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Transaction Analysis 9/3: Cards Recall Arozarena; A Look at the Players Left Out of the Picture

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MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The minor league regular season of the Cardinals’ affiliates ending yesterday coupled with rosters expanding to 40 players on September 1st holds significance for 2 reasons. The first is that you are unlikely to see any more Cardinal transactions the rest of the season. Rule 11(e) of the Major League Rules prohibits sending a player on optional assignment to the minor leagues after the season of the optionee club is over, including playoffs. All of the Cardinal minor league affiliates have been eliminated from postseason competition except the Rookie classification Johnson City Cardinals, and no one is ever going to be optioned to Johnson City from the big club. There would be no real need to option someone anyway with rosters having expanded to 40. The real significance seems to be that it could not be done as some sort of punishment. Who ever is here now will get major league service time credit for the rest of the season unless they are outrighted or released.

The 10-day IL is theoretically available, but practically unnecessary with 40 allowable players on the active roster. The Cardinals currently have a full 40-man roster, and if the club decides that it actually has to add another player, a trade is not an option to clear space, because the new trade deadline rule bars trades of players on 40-man rosters, including players who have been outrighted from 40-man rosters this season. Thus, it is possible that someone could be DFAd, placed on the 60-day IL, released or outrighted to add another player. But the Cardinals’ actions have clearly indicated their intent to stick with the players they have. You are unlikely to see any of these transactions unless there’s some sort of emergency. No news is good news in this case, because if you see one of these transactions, it likely means a Cardinal player has suffered a serious injury.

The other item of significance is that the Cards have announced OF Randy Arozarena as their final recall of the season. This will give the Cards a 35-man active roster, leaving only five 40-man roster players not with the big club. First, I will talk a bit about Arozarena, then discuss the players who did not make the cut.

Randy Arozarena

Arozarena was added to the 40-man roster on August 12th when Jose Martinez went on the 10-day IL after a mild collision with the right field Busch Stadium wall the night before. Once the Cardinals decided that Harrison Bader had re-discovered his hitting stroke in Memphis, Bader was recalled on August 20th and Arozarena was optioned back to Memphis. But because he is being recalled today, he has not spent enough time on option to burn one of his 3 option years.

This season can only be called an overwhelming success for Arozarena. Although he didn’t get his minor league season started until May 11th due to a broken hand he suffered in spring training when he got hit by a pitch, he laid waste to the Texas League in a 28-game tuneup with AA Springfield. His hot hitting continued in AAA Memphis, and his overall line there this season in 282 PA was .358/.433/.593 with 12 HR. This was a major improvement on the .232/.328/.348 slash line and 81 wRC+ he ended up with in 311 PA with Memphis in 2018.

Further examination will have to be done to determine how much Arozarena benefited from the new ball that was used in AAA this year. One critical difference is that his BABIP increased from .282 in 2018 to a stunning .404 this year. His ISO increased 120 points largely because had 7 more HR and 2 more doubles this year in 29 fewer plate appearances than he had in 2018. He had 2 triples that he didn’t have last year and hit 15 more singles. His walk percentage dropped by almost 1%, but he also lowered his strikeout percentage by 2%.

Arozarena saw action with the Cardinals in 3 out the possible 7 games while he was on the 25-man roster, with 2 straight starts in CF and one pinch-hitting appearance, getting 2 singles in 8 PA with 0 BB and 2 SO. He pinch hit once, and stayed in the game for the bottom of the 9th to play RF. For what it is worth, after being optioned back to Memphis on August 20th, he stayed hot in the final 11 games he played, slashing .311/.392/.733 with 5 HR in 51 PA. With Lane Thomas now out for the season, look for Arozarena to fill the role Thomas played—pinch running, pinch-hitting, and especially serving as a defensive replacement in late-inning double switches. He has experience at every position in the outfield, with multiple starts in each this season in the minors.

The Cards now have a 35-man roster, which includes 17 pitchers, a 12-man bullpen and a 10-man bench. I am counting Ponce de Leon as a bullpen member for now, and Carpenter as a bench player. The only left-handed bats available on the bench are Carpenter and the switch-hitting Wieters.

Bullpen

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

Bench

J. Hudson, Knizner, Wieters, Carpenter, Munoz, Ravelo, Sosa, J. Martinez, O’Neill, Arozarena

Players Not Making the Cut

There are only five 40-man roster players that will not be joining the Cardinals for the rest of the club’s 25 games unless something dramatic happens. Let’s examine what happened to them this season.

LHP Austin Gomber

Gomber lost the open competition for a big league starting rotation job to Dakota Hudson by pitching poorly in spring training, allowing a staff-high 6 HR in only 11 IP, together with 5 BB and only 3 SO. Optioned to AAA Memphis to start the season, Gomber was actually the pitcher the Cardinals wanted to recall to start on April 23rd to take the rotation spot of Michael Wacha, who went on the injured list on April 22nd with patellar tendinitis in his left knee. Gomber was pitching the best out of the available pitchers in Memphis to take the start, but by the time the Cardinals knew they were going to place Wacha on the IL, it was too late for Gomber to get the call. He started a game for Memphis on April 20th, and would not have enough days of rest to start on April 23rd.

By the time the Cards decided to move Wacha to the bullpen in late May, Gomber was already on the Memphis 7-day injured list with no timetable for his return. After he had made only 8 starts—the last on May 13th, he was placed on the minor league injured list on May 17th with shoulder fatigue and wasn’t activated until August 23rd. Before he was placed on the injured list, he had thrown 45.1 IP, and allowed 42 H, 17 R, 15 ER, 5 HR, together with 15 BB and 52 SO. He had a 28.7% K rate and 8.7% BB rate, and his FIP over that time was a solid 4.00, which would have been an outstanding mark in this year’s Pacific Coast League if he had been able to keep it there the whole season.

Once he was activated on August 23rd, his option was converted to A+ Palm Beach for one game and then to Springfield for 3 games. Over those 4 games and 4.1 IP, he faced 18 batters and gave up 3 H, 3 BB and struck out 2. The Cards just did not deem Gomber ready to contribute on the big league mound after the long absence that he had. He will have 1 minor league option remaining for next season.

RHP Alex Reyes

Many fans are fed up with Reyes at this point. Expected to finally make a significant contribution at the major league level this season, Reyes cracked the opening day roster as a reliever, but was optioned to AAA Memphis on April 7th, which was the earliest possible date a player could be recalled to replace him on the roster. He had a difficult time getting his secondary pitches over the plate, and in 4 games and 3 IP, he walked 6 batters while only striking out 1.

Reyes then pitched 5 games in the minors, walking 9 batters in 10.1 IP, and broke his little finger on his non-throwing hand when he punched a wall in frustration after his April 25th start. Placed on the Memphis 7-day IL on April 28th, he was out of action for almost a month until he was activated on May 23rd. His option was converted to A+ Palm Beach for 2 games, where he pitched well, with only 3 BB and 11 SO over 9.1 IP and 40 batters faced.

Placed back on the Memphis roster on June 2nd, he was put in the rotation to ensure that his outings would be regular and that he could work on his secondary pitches. But he could only pitch 5 games and 17.2 innings before coming down with a pectoral strain. Over the 5-game span, he still couldn’t find his control or command, allowing 23 H and 21 R, with 5 HR, 15 BB and 29 SO. At the time he was placed on the Memphis injured list again on June 25th, he was only expected to miss a handful of starts. As it turned out, he was done for the year. Again. After a bullpen session in early August, he felt increased pain in his pectoral muscle and shoulder. The last we heard, he might go on a throwing program this month and pitch to some hitters at the Cardinals’s complex in Jupiter, FL.

Reyes was slapped with a 50-game drug suspension that booted him out of the Arizona Fall League in 2015 and cost him part of the 2016 season. He lost all of 2017 to Tommy John surgery. After 4 strong rehab starts in 2018, Reyes came back to the majors for 1 start on May 30th, but had to leave with an injury after 4 innings. He lost the rest of that season after surgery to repair a tendon attached to his lat muscle. Now he’s basically lost a third season in a row. He did pitch 16 games total this year, but only 4 in the majors, and he walked over 18% of the batters he faced across all levels.

Reyes is in an unusual situation when it comes to options and service time. The Cards added him to the 40-man roster on August 9th, 2016 and he pitched 12 games for the club that year, lasting in the majors for the rest of the season. Because an injured player may not be optioned to the minors, Reyes had never been optioned until this year, and got major league service time credit for all that time along the way when he was on the major league injured list. Going into this season, he had 2 years and 55 days of service, about 70 days shy of what it would usually take to get Super Two status. He only added 10 days of service time to that total this season before he was optioned for the first time.

Reyes just turned 25 years old, has 2 options remaining after this season, and needs about 2 months of service time to be eligible for arbitration, despite only pitching in 17 career MLB games. Fans should remove all their expectations for Reyes and be pleasantly surprised by anything he contributes to the Cardinals at this point.

Ramon Urias

The Cardinals signed the 25-year old infielder to a minor league deal on January 4th, 2018 after he had spent 5 years in the Mexican League, to which he was sold by the Texas Rangers organization after 2 seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He split time last year between Springfield and Memphis, and tore up the Texas League in 194 PA with a .333/.406/.589 slash line with 8 HR and a 170 wRC+. His BABIP dropped from .369 to .296 in 149 PA in AAA, and some plate discipline and power went with it. For Memphis, he slashed .261/.291/.430 with an 84 wRC+, a 5% reduction in walk rate, a 5% increase in strikeout rate, and his ISO dropped almost 100 points.

The Cards added him to the 40-man roster this past off-season and optioned him to Memphis to start the year. For the first 2 months, he was awful offensively, slashing .223/.348/.319 with 2 HR, an .096 ISO and a 72 wRC+ over 199 PA in 53 games. His 12.1% BB percentage and being hit by 8 pitches were the only things that saved his offensive profile from looking like a complete disaster. He went on the Memphis 7-day injured list on June 9th (the same day the Cardinals added Tommy Edman to the 40-man roster), and did not return to action until July 8th. His option was converted to A+ Palm Beach for 5 games and AA Springfield for 2 games so he could get his bearings.

Urias turned his season around when he returned to Memphis on July 16th, and in the 42 games and 171 PA since then, he slashed .303/.392/.517 with an 11.7% BB rate, a .214 ISO and a 121 wRC+. Nineteen of his forty-four hits went for extra bases. He started 61 games at 2B, 17 games at 3B and 5 games at SS for Memphis this year. He most likely lost out to Sosa for a callup because Sosa would almost certainly be the first choice defensively at short if something happened to Paul DeJong and because Sosa has been in the organization since 2012. Urias will have 2 options remaining after this year.

Adolis Garcia

Unfortunately, most Cardinal fans remember Garcia for a base running mistake. In Game No. 159 last season on September 26th, a critical matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers, Garcia pinch ran for Matt Carpenter with 2 outs in the bottom of the 8th and the Cards losing 2-1. Jose Martinez tapped a slow roller to Mike Moustakas at 3rd base. Moustakas bounced the throw to first, and the ball scooted all the way to the sidewall in foul territory past the Cardinal dugout. Garcia was rounding 2nd base when the ball got away. Third base coach Jose Oquendo waved Garcia home, and he clearly would have scored to tie the ballgame. But he tripped over his own feet between 3rd base and home plate and fell down half-way. Garcia was tagged out, the Brewers won the game to sweep the 3-game series and both the Cubs and Brewers clinched playoff spots due to that loss.

The Cards signed the 26-year old outfielder from Cuba to a minor league deal on February 24th, 2017. He spent most of the 2017 season with AA Springfield, but logged 147 PA with AAA Memphis. Garcia slashed .256/.281/.500 with Memphis in 428 PA in 2018 with 22 HR and a 95 wRC+. The Cards added him to the 40-man roster on August 6th last season after Tommy Pham had been traded, Dexter Fowler was lost for the season with a broken foot and Tyler O’Neill had to go on the injured list with a mysterious groin inflammation issue that was not baseball related.

At the time of his promotion, Garcia was red hot, having just been named the Cardinal Minor League Player of the Month for July 2018 and hitting 10 of his total 22 HRs that month. Before that time, he hadn’t done much offensively. He was optioned back to Memphis on August 14th when O’Neill came off of the injured list, but was recalled again on August 29th when Jedd Gyorko went on the injured list with a strained groin and ended up staying with the Cardinals the rest of the season. He got 1 start each in RF and CF, and in 17 PA, had 1 single, 1 double, 0 BB and 7 SO.

Garcia continued his hackstatic approach to the plate this season in 523 PA for Memphis, slashing .255/.303/.523 with 32 HRs. While he managed to slightly improve his BB% from 3.3% to 4%, his K% went up from 23.1% last year to 29.6% this year. His wRC+ went down from 95 to 90. While no one has hit that many home runs for AAA Memphis since Rick Ankiel in 2007, you would expect a player’s strikeout rate to go down after his 3rd trip through AAA, not up.

Because Garcia did not spend 20 days on option to the minors in 2018, he did not burn his first option year until this year, and will have 2 options remaining after this season. He’s played RF for most of his career, but did start 30 games in CF this season. Garcia will turn 27 a few weeks into spring training next year. The club loves his athleticism, but he will have to cut down the strikeouts and increase his patience to get further traction.

Justin Williams

Williams was part of the return from the Rays in the Tommy Pham trade at the deadline last season. In December of 2018, Williams punched a television set in anger over a personal matter, breaking a bone in his right hand. That cost him all of spring training. Although the Cardinals were probably not inclined to outright him to the minors to clear a 40-man roster spot at the time, a quirk in the Collective Bargaining Agreement would have prevented the club from doing so because Williams had at least 1 day of service time in 2018. Because injured players may not be optioned to the minors, Williams was placed on the MLB 10-day IL to start the season.

Once he was healthy enough to play, the Cards activated him from the 10-day IL and optioned him to AA Springfield on May 5th. By that point, he had earned 38 days of MLB service time plus the major-league portion of his split contract during that time, which was about a $500,000 difference in annual salary.

Williams went back on the Springfield 7-day IL on May 23rd, and stayed there until June 27th. Three days later, on June 30th, Williams was promoted to Memphis even though his performance did not justify it. Both Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas were recalled to the Cardinals the day before when Marcell Ozuna went on the 10-day IL with broken fingers and John Brebbia went on the paternity leave list. In 17 G and 61 PA to that point, Williams had slashed .193/.246/.263 with 1 HR, 4 BB and 17 SO. It was a very small sample, but at the same time his performance did not cry out for a promotion.

Six days after his promotion, he went on the Memphis 7-day IL and stayed there until July 30th. When he was activated, however, he caught fire, and in 35 games and 114 total PA for Memphis, he slashed .357/.439/.612 with 7 HR and a 13.2% BB rate. Williams is a corner outfielder, with only 1 minor league game in CF in 2015 to his credit. He played LF in Springfield and RF in Memphis this season. While it would be intriguing to see what his left-handed bat could do on a bench that only has Carpenter and Wieters from the left side, you will forgive me for thinking that the front office feels like he earned enough service time this season already when he punched a television.

Williams was left out of the September callup party last season as well. The Cardinals had a 36-man active roster by the end of the year, and Williams was the only healthy position player that did not join the Cardinals. Williams just turned 24 a couple of weeks ago and will have 1 minor league option after this season.

Jake Woodford

Woodford is not on the 40-man roster, but I mention him here because I was wrong in an earlier article when I predicted that he would be added to make a spot start. If a team has back-to-back doubleheaders, it needs 7 starters to avoid having a pitcher start on only 3 days of rest. When the Cardinals added Genesis Cabrera as the 26th man, I thought for sure that Woodford would get the spot start that would be needed on September 4th.

The Cardinals could not have known at the time that Cabrera would not be needed (he still has not pitched since being added), that Dakota Hudson would last a career-best 7.2 IP in Game 1 on August 31st, or that Michael Wacha would throw 7 innings in Game 2. Wacha had done that only 1 other time this year, and in his previous 8 starts had ranged from 1.2 to 5 IP, with most of his starts during that time lasting 3 or 4 innings.

I’m honestly not sure what the club had in mind. They had announced that Mike Mayers would be added to the 40-man roster, and according to the Memphis website, Mayers was put on the MLB taxi squad on August 31st. Mayers took the open 40-man roster spot. Then the club decided to put Lane Thomas on the 60-day IL to clear another roster spot for C Joe Hudson after it learned that C Matt Wieters would be out for a while with a mild calf strain.

The move to add Hudson was completely unnecessary in my opinion. First of all, now that the doubleheaders are over, you can expect Yadier Molina to almost never come out of the lineup in a pennant race with 25 games left in the season. There are still 2 more off days this month. Hudson was Andrew Knizner’s backup in AAA Memphis. If Molina needs a break, the Cards can just let Knizner play. Knizner has started only 73 games total this season across AAA and the majors. I don’t think there’s any danger that the 24-year old Knizner will be too tired from overuse. The Cards simply don’t need 4 catchers on the active roster.

The Cards have decided to go with Wacha on 3 days of rest to start on September 4th, but with an undisclosed limit of either innings or pitches. Since Cabrera hasn’t pitched yet, and probably will not throw out of the bullpen in Jack Flaherty’s start tonight, Shildt can piggyback Cabrera with Wacha and grab an inning or two from Ryan Helsley, Junior Fernandez or John Gant.

Woodford was the Memphis workhorse starter this year, one of only 25 pitchers in the Pacific Coast League who pitched at least 100 innings, and one of only 3 who pitched at least 150 innings. Woodford’s 5.54 FIP and 6.23 xFIP do not look good, it is true. On further examination, it is not as bad as it looks in isolation. For one thing, at 22-years old, he was the youngest pitcher of the group, most of whom were at least 25. Secondly, because of the juiced ball, AAA pitchers got knocked around pretty good this year.

Out of the group of 25 PCL pitchers who pitched at least 100 innings, Woodford’s 11.7% BB rate was the 3rd highest, but his 20.7% K rate was the 6th best. His 5.54 FIP was actually the 9th best of that group, and only 3 pitchers in that group had a FIP below 5.00! Only 1 pitcher had a FIP lower than 4.93. Woodford’s 11.8% HR/FB rate must have been a good bit lower than league average, because his 6.23 xFIP put him at 4th worst among the group. Even then, only 2 pitchers had an xFIP lower than 5.00, with the median xFIP at 5.60. Without a more complete evaluation of AAA pitchers this season, I think it’s premature at this time to say that Woodford flat out stunk.

This could all simply be the Cardinals just wanting to let the 22-year old Woodford rest after pitching the 2nd most innings in the PCL at that age, and not wanting his confidence wrecked if he struggled in a spot start or rare mopup innings. I’m not saying Woodford earned the promotion, or that the club was dumb in not adding him, but I thought for sure the Cards would get a few innings out of him before they would add a 4th catcher. Either way, I completely missed the boat on the Woodford prediction. The club must add Woodford to the 40-man roster this November to avoid his potential loss in the December 2019 Rule 5 draft.