Part of baseball’s proposed plan to resume the season in early July is expanded rosters. Reports indicate that MLB is planning to allow teams to carry 30 players on their active roster and another 20 players on a taxi squad, which could either travel with the club or work out at home stadiums.
That allows for four extra players beyond a normal 26-man roster and 10 additional players than what is listed on the 40-man roster.
How should the Cardinals approach the construction of their roster and taxi squad?
It think the Cardinals should have two goals in compiling this group of 50 players.The first goal is obvious:
1. The Roster and taxi squad need to include sufficient depth at multiple positions to cover injuries.
Even with a 30-man roster, position options still matter. With no active minor league system to draw from, teams have to have any player they might want to use working out and ready to go. From an offensive and defensive perspective, that means a club would be wise to carry at least three catchers on their 30-man roster and probably one or two additional catchers on their taxi squad. The same logic would apply to the middle infield, particularly shortstop.
Likewise, the 30-man roster and taxi squad need to include a variety of starters and relievers and handedness needs to be a consideration. I believe the club would want to have at least one extra arm who could immediately step into the rotation on the active roster and a slew of starting-capable players on the taxi squad.
The second goal in roster construction is future-oriented.
2. Roster and taxi squad construction needs to give priority to player development.
I said this above but it bears discussing here. There is no plan at this time for the minor leagues to play this season. That means that the entire Cardinals minor league system is going to miss a year of development. As fans, we yearn for high-priced free agents and blockbuster trades and gripe when they don’t happen, but the reality is that the Cardinals’ (and every other franchise in the game) roster-construction strategy centers around draft (or sign internationally) and develop.
With no AA or AAA season, I believe the Cardinals have to give priority on their active roster and taxi squad to high-value and MLB-ready prospects to further their development. This means that some players need to be bumped up from their minor league promotion schedule to ensure they have some live-action and direct coaching this season.
This means that a player like Ivan Herrera should be given priority placement and usage over more experienced players like journeyman catcher Oscar Hernandez. Jhon Torres could earn a spot over more experienced but less talented outfielders. The same applies to the pitching staff. High-impact starter prospects such as Zach Thompson and Matthew Liberatore need a spot somewhere at Busch stadium this summer.
Following those two goals, I went through the 40-man roster and the non-roster invitees to spring training and built a 50-man depth chart (54 actually, but we’ll talk about that below). To do this, I followed the same guidelines that were set to be enforced this season: a balance between pitchers and offensive players on the active roster. Instead of a maximum of 13 pitchers for a 26-man roster, my 30-man active roster will include 15 bats and 15 arms.
Here’s my roster:
Proposed Active Roster & Taxi Squad (+4)
|Position||Starter||Level 2||Level 3||Taxi 1||Taxi 2|
|Position||Starter||Level 2||Level 3||Taxi 1||Taxi 2|
|SP||Martinez||Ponce de Leon||Cabrera||Oviedo|
First, let’s just deal with the 30-man active roster. In the scenario I present, I took the likely 26-man roster from the end of spring training and added four players to it. Those four players are Dylan Carlson and Andrew Knizner on the offensive side and Jordan Hicks and Austin Gomber on the pitching. The first players cut from my active roster were Edmundo Sosa and Alex Reyes.
The Cardinals may still try to play games with Carlson’s service time, though that seems ludicrous at this point. They now have no way to argue that he would be better served by starting every day in the minor leagues – there are no minor leagues! They also can’t argue that other players have seniority over him on the roster – the roster expanded by four players! If they send him to the taxi squad, it would be 100% about money and years and, frankly, with the shortened season, he would only have to stay down there a few days.
Hicks, meanwhile, was scheduled to return from Tommy John surgery sometime around mid-season. The first part of July, when games are expected to resume, fits with that timeline. If he’s ready, he’ll be on the roster. If he’s not, then he hits the IL and the first pitcher off – Alex Reyes – steps into his spot.
I have both Ponce and Gomber on my active roster as I feel like both players were ahead of Alex Reyes when spring training ended. I do feel like the Cardinals are going to want Reyes on their club, but I can’t figure out how to get him there, barring injury. (We should expect an injury; they always happen).
The taxi squad is where things get very difficult. You might have noticed that my 30-man roster and 20-man taxi squad has 54 total players. It’s not because I’m bad at math (though I am). It’s because I wanted you to be able to see the players I am choosing from.
I placed an * next to the last four players that I included in my list. In order, those four are:
- Jhon Torres
- John Nogowski
- Connor Jones
- Oscar Hernandez
Those four are the last players off. The last players on would be Max Schrock and Matthew Liberatore.
Here’s where tough decisions come in. Liberatore, Ivan Herrera, and Jhon Torres are all intriguing prospects for the Cardinals but none have any real experience in the upper minors. Liberatore and Herrera make my final cut because they did reach A+ and have a bit more major league readiness than Torres, who had just 75 PA’s above rookie ball in ‘19. Herrera, while far from a finished product, probably already has the requite skills to serve as the only taxi squad catcher, especially since the active roster includes three catchers with MLB experience. Oscar Hernandez, meanwhile, could be asked to stay with the club as a non-roster “bullpen” catcher. If the Cardinals end up with some kind of hard-to-imagine catcher crisis that takes them to their #5 receiver, at least Hernandez would be around and staying loose instead of checking his cell phone while working out at Planet Fitness.
Meanwhile, I would love to get future Nick Stavinoha John Nogowski onto the taxi squad, but he just doesn’t fit either of my above-mentioned roster goals. He’s an interesting player but not a developmental prospect and while he has some (limited) positional flexibility, he’s behind a slew of players who could handle first base if Goldschmidt is injured and is a non-starter for me in the outfield depth chart.
Have fun with this! I am hoping there are names that our resident prospect experts will throw out in comments and I welcome that. I am not a prospect guru. Consider the above list as the first word but not the last. Who did I miss? Who should be cut? Let me know!