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Transaction Analysis 9/1: First Round of September Callups Plus Some Surprises

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

With the Major League Rules allowing all clubs to expand their active rosters to 40 today, the Cardinals announced a flurry of moves, including a couple of surprises.

Recalled RHPs Junior Fernandez and Daniel Ponce de Leon, LHP Genesis Cabrera, 1B/OF Rangel Ravelo and C Andrew Knizner from AAA Memphis.

Activated OF Jose Martinez from the 10-day IL.

Purchased the contracts of RHP Mike Mayers and C Joe Hudson from AAA Memphis. To make room for Hudson on the 40-man roster, transferred OF Lane Thomas from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL.

Let’s start with the simple ones and go from there:

Jose Martinez

Cafecito was placed on the 10-day IL on August 12th with a right AC joint sprain after what looked like a mild collision with the wall while catching a fly ball. He was sent to AA Springfield on August 26th for a rehab assignment that has lasted for 5 games, and during that time, he served as the DH for 3 games and played RF for the last 2. In 19 PA, he went 8 for 16 with 7 singles and 1 double, 3 BB and 1 SO. Although he is in the starting lineup today in RF for game 1 of the doubleheader, he figures to serve mostly as a right-handed bat off the bench. This has been a down year offensively for Martinez, as he has struggled with breaking pitches unlike any prior season.

Andrew Knizner

This callup has turned out to be quite timely. In game 2 of yesterday’s doubleheader, backup catcher Matt Wieters started the game and reached on a fielding error by LF Josh VanMeter in the top of the 7th. When Dexter Fowler blooped a base hit to score Tommy Edman, Wieters ran to 2nd base and injured his left calf while running. We didn’t know what his injury was at the time, but the training staff came out to look at him. Yairo Munoz came in to pinch run for Wieters and Yadier Molina, who had started game 1, came out to finish the game off at catcher.

It had been announced in the pregame show that Knizner was going to be recalled today, so this recall had nothing to do with the injury. Molina has been announced as the starter for game 1 today. Wieters will be out for a couple of days for evaluation, so Knizner will be the backup for now, and you might see him start in game 2.

According to Fangraphs, Knizner’s season offensively this year was right around average with a 99 wRC+. His ISO and SLG were significantly higher this year at AAA Memphis than they were last year at AA Springfield, with K and BB rates and OBP largely the same. The biggest difference appears to be a 58 point drop in BABIP from .339 to .281, which contributed to dropping his batting average from .315 to .276. Memphis is now out of the playoff race. With their season only lasting 2 more games, Jose Godoy can hold down the fort down there just fine without Knizner, who can give our grizzled veteran catchers a break now and again.

Genesis Cabrera

You might be asking yourself why Cabrera is being recalled again after he was just brought up yesterday as the 26th man. As I explained in yesterday’s article here, the addition of the 26th man is not technically a recall, although it is often reported as such. The rules explicitly state that immediately after the second game of a doubleheader for which the 26th man is available, the club must return its roster to 25. So immediately after game 2 of yesterday’s doubleheader, the Cardinals filed a paperwork transaction that went unreported to return Cabrera to the minor leagues. That return is not an option, and if Cabrera had not spent 10 days on option before being added, he would have actually had to stay off of the 25-man roster until he reached the required 10 days, and it would not have mattered that rosters could expand to 40 today. Because he had spent way more than 10 days on option prior to being added yesterday as the 26th man, he didn’t actually go anywhere, and was eligible to be officially recalled today when rosters expanded.

That is why Cabrera is being recalled despite already being with the club. The 26th man rules puts a player in limbo status such that he gets major league service for that one day, but he’s not really considered part of the 25-man roster. If the 26th man gets injured in a MLB game, he gets put on the minor league injured list, not the major league injured list. Wrap your head around that one.

Junior Fernandez

Fernandez was optioned to AAA Memphis on August 22nd, and having spent 10 days on option, was eligible to be recalled today. I explained here the likely explanation behind why Genesis Cabrera was added as the 26th man for yesterday’s doubleheader instead of Fernandez. If Fernandez had been added as the 26th man, he would not have been available to be recalled today. Since being optioned on August 22nd, Fernandez pitched 3 games for Memphis, and in 3.2 IP, allowed 6 hits, 2 R and 1 ER, to go along with 1 BB and 4 SO. Four of his 6 hits allowed came in one outing on August 27, where he allowed both of his runs in .2 IP with just 7 batters faced. He’s here to fortify the bullpen.

Daniel Ponce de Leon and the Taxi Squad

The mechanics of how Ponce de Leon got here are quite interesting. Before the game on August 30th got rained out, Ponce was set to start game 2 of yesterday’s doubleheader and was going to be added as the Cardinals’ 26th man. On August 30th, Memphis had a full 25-man roster, and needed to get Tommy Parsons up from Springfield to make a replacement start. In order to make room, they engaged in a transaction that most people probably have never heard of. The Pacific Coast League transaction page said that Memphis placed Ponce on what it called the “reserve list.” Every day, the Memphis Redbirds home page has an updated PDF of its roster when it makes moves, and that document called it something different. It said for August 30th, “Ponce de Leon to MLB taxi.” It said the same thing for Mayers, Knizner and Fernandez today.

What is that all about? For one thing, “reserve list,” with the lower case “r” in the word “reserve” is nowhere to be found in the Major League Rules or the Collective Bargaining Agreement. “Reserve List” with an uppercase “R” in the word “reserve” is the official name for the MLB 40-man roster. Minor league teams also have a “Reserve List,” which is set at 38 players for AAA teams, 37 for AA teams and 35 for other classifications. Ponce de Leon is on the MLB “Reserve List” or 40-man roster and a player can only be on one “Reserve List” at a time.

The other interesting thing about this is that the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifically says in Article XV(E)(3) that taxi squads are prohibited. But that same provision allowed the club to do what they did with Ponce de Leon. The default rule is that a player who is directed to report to a major league team in connection with his potential recall to the 25-man active roster is supposed to report to the team when he arrives in the club’s city. But the rules allow the player to report to the club on the day after his arrival if he shows up in the city after the time the team is required to appear for pre-game workouts or activities or if there is no game or workout scheduled the day the player arrives.

The rule goes on to say that if a player is not added to the 25-man roster by the earlier of 8:00 EST or 3 hours prior to the club’s scheduled game on the day after the player reports, then that player is not allowed to stay with the major league club. Between the period of reporting and being added to the 25-man roster, the player is allowed to participate in one workout without receiving a MLB salary or MLB service time, but may not be in uniform for the game or otherwise occupy the dugout, bullpen or field after batting practice is over. The rule appears to be designed to stop teams from hoarding a group of players they have placed in limbo for random and surprise activation.

Putting all these rules together, here is what I have concluded must have happened with Ponce. He arrived in St. Louis on August 30th after the team was set to work out. That allowed the club to have him officially report on August 31st, but not add him to the active roster yet. Then the Cardinals added him to the active roster today when the rules allowed rosters to expand, and because they did so within the time limit specified by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it was legal for him to stay with the club today.

The final point about this that I want to make is that because of this procedure, Ponce de Leon was on the active roster of nobody for 2 days. He didn’t count against the Memphis 25-man active list, because Tommy Parsons was used to replace him, and he was not placed on the Cardinals’ active list until today. I find it interesting that clubs call this procedure using the “taxi squad” despite the fact that the use of taxi squads is prohibited, and I would like to find the list Ponce de Leon was placed on that allows this procedure. But this is legal and done all the time.

Ponce needs no introduction. He’s being recalled to start game 2 of today’s doubleheader, but after Wacha’s strong start in Game 2 yesterday, he might be relegated to long relief going forward. Before being optioned to AAA Memphis on July 31st, he had both started and relieved for the Cardinals. He performed poorly in starts which were planned, but did well in a surprise spot start. Since being optioned, he has started 5 games for Memphis and in 29 IP, he has given up 13 H, and just 3 ER, along with 1 HR, 13 BB and 39 SO. He walked 4 in 5 IP in his last start on August 25th, but in a two-start stretch on August 9th and August 15th, he walked 2 and struck out 20 in 14 IP, while allowing only 4 hits.

Rangel Ravelo

Ravelo has been a part of the Cardinals’ bench at times this year. This is one of the surprises of the day, as it had been announced yesterday that he would not be recalled until September 3rd when Memphis’s season was over. Ravelo initially got a shot with the Cardinals when Yairo Munoz went on the paternity leave list back in June. He has been one of the best offensive players for Memphis this season, and ends his 3rd season in a row with Memphis with a .299/.383/.473 slash line with a 111 wRC+. The wRC+ is down a little from prior seasons despite very similar numbers, and it might be because of the new ball. Ravelo has been tried at 3B and the OF a bit with Memphis this season, but he is basically a first baseman. He is out of options after this year, and his future in the organization is in doubt. He probably should have remained as a bench bat with the Cardinals much longer than he did. He only has 20 PA and 3 H with the Cardinals this year.

Mike Mayers

This is the move that is going to confound most people. Mayers started this season in the Cardinals’ bullpen but was placed on the IL after 8 games, in which he pitched poorly. He was placed on the 60-day IL on June 17th, and Ravelo took his 40-man roster spot. He was then activated from the 60-day IL on July 23rd, and the Cardinals DFAd Chasen Shreve to make room for him. Then after he pitched mostly poorly in 4 games, the club DFAd Mayers to make room for Adalberto Mejia, whom they had just claimed on outright assignment waivers from the Los Angeles Angels.

After Mayers went unclaimed on outright assignment waivers and was outrighted to AAA Memphis, Mayers has pitched in 10 games in the bullpen. During that stretch, he has pitched 10 innings, with each stint 1 inning at a time. In 42 batters faced, he has allowed 10 hits, but just 2 ER, 1 HR, and only 3 BB to 15 SO with a 1.80 ERA and a 3.00 FIP. He has done all this despite a BABIP allowed of .391. The club apparently believes that he has earned a second look and can soak up some innings. He is out of options, and it is unknown how much longer he will last in the organization.

He took the 40-man roster spot that was opened up when the club placed Drew Robinson on unconditional release waivers. The club has still not added Jake Woodford to the 40-man roster, which means that the club will either go with a bullpen game on September 4th or that Genesis Cabrera will take the start if he does not pitch in today’s doubleheader.

Joe Hudson

This is another surprise move of the day. Joe Hudson is a 28-year old catcher who was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training this year. Initially drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 draft by the Cincinnati Reds out of Notre Dame, he did not start in the minor leagues until 2013. He finally cracked AAA last year, and on June 30th, 2018, the Reds traded him to the Los Angeles Angels organization for cash. The Angels purchased his contract on September 4th, and he got 4 starts at catcher. In 12 PA, he went 2 for 12 with a single and a double, along with no walks and no strikeouts.

After the Angles DFAd and outrighted him last off-season, Hudson elected minor-league free agency, and the Cardinals signed him to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training last November. He has spent all year with AAA Memphis this year. In 60 games at the plate and 222 PA, he has slashed .223/.293/.411 with 10 HR and a 65 wRC+ with 20 BB and 69 SO. He started 52 games behind the plate. I know nothing about his defensive reputation. His career minor league slash line is .224/.311/.344.

The only reason I can think that the Cards have made this move is that they are afraid something is really wrong with Wieters and his calf, and are looking at Hudson as the 3rd catcher to lighten the load. Hudson still has all 3 options remaining.

Lane Thomas

Thomas was just placed on the 10-day IL on August 30th with a broken wrist. To make room for Hudson on the 40-man roster, Thomas has now been transferred from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL, and his season is now officially over. It will be interesting to see what happens with Lane Thomas next year, because Shildt decided not to start him in the outfield this year when there was a golden opportunity to do so.

ROSTER RAMIFICATIONS

The Cards’ 40-man roster is now full. We now have 33 players on the active roster. We have 17 pitchers, and if you assume that Ponce de Leon is a long-man going forward, that means we have a 12-man pen with an 8-man bench. There are 4 catchers on the active roster.

BULLPEN

Brebbia (R), Cabrera (L), Fernandez (R), Gallegos (R), Gant (R), Helsley (R), Leone (R), C. Martinez (R), Mayers (R), Miller (L), Ponce de Leon (R), Webb (L)

BENCH

Wieters, Knizner, Hudson, Munoz, Ravelo, J. Martinez, O’Neill, Edman/Carpenter