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Cardinals 2020 Opening Day Roster: Details & Debate

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The Cardinals have announced their Opening Day roster. J.P. Hill & Skyric detail the roster and debate the front office’s decisions.

Baseball is back! While the Cardinals do not begin play until tomorrow, official contests begin today around the league and rosters were due to the league office on Thursday morning.

Because of the shortened time frame to prepare players, MLB expanded rosters to 30 players for the first two weeks of the season. After two weeks, rosters will shrink to 28. A month into the season, clubs will have to be trimmed by two more, settling at 26 through the postseason.

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

As you will see below, the Cardinals have only named 29 out of an allowable 30 players to their opening day roster. This is perfectly legal because the 2020 MLB Operations Manual, only says that 30 players is the maximum allowed on opening day with a 25-man minimum. Anne Rogers, who covers the Cardinals for MLB.com, has tweeted:

The Cardinals foresee the roster staying at 29 players for a day or two to allow Gallegos, who arrived late to camp, a few extra days to get ready. Team didn’t want to bring someone up from Springfield when there wasn’t a desperate need, then have to option them a day or two later.

As of this writing, this is the only explanation that we have been given. We do know that the Cards have an optional workout today, at which Gallegos will throw. But the answer isn’t entirely satisfactory. It is true that the Cards shouldn’t need a 15th pitcher in the couple of days that it will take to see if Giovanny Gallegos is going to be ready. At the same time, we don’t think the rules permit the club to keep a bunch of players on standby just in case Gallegos is not ready. For example, let’s suppose that Jake Woodford, who is on the 40-man roster, would be the choice for the 15th pitcher if Gallegos is not ready. The 3-man taxi squad is not an option for him. The Manual only contemplates a taxi squad of up to 3 players traveling with the club on the road. Only a possible catcher on the taxi squad may be with the club during home games to serve as the bullpen catcher. Thus, although the transactions have not been announced yet, we think that Woodford not being named to the roster right now means that Woodford must be optioned to the Alternate Training Site in Springfield. Thus, we don’t see what difference it makes whether Woodford is optioned now, or two days from now.

Not only that, but the club wouldn’t be “bringing up someone up from Springfield” anyway. The club had 48 players on its Summer Camp Roster in St. Louis as of last night when the Cards played the Royals in the exhibition game. For all we know, they might still be there. No one that had already been assigned to the Alternate Training Site would have been in consideration for the 15th pitching job anyway. Again, assuming Woodford is the guy, the Cards had essentially one of two choices: (1) roster Woodford, who is on the 40-man roster now, and then option him in a couple of days if Gallegos is ready; or (2) option Woodford to the ATS in Springfield now, go with only 29 players, then recall Woodford from Springfield in a couple of days if Gallegos is not ready. We do not understand why the Cards chose option #2. We would have chosen option #1.

Normally, we would list all the transactions that the Cards made to pare down the roster. But at this point we don’t know what they are, other than the fact that the Cards purchased the contract of Kodi Whitley, adding him to both the 40-man and active rosters. Specifically, we’re waiting to see whether Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes, whom the Cards have said would not be ready for opening day, will actually be optioned to the ATS or placed on the COVID-19 Related Injury List on the grounds that positive COVID tests delayed their opening day readiness. The same question pertains to Elehuris Montero. Will he be optioned or placed on the IL? There is also a discrepancy about Ricardo Sanchez. The Cards tweeted days ago that he was placed on the COVID-19 Related Injury List, but it is not reflected on the transaction pages.

You can expect a follow-up article when we get the actual answers. For now, here is the roster the Cardinals submitted:

2020 Cardinals Opening Day Roster

PITCHERS (14)

STARTERS (5)

Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, Carlos Martinez

RELIEVERS (9)

Junior Fernandez, John Gant, Austin Gomber, Ryan Helsley, Kwang Hyun Kim, Andrew Miller, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Tyler Webb, Kodi Whitley

POSITION PLAYERS (15)

CATCHERS (3)

Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters, Andrew Knizner

INFIELDERS (7)

Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Rangel Ravelo, Edmundo Sosa, Kolten Wong

OUTFIELDERS (5)

Harrison Bader, Austin Dean, Dexter Fowler, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas

Did the Cardinals make the right roster moves? Skyric, VEB’s resident transaction guru and arm-chair GM, J.P. Hill, debate the front office decisions and speculate on how the roster might change over the course of this shortened season.

Let’s start with some of the big questions surrounding the roster and the club’s decisions.

The Cards look like they’re holding the extra roster spot for a 15th pitcher. Are you surprised they went with the 15/15 split, instead of a 16th pitcher to start?

Skyric: With the DH, the bench won’t see as much use as people might think, even with expanded rosters. I’m very surprised the club added Edmundo Sosa to the active roster instead of putting Jake Woodford on it right out of the gate. Sosa is an excellent defender, especially at shortstop and has experience at all the necessary positions. But the Cards are covered there with Edman. I realize the club sees Edman as an everyday player without a position, but Sosa wouldn’t be a strong candidate to pinch hit. Assuming Thomas doesn’t start on any kind of regular basis, he covers your pinch running duties. Sosa wouldn’t be seen as a late-inning defensive replacement for anyone other than possibly Matt Carpenter at third base, and I would start Edman at 3rd base anyway. Although the three-batter minimum rule might caution against rostering too many pitchers, I still believe they’d get more mileage out of an extra pitcher at this stage of the game. If I had to add a 15th position player, it would have been Justin Williams over Edmundo Sosa to compensate for the missing lefty bat of Brad Miller.

J.P. Hill: I am very surprised. For the last week the Cardinals have been tracking toward 14 bats and 16 pitchers and with the DH — which will cause fewer in-game adjustments — that 14th and 15th batters are going to have a hard time seeing the field. Austin Dean’s presence further confuses an already crowded outfield, where both Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas desperately need playing time to evaluate their future production. I disagree with Skyric, though. Until Brad Miller returns, Sosa provides important depth at shortstop, ready to play if DeJong suffers an unfortunate injury. This would allow the Cardinals to keep Edman at 3b on a regular basis. I would have added another arm and left Austin Dean off the roster.

The Cardinals gain a year of control over Dylan Carlson by keeping him off the roster the first week of the season. Should he have made the squad and when will he debut?

Skyric: No, he should not have made the squad. Not only should he not have made the squad, but he shouldn’t debut this year at all unless there’s a serious injury or something else goes seriously wrong. To me, this is not even a case of service time manipulation. As excited as everyone is about Carlson’s strong season in AA at age 20, and regardless of how talented Carlson is, that does not mean that he is better than the other options right now. I could be wrong, but I don’t think people believe that Carlson should start in left field over O’Neill or in center field over Bader. Rather, I think most of the angst about Carlson is a reflection of the belief of many that Carlson should start in right field over Fowler. I don’t believe this at all. It’s pure speculation to suggest that Carlson would even be league average in the majors right out of the gate. Veterans are in a better position to get ready in this shortened time frame. The roster move that stretches this theory is including Dean over Carlson, but Dean has over 300 MLB plate appearances, and has also mashed AAA pitching to the tune of a 132 and 146 wRC+ in his two seasons at that level. I also don’t consider it a huge deal or catastrophic to Carlson’s development if he spends 2020 at the Alternate Training Site. Carlson is only 21 years old. The site will include 30 players and there will be intrasquad games on a daily basis at last report. He will probably get more hitting in at that location than being on the major league bench. In addition, I feel like it is more important for Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas and Justin Williams to get every opportunity to show what they are made of. The time to determine what to do with them is running out. Both O’Neill and Williams only have 1 minor league option each.

J.P. Hill: As much as it pains me, yes, the Cardinals made the right decision by holding Dylan Carlson off the Opening Day roster. Mozeliak often refers to the complexity of roster “calculus”. It doesn’t take a math genius to recognize that 6 games of Dylan Carlson now is not worth losing 162 games in a few years. When will he make his debut? Referencing the young players on the cusp of the majors, Mozeliak said “even with 30 players on the roster, if the ability to grow comes from getting game experience, the opportunity may not be here.” The reality is that if the Cardinals do not promote Carlson soon after the service time window expires, they will be sacrificing his development in order to further test the readiness of players they hope Carlson to eclipses. This is a problem of their own making. As I detailed earlier this winter, the Cardinals routinely gave outfield time to non-outfielders and stuck with struggling players instead of providing opportunities to Tyler O’Neill (in both ‘18 and ‘19) and Lane Thomas. Shildt and company can not repeat that mistake this season. While I would prefer for Carlson to receive 50 or more games to prepare for a starting role in 2021, the minimum he needs is 30-35 games — roughly the equivalent of a September call-up. That’s the break point for me. If an injury does not place Carlson on the roster by the season’s mid-point, Mozeliak will have to find roster space for him and Shildt will have to find him significant playing time.

Kodi Whitley made the squad over Johan Oviedo. What do we know about him and how will the Cardinals use him?

J.P. Hill: Whitley is a 25-year old minor league reliever who rapidly progressed through the Cardinals system in ‘19. Drafted in the 27th round in ‘17, Whitley has been nothing short of excellent at every stop through the system. Consider his FIP/ERA by level:

2017 R — 1.84/1.65
2018 A — 2.51/3.2
2019 AA — 1.83/3.17
2019 AA — 1.52/2.02

Former Birdo Ben Clemens had an excellent analysis of Whitley’s stuff here. The further Whitley has advanced, the more he has learned to limit walks and produce swings and misses. Whitley has earned his place on the squad and while he’s currently low on the pecking order and a strong candidate to get cut when rosters shrink, I actually expect him to carve out space for himself in the bullpen all season.

Skyric: I don’t have anything to add about Whitley’s stuff specifically. What I find interesting about his addition and Woodford’s absence is that the club must feel strongly about Whitley’s ability to contribute right now in short relief, and that Whitley is a real reliever. Both Woodford and Oviedo are starters, and it seems like their being left off temporarily feels like a judgment that it would be best for them to continue to work on their secondary pitches and stay stretched out as starters, in case something happens to the rotation.

Brad Miller will start the season on the IL. Did the club make the right choice in promoting Austin Dean?

Skyric: I would have used Justin Williams instead of Dean to compensate for the loss of Miller’s lefty bat. Williams is also strong, athletic, and better positioned to help out on defense if the need arises. It is true that Dean has more proven success at the AAA level, and he has over 300 PA in the majors, whereas Williams only has literally one day of MLB service. So it’s not an egregious choice, but one I would not have made.

J.P. Hill: Skyric makes a good point about Williams’ lefty bat. (I could also point out that if the Cardinals wanted more versatility in left/right match-ups in their OF, Carlson is a switch hitter!) With Miller out, the Cardinals’ Opening Day bench leans heavily to the right. However, I am just not that impressed with the little bit of Williams I have seen, and his all-over-the-map minor league stats don’t dissuade my eyes. I can see why the Cardinals are intrigued with Dean, who has the chance to be the next Jeremy Hazelbaker. Personally? I would have given Jake Woodford the cup of coffee that his stuff deserves but I’m not losing sleep over this decision.

Who are the first players to get cut when rosters shrink to 28 and 26?

J.P. Hill: This question goes beyond 1 or 2 players. We can assume that Gallegos will take the 30th spot. What about Reyes? Genesis Cabrera? There are still players that the club wants to get on to the roster before they start subtracting others. Dean is my first cut. Sosa goes when Miller returns, but that doesn’t gain a roster spot. If Junior Fernandez cannot sort out his control issues, he’s next on the chopping block. Beyond that, Whitley is a strong cut candidate, though I think his stuff is going to keep him around. Most likely injuries will sort this out for the club.

Skyric: This would have been a whole lot easier to answer had Cabrera, Reyes and Gallegos not been delayed. As things stand right now, I would have as many pitchers as possible. I would cut both Knizner and Sosa when they go down to 28, but I’m not necessarily predicting that the Cards will do that. I am pretty sure that Knizner will be optioned when rosters go down to 28. When that time comes, though, I think you’ll see some other maneuvering like Brad Miller replacing Dean and Reyes, Cabrera or both, substituting for pitchers or position players. As for 26, it’s too early for me to speculate.

Why carry three catchers with a universal DH?

Skyric: They shouldn’t. If Molina never wanted to come out of a game during a 162 game season, how many games do people think he’s going to miss in a 60-game sprint? While Molina isn’t getting any younger, and his defense has been on the decline, neither Knizner nor Wieters are good enough on defense to want them in there for any considerable length of time. Neither are good enough hitters to call for them to DH or pinch hit, despite Wieters’ timely home runs last year. Maybe one might argue that Wieters or Knizner can catch and Molina can DH, but if they’re going to rest Molina from catching, I would just rest him entirely. It’s a huge waste of a roster spot, in my opinion.

J.P. Hill: I wouldn’t disagree with Skyric’s logic here if Knizner were just some third catcher. The Cardinals traded Carson Kelly to the D-Backs hoping that Knizner would take his place as the club’s future starter. Financial questions might cause that future to come earlier than Yadier Molina wants. Knizner needs to play as often as possible. We should be honest, though, and acknowledge that he won’t. The next best thing is daily exposure to the MLB pitching staff, coaches, and Yadier Molina.

What’s your take on Martinez in the rotation and Kim as the closer?

Skyric: I don’t have an issue with it. I don’t interpret it as much as a seniority/favoritism issue, as I do a familiarity issue. Carlos Martinez has been in the organization for a long time. He has been a very successful starter. They know what he’s capable of because they’ve been with him for years. He’s shown them enough in camp to demonstrate his arm can handle it. If the competition was close, I can understand why they went with him. While it’s a risk to use Kim as the closer because he hasn’t really done it, I can see him being effective in the role because of his secondary pitches, the deception in his motion and the league’s unfamiliarity with him. It worked at least in the short term with Seungwhan Oh. Quite frankly, I’d put them both in the rotation and move Dakota Hudson to the bullpen, where he’d be my jam pitcher I’d bring in when I needed a ground ball. I don’t buy him long term as that large of a FIP beater, and his walks are an issue over the long haul of a game.

J.P. Hill: Martinez to the rotation was a must this season. CMart might still have the best pure stuff on the roster (though he has never had Flaherty’s precision) and as long as he stays healthy, he could be one of the better starters in the division. The decision to move KK to the closer role fascinates me. The club recognizes that talent that he has and they are trying to place him in the highest impact role available. Why is that role only in the bullpen? Why not allow him to challenge any of the incumbent starters? Is Dakota Hudson so locked into a rotation spot that he can’t be displaced? The numbers beyond ERA from ‘19 don’t support that level of trust. I would also question whether Wainwright can provide the multi-inning dominance that KK looks capable of. The problem with locking KK into a late-inning relief role early in the season is that it essentially eliminates him from a rotation spot if a starter goes down to injury. Yes, the club has Ponce de Leon and Gomber to slide in as needed, but neither intrigue me as a current and future starter as much as KK does.

Well, there you have it folks. These are our thoughts. Let us know yours in the comments. We look forward to bring you all the roster machinations the rest of the year.