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Transaction Analysis Catch Up, Cards Claim Sanchez, DFA Urias

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MLB: Seattle Mariners-Media Day Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Greetings, everyone. The rumors of my untimely death are premature. I am alive and well, fresh from a break filled with work and a little bit of WOW Classic. Like many of you, I’m feeling the urge to talk baseball again. I appreciate the shoutout in the Fanpost as well as your e-mails. I’m back in the swing, and I look forward to spending the whole spring training and regular season with you this year, covering all of your transaction needs as well as game recaps.

My last article covered the signing of LHP Kwan-Hyun Kim and the subsequent DFA of Adolis Garcia to make room. Since then, the Cards have engaged in a series of moves that have affected the 40-man roster. I will touch on those moves and explainin how they affected the 40-man roster, then address the Cards’s waiver claim yesterday and their corresponding move.

12/21: Traded OF Adolis Garcia to the Texas Rangers for Cash Considerations

This move did not affect the 40-man roster. When the Cards signed Kim, their 40-man roster was full and they had to make a corresponding roster move. The club decided to designate Adolis Garcia for assignment on 12/18. This gave the Cards 7 days to decide what to do with him. As a player with 2 minor league options remaining, Garcia would likely have been somewhat attractive to someone for the $50,000 outright assignment waiver price. The fact that the Cards ended up trading him to the Rangers suggested that the Rangers were willing to pay more than the waiver price. Maybe not much more, but more. I was a little surprised that the Cards couldn’t get a minor league pitcher or something out of the deal.

1/9: Traded OF Randy Arozarena, OF Jose Martinez and the 2020 Competitive Balance Round A Draft Choice to the Tampa Bay Rays for LHP Matthew Liberatore, C Edgardo Rodriguez, and the Competitive Balance Round B Draft Choice

With the Cardinals having a glut of outfielders (plus Tommy Edman and Yairo Munoz), they trimmed two off of their 40-man roster to pick up a sorely needed left-handed pitching prospect. Most of us favored trading Jose Martinez, primarily because we didn’t trust the Cardinals to employ him appropriately. Arguably the best masher of left-handed pitching the Cardinals have had over the last couple of years, his production against righties plummeted last season because he suddenly could not hit cutters and sliders. He often gave us gray hairs with his defense and was consistently used in the outfield against right-handers when he should have been limited to a platoon at the minimum. While we might miss his bat off the bench, Cafecito is surely a better fit as a DH with an American League team.

We will never find out whether Arozarena’s .344/.431/.571 2019 minor league line that was fueled by a .404 BABIP in AAA Memphis was legit. Some people probably believe because of his combination of speed, athleticism and plate discipline, the Cardinals traded the wrong outfielder. To get a prized left-handed pitching prospect, however, the Cards had to give up someone good, and it is just as likely that the Rays insisted on Arozarena because with Dylan Carlson untouchable, they felt he was the best of the Cards’ available lot.

Liberatore was drafted by the Rays 16th overall in the 1st round of the June 2018 draft out of an Arizona high school. Having just turned 20 years old in November, the 6’5” 200 pounder has been assigned to the reserve list of Class A-Advanced Palm Beach. He figures to be a few years away, but Fangraphs already has him as our #3 minor league prospect. The Rays signed Rodriguez for future services as a 16-year old international free agent out of Venezuela in July of 2017. It’s far too early to tell what to make of the 19-year old, as he only had 28 PA with the GCL Rays last season, with the whole year basically lost to injury. He has been assigned to Rookie level Johnson City, and he is not one of the 9 non-roster catchers the Cards have invited to 2020 Spring Training. While he does not appear to figure into the Cards’ immediate plans, he will be eligible for the December 2021 Rule 5 draft. Neither Liberatore nor Rodriguez were on the 40-man roster of the Rays at the time of the trade, thus the Cards did not have to add either player. This transaction put the Cards’ 40-man roster at 38 players.

All MLB teams that have either one of the 10 smallest markets or 10 smallest revenue pools receive an additional draft choice in what is known as Competitive Balance Round A after the first round or Competitive Balance Round B after the second round. The picks were allocated according to the 14 eligible teams according to a formula in 2017 that considered revenue and winning percentage, and the groups of teams have switched rounds ever year since. In 2020, the Cardinals were scheduled to have a pick in Round A, and the Rays in Round B. In this transaction, the clubs swapped their respective picks, such that, according to the current draft order, the Rays will pick at #37 where the Cards would have picked and the Cards will pick at #64 where the Rays would have picked. Competitive Balance Round picks are the only picks that are permitted to be traded under the rules.

1/14: Traded GCL OF Diowill Burgos to the Miami Marlins for OF Austin Dean

The Cards signed Burgos as a 17-year old undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic on September 1st, 2017. The left-handed swinger spent the entire 2018 season with the DSL Cardinals Blue, then split last season with the DSL Cardinals Red and the GCL Cardinals. Burgos turned 19-years old 15 days after this trade and in two minor league seasons slashed .263/.366/.475 over 493 PA, striking out about 25% of the time, but walking about 14% of the time.

Dean was drafted by the Marlins in the 4th round of the 2012 draft out of a Texas high school. He did not crack the 40-man roster until the Marlins purchased his contract from AAA New Orleans on August 15th, 2018, optioning OF Christopher Bostick in a corresponding move. Dean ended up starting 31 of the last place club’s remaining 39 games in left field in 2018, posting a .221/.279/.363 line in 122 PA, with 4 HR, 7 BB and 22 SO. Optioned to AAA to start the 2019 season, he was recalled on April 12th, then optioned and recalled two more times throughout the season. In between recalls, he spent a couple of weeks on the minor league 7-day IL. In all, he started 37 games in LF, 5 games in RF and 4 games at 1B for the 2019 Marlins, slashing .225/.261/.404 over 189 PA, with 6 HR, 9 BB and 47 SO.

Quite frankly, I don’t understand this trade. The Marlins had designated Dean for assignment on January 9th, 2020, giving them 7 days to decide what to do with him. The Cards’ offering a young outfielder for him suggests that they wanted him and were afraid that someone higher in the waiver claim priority would have snatched him for the $50,000 waiver price. The question I have is why the Cards wanted Dean bad enough to give up a young outfielder for him. The Cardinals had recently lopped 3 outfielders off of the 40-man roster because they had a glut of right-handed hitting outfielders, and just essentially added one back. Dean has two minor league options remaining and Memphis depth is nice, but Dean is not good on defense.

Last year in AAA, the right-handed hitting Dean actually hit worse against left-handers than he did right-handers and has had no real success in his short stints in the majors. In fairness, in 2 AAA seasons over 640 PA, Dean did slash .331/.398/.506 with 27 HR and decent plate discipline. But to me, the 26-year old looks like a faster, slightly younger version of Jose Martinez without the major league success as a lefty masher that Cafecito had. I’m waiting for the gnashing of teeth when the Cards trot out a lineup of Austin Dean in LF, Dexter Fowler in CF and Tommy Edman in RF because the Cards need to “ride the hot hand.” Because Dean had been on the Marlins’ 40-man roster before the DFA, the Cards had to add him to the 40-man roster upon acquiring him, a move which put the Cards’ 40-man roster at 39 players.

1/22: Signed Free Agent C Matt Wieters to a 1-year, $2 million Major League contract

This was one of those moves that many of us surely expected but probably didn’t want the Cardinals to make. The Cards signed Wieters during spring training in 2019 to a minor league deal and he ended up beating out Francisco Pena for the backup catching job, remaining on the major league roster the whole year. Wieters started 41 games behind the plate last year due to Yadier Molina’s bad hand, and managed to hit 11 HRs in a mostly pinch-hitting role. While he did have some timely hits for the Cards, Wieters is not the offensive force that he used to be. He has always received very poor marks in defensive framing, but despite a handful of plays last year where it seemed like he was just out to lunch on defense, Baseball Prospectus gives him positive marks in pitch blocking.

This move likely means that Andrew Knizner will be walking in Memphis again in 2020. Knizner is also a poor defender, and while John Mozeliak has apparently toyed with the idea of carrying 3 catchers on a 26-man roster, the sensible move would be to allow Knizner to play every day in Memphis. Could it be possible in 2020 that the catching position is overall a defensive liability for the Cards? Wieters can earn an additional $1 million in incentives in 2020, with his contract calling for $100,000 payments upon each of 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70 and 75 starts and a $200,000 payment if he starts 80 games. Wieters’ signing put the Cards at a full 40-man roster.

2/6: Claimed LHP Ricardo Sanchez on outright assignment waivers from the Seattle Mariners; Designated IF Ramon Urias for assignment

Sanchez was originally signed by the Los Angeles Angels as a 16-year old international free agent out of Venezuela on July 2nd, 2013. After 12 games and 9 starts with the Arizona League Angels in 2014 as a 17-year old, the Angels traded Sanchez to the Atlanta Braves for IF/OF Kyle Kubitza and RHP Nate Hyatt. Sanchez spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons pitching for the A Rome Braves before moving up to A-Advanced Florida in 2017. To prevent Sanchez from being selected in the Rule 5 draft, the Braves purchased his contract and added him to the 40-man roster in November of 2017.

After one season with AA Mississippi (where he was only able to start 13 games due to injury), the Braves then traded Sanchez to the Seattle Mariners for cash considerations on November 28th, 2018, after designating him for assignment two days earlier. Optioned to AA Arkansas for 2019, Sanchez spent all of 2019 with that club. To make room for the signing of RHP Yoshihisa Sirano, the Mariners designated him for assignment

Sanchez will turn just 23 this coming April 11th, and out of 111 games pitched in the minor leagues over 6 seasons, he has started 106 of them, despite not having what you might call a starter’s frame at 5’11” and 215 pounds. He has put on some weight since his signing, as early reports had him at about 175 pounds. Sanchez has pretty much always allowed more hits than innings pitched over the course of his career. His strikeout rate dropped 5% on his promotion from A-Advanced to AA in 2018, but he rebounded last season in AA at age-22 by restoring his K% to the 22% mark where it has usually been. Command was an issue for Sanchez early in his minor league career (BB/9 between 4 and 5 from 2014-2017), but he has performed much better in that department over the last two years with just 2.34 BB/9 last year, his career-best by far in a season in which he pitched a career-high 146 innings.

Reports have Sanchez throwing a low-90s fastball, a plus curveball and an average changeup. It remains to be seen whether Sanchez projects in a rotation on a long-term basis or whether he will be given an actual chance to possibly crack the bullpen for the Cards in 2020. The most likely outcome for the time being is that he will be stretched out in the Memphis rotation as insurance for the inevitable injury. Sanchez has just one minor league option remaining, but the Cards had to add him to the 40-man roster because they claimed him on outright assignment waivers.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Cards decided to designate infielder Ramon Urias for assignment. Urias was initially signed by the Texas Rangers to a minor-league deal as a 16-year old in December 2010 out of Mexico. He played 2011 and 2012 for the DSL Rangers when he was 17 and 18 years old. In 2013, his rights were loaned and then sold outright to the Diablos Rojos del Mexico in the Mexican League based in Mexico City. The Mexican League is officially classified in organized baseball as a AAA league, but there are those who feel it is not that strong. He played 5 seasons for the Red Devils while also playing 5 seasons of winter ball in the Mexican Pacific Winter League. He only got 11 PA in 2013 for some reason, but in 2014, playing mostly 2B, in 85 G and 264 PA, he slashed .262/.341/.416 with a 94 wRC+. This was not bad for a 20-year old middle infielder. In 2015, Urias kicked it up a notch. Again playing mostly 2B, he had 458 PA over 106 G and slashed .351/.410/.496 with 10 HR, 32 BB and 52 SO. This gave him a .409 wOBA and a 138 wRC+. After missing most of 2016 with an injury, Urias busted out in 2017 with a .340/.433/.570 slash line and a 164 wRC+. The Mexican League has elevated levels and all have hitters’ parks, with some calling the Mexico City park like Coors Field on steroids. Although the minor league wRC+ number is not park-adjusted, it supposed to be adjusted for league, and that was an eye-popping number for a 23-year old middle infielder.

The Cards purchased Urias’s rights from the Mexican League in January of 2018, and he split the 2018 season almost equally between AA Springfield and AAA Memphis with a .300/.356/.516 slash line. That performance was largely driven by his performance at Springfield, where he posted a 170 wRC+, as opposed to his time in Memphis, where he only managed a 89 wRC+ and his offensive numbers dropped across the board. The Cards added him to the 40-man roster in November of 2018. Urias’ 2019 season was the tale of two halves. Optioned to Memphis to start the season, he started off horribly for the first two months of the season, managing only .223/.348/.319 slash line through 53 games. He did walk 12% of the time and got hit by 8 pitches, features which saved his offensive profile from looking like a disaster.

Urias lost about a month to the injured list in June, but when he returned to Memphis full time in mid-July, he turned on the juice, slashing .303/.392/.517 with 19 of his 44 hits going for extra bases. Ultimately, however, Urias was most likely last on the depth chart in terms of infield playing time (with the exception of Elehuris Montero, the prospect whom the Cards most recently protected from the Rule 5 draft. You might have thought the Cards would dump Rangel Ravelo, who is out of options and not a prospect, but the Cards like his right-handed bat off the bench and (gulp) the possibility of him playing outfield. Yairo Munoz’s theoretical positional flexibility has somehow made him immune from transactions and Tommy Edman has surpassed Urias in every respect. In addition, Edmundo Sosa is considered the best shortstop defender out of all the possiblities, and the organizational soldier has a fourth minor league option remaining. With Urias not being a notable defender at any position, the Cards figured that it would hurt the least to part with him. In case you were wondering, Urias did start 3 games in LF for the 2011 DSL Rangers as a 17-year old, but that was not enough to save him.

CONCLUSION

Spring training is rapidly approaching. Pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday, February 11, with the first full squad workout on February 17 and games starting for the Cards on February 22. The Cards’ 40-man roster is full. Stay tuned for an article on some transaction rules that are specific to spring training, and I look forward to providing you constant coverage of the Cards’ roster machinations.