thomas initially came to pro ball as a multi-positional player, the last time he played anything but outfield was 10 starts in Class A ball in 2016. In addition to teaching Edman to be more patient at the plate, the club now has to teach him how to play the outfield on the fly in the majors, in the middle of a pennant race?
The other thing that makes this so preposterous is, if they’re just going to play Edman in RF, then what in the wide wide world of sports is Munoz still doing with the big club? Munoz never did anything in AAA, topping out at a 86 wrC+ in his only real exposure to that level in AAA and was nothing more than average in 100 PA there last year. Ravelo hasn’t had much of a chance to prove it in the majors, but for 3 years now in AAA, he’s never had an OBP lower than .383, never slugged less than .480 and has been between 15% and 33% better than average. When you consider the entirety of his offensive production, Ravelo has been better than all of them. He’s also played 3B, 1B, LF and RF in the minors, so why not stick him in RF if you’re not going to play Thomas? When it comes to pinch hitting, why would you want Munoz for that job when he’s got the 4th worst O-Swing% of anyone in the majors with at least 140 PA? The whole thing is just maddening, because by constructing his roster and lineup this way, Shildt appears to be simultaneously making both his offense and his defense worse.
Now some of you are going to rejoice in this next move, which was to designate Mike Mayers for assignment. That procedural move not only removes him from the 25-man roster, but the 40-man roster as well. The Cards now have 7 days to decide whether to place him on outright assignment waivers and attempt to assign him outright to AAA Memphis or just release him. Since he doesn’t have enough service time to elect free agency upon being outrighted, the former is almost guaranteed.
To evaluate Mayers, you really have to start and stop with last year, because he wasn’t even converted to relief until mid-July of 2017. He was shuttled back and forth between the majors and AAA, all the while being used as an emergency pitcher last year under Matheny. In terms of innings pitched and games pitched, the most similar comparison was to John Brebbia. Now according to Fangraphs, Brebbia was worth .4 more WAR, but he only edged Brebbia in xFIP 3.79 to 3.95. Brebbia did have a 7% higher strikeout rate and did a better job at keeping the ball in the park, but Mayers had better walk and ground ball rates. Mayers also had a better infield fly percentage and hard hit rate. Yes, Brebbia with his strikeouts was better, but Mayers was hardly a trainwreck.
Mayers was placed on the 10-day IL with a right lat strain on April 16th after pitching in only 8 games, during which he was admittedly not good. In 8.1 IP over that span, he allowed 5 BB and 2 HR with only an 18.5% ground ball rate. Since he was activated from the 60-day IL on July 23, he has pitched 4 games over 5.1 IP and has given up 5 BB compared to 2 SO. That’s not good either. From those 12 games, are we ready to say he’s done? He features upper 90’s heat and has displayed a good slider and a new curveball. The knock on him is that his fastball is too straight.
The real issue with Mayers is that he’s out of options. The gang of 5 in the Cards’ 8-man pen that are locked in place are John Brebbia, Giovanny Gallegos, John Gant, Carlos Martinez and Andrew Miller. The other three that were in danger of being voted off the island at any time were Mayers, Adalberto Mejia and Tyler Webb. Webb still has an option remaining, and Mejia and Mayers do not. Many times in that situation, the player with options gets shuttled. Shildt thinks Webb handles right-handed pitching just fine, and they are batting only .197 against him even with last night’s 3-run bomb. But his slugging allowed against righties is .443 with 4 HR in 17.2 IP, together with 9 unintentional walks.
That Webb was struggling to get right-handers out, is the entire reason the Cards purchased Chasen Shreve’s contract again, only to outright him to make room for Mayers. Now we have neither Mayers nor Shreve, but instead a 3rd lefty named Adalberto Mejia that 17 or 18 clubs passed on in the waiver process and who is not known for his ability to get lefthanders out, while Shreve had almost a 30% strikeout rate in AAA this year. Mejia is now the long man based on his prior experience as a starter, and perhaps Shildt figures he will lock that job down going forward now that Ponce de Leon is being stretched out as a starter again in AAA. But instead of optioning Webb, Mayers is gone from the 40-man roster.
Ryan Helsley was recalled to take Mayers’ spot on the 25-man roster, and you do have to like the young man’s stuff. Triple digit heat, 90+ mph cutter, changeup. Helsley, however, is also a big injury risk. He pitched 12 games last year before being shut down with a shoulder injury. He was on the IL again this year with an impingement in the same shoulder, and has been wildly inconsistent at Memphis, walking almost 5 men per 9 innings. In his last outing, he threw 3 IP, but half of his pitches were balls.
The one thing that probably cemented the decision to recall Helsley is that in thinking about stretching him out as a starter, Memphis has basically used him as a multiple inning pitcher, pitching at different times in the sequence. He’s pitched as an opener, in the middle and at the end. He’s almost always gone more than 1 inning, especially in the last month. While Genesis Cabrera’s K rate is only slightly worse with a better walk rate, Helsley has been able to keep the ball in the park at a much better clip. So apparently the club trusts Helsley to pitch multiple innings out of the available options.
The Cards now have 1 40-man roster spot available.
Bench available tonight:
Andrew Knizner, Yairo Munoz, Lane Thomas (in the DH game today). As far as how Shildt will handle the 4th spot, only the shadow knows. Will he send Jose Martinez back to the bench for the LA series? Even if Shildt does the right thing going forward by starting Thomas in CF, moving Fowler to RF and putting Edman on the bench, your bench is Knizner, Edman, Munoz, Jose Martinez. Edman and Munoz are redundant.
Bullpen available tonight:
Brebbia, Gallegos, Gant, Helsley, C. Martinez, Mejia, Miller, Webb