Now that the Cardinals are, at a minimum, set to return to action to play 53 games in 44 days, with only two days off, the Cardinals have announced the following transactions:
8/13/20: Added RHP Bryan Dobzanski, IF Kramer Robertson and C Pedro Pages to the Club Player Pool. CPP at 54.
8/15/20: Placed OF Austin Dean, LHP Austin Gomber, RHP Ryan Helsley and OF Lane Thomas on the COVID-19 Related IL. Purchased the contracts of OF Dylan Carlson, RHP Seth Elledge, 1B John Nogowski and LHP Rob Kaminsky from the ATS. Activated LHP Ricardo Sanchez from the COVID-19 Related IL and added him to the Active Roster from the ATS as the 29th Man. 40-man roster at 32, CPP at 51.
40-Man Roster Mystery Solved—Cards will be 3 Over Limit
There has been a lot of recent confusion over the size of the 40-man roster, as I have outlined in many articles this season, most recently here. If you will bear with me for a short while, I will demonstrate to you that under both competing interpretations of the effect of placing a player on the COVID-19 Related IL, the ultimate result is the same. The mystery has been solved. Assuming that all of the 11 players the Cards now have on the COVID-19 Related IL come back, the Cards will ultimately have 3 excess players they could end up losing.
In my most recent article, I maintained that placing a player on the COVID-19 Related IL takes a player off of the active roster, 40-man roster and Club Player Pool in one swoop. The MLB 2020 Operations Manual says placement on the list opens up a spot—not could open a spot, not may open a spot, but opens a spot. The choice the club has is whether to fill that 40-man roster spot or not. The club has the option to replace that player on the active roster by recalling a player from the Alternate Training Site that is already on the 40-man roster. In the alternative, it can add a player to the active roster that was not on the 40-man roster before.
Let’s assume, just for the moment, that I’m right. Let’s very quickly trace the Cards’ 40-man roster situation from the first spring training forward. When the Cards’ spring training 1.0 started, the 40-man roster was full. Brad Miller had been signed and the club had put Jordan Hicks on the 60-day IL to make room. Yairo Munoz was released during spring training 1.0 to make 39. There were no 40-man roster transactions until the transaction freeze was lifted in late June and John Brebbia was placed on the 45-day IL. That made 38. Giovanny Gallegos and Ricardo Sanchez were placed on the COVID-19 Related IL about a week before the regular season started. That made 36. Brett Cecil was released, which made 35, but then Kodi Whitley was added by opening day, which made it 36 again. After the Cards played the first game against the Pirates, Gallegos was activated from the COVID-19 Related IL, which restored the 40-man to 37. Then we played 2 games against the Twins, and everything went to hell.
On August 4th, the Cards put Yadier Molina, Paul DeJong, Edmundo Sosa, Junior Fernandez, Carlos Martinez and Kodi Whitley on the COVID-19 Related IL, which under my theory knocked the 40-man down to 31. The next day, they put Rangel Ravelo on the COVID-19 Related IL, but also added Roel Ramirez and Max Schrock to the 40-man, which put the roster at 32. On August 9th, the Cards transferred Miles Mikolas from the 10-day IL to the 45-day IL, which put the 40-man at 31, which is where we stood before today. Today, the Cards put 4 more players on the COVID-19 Related IL. Austin Dean, Ryan Helsley and Lane Thomas all tested positive for COVID-19. Austin Gomber did not, but he has been placed on the list because the club considered him to be at-risk due to contact tracing. That knocked the roster to 27. But the club also added 4 players to the 40-man roster: Dylan Carlson, Seth Elledge, John Nogowski and Rob Kaminsky. That puts the roster back at 31. Let’s assume that Ricardo Sanchez was just activated from the COVID-19 Related IL, because we know he was placed on the list, but were never told that he was activated. That finally places us at 32. When you add 32 to the 11 players that are now on the COVID-19 Related IL that the Cards could add back eventually, that’s 43, which would put the club at 3 over the limit.
There is a competing theory out there that placing a player on the COVID-19 Related IL gives the club the option to remove a player from the 40-man roster at some unspecified time, but it does not happen automatically. Let’s play along and assume that no one the club placed on the COVID-19 Related IL until today was ever taken off of the 40-man roster. Not Sanchez, not Gallegos, nor any of the 7 that were placed on that list about 10 days ago. After Munoz was released, Brebbia was put on the 45-day IL, Cecil was released, and Whitley was added, the roster was at 38. Skip all the way to when Ramirez and Schrock were added, which would have made the roster full at 40. Moving Mikolas to the 45-day IL would have made it 39, which is where we stood before today. Ignore the Sanchez move, because according to this theory, he was on the 40-man roster the whole time. The Cards just added 4 more players to the 40-man roster, and guess what? Just like with my theory, the club is now 3 players over the 40-man roster limit.
Now, under this theory, today the club must immediately clear 3 40-man spots . And this is one of my main problem with this theory. If the theory is that placing a player on the COVID-19 Related IL gives the club the option of also taking the player off of the 40-man roster, when does the club have to make the election? At the time of the IL placement? At the time of the player’s replacement? What if it came at a time when the clubs pared their rosters down from 30 to 28 and there was no replacement? Can the club wait until it is in danger of going over the 40-man roster limit with various replacements and make the election then?
And now, in the case of the Cards, they have 11 players on the COVID-19 Related IL and 3 40-man roster spots to clear. If the COVID-19 Related IL rules allow them now to decide to remove some of the COVID IL players from the 40-man to make room, which 8 do they want to leave on the 40-man, and which 3 do they want to remove? Is it just some sort of arbitrary election that has no significance whatsoever, or does it actually matter? How do they decide? Draw names out of a hat? Do we really expect the club to report the moves with that level of specificity?
You would think the club might remove the 3 players whom it deems to be the furthest away from being ready to return. Suppose that, very soon, there are 3 COVID-IL players that are ready to come back. Let’s choose Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong, whom the club has reported are closest to the re-entry process, and add an arbitrary 3rd player. If the club removed those 3 from the 40-man, and they then were ready to come back soon, it would have to DFA 3 players to make room for them sooner than they might like. What if the club was wrong about which players were most ready to return?
My theory might be wrong. If the club officials are telling the beat writers that the alternate theory is true, who am I to argue? But let’s suppose I am wrong, and the club really had the mere option to take the player off of the 40-man roster upon placement on the COVID-Related IL. If the club was smart, wouldn’t it exercise the option to remove the player from the 40-man roster immediately every time? They wouldn’t have to pass through waivers, but it would operate like the 60-day IL. What would be the downside of automatically clearing as many 40-man roster spots as possible? Doing it my way would leave the club with maximum flexibility, allowing the club to fill the 40-man roster spots or not, depending on which players were available for recall. And it would allow the 40-man roster to creep back up slowly as COVID-IL players return, delaying potential DFAs as long as possible, and allowing unneeded players to be optioned in the meantime. The other way, the 40-man roster is close to full at all times with the club walking a constant tightrope, having to arbitrarily decide which players to remove from the 40-man, and potentially having to DFA players sooner than the other method. The only advantage I can see to the alternate theory and keeping the 40-man roster full is it would allow a 45-day IL move at any point. But if a COVID-19 Related IL player can be removed from the 40-man at any point, a club like the Cards could just use that.
I don’t think the alternate theory makes sense based on the text of the rules or based on the spirit and purpose of the rule changes, which are supposed to allow clubs maximum flexibility during a pandemic. But right now, it really makes no difference, and I’ve already written enough of a wall of text. The mystery has been basically solved for now. The main missing piece was that Ricardo Sanchez is on the 40-man roster right now because he has been added to the active roster for today’s doubleheader. Whether the Cards’ 40-man roster is at a full 40 or at 32, at some point, the Cards will have to get rid of 3 players somehow, through trade, release or attempted outright assignment.
Club Player Pool—Cards will be 2 over 60-man limit
With all of the COVID-19 Related IL moves and additions, I think the CPP is at 51 under my theory, which states that placement on the COVID-19 Related IL removes a player from the CPP. And when all of the 11 COVID players come back, the CPP will be at 62, and the club will have to remove 2 players. I’ll spare you the details of how I came up with 51, and instead take you through the alternate theory and explain why there’s a squeeze even under that theory.
The Cards started with a 44-man CPP, a number which included Jordan Hicks, even though he was already on the 60-day IL. This does, I must admit lend credence to the “option theory,” although like with the 40-man roster analysis, I can’t understand why the club would choose not to clear a spot, except in a rare situation like Hicks, where he was supposed to be coming back and the club wanted him to get cleared with the COVID protocol and work out in front of club officials. They added Elehuris Montero on July 1st, which made it 45, then added Seth Elledge, Rob Kaminsky and Zack Thompson to make it 48. On July 8th, the club added 12 players to the CPP, which they sent to the ATS to make a full 60-man CPP. Hicks was put on the restricted list when he opted out of the season to put the CPP at 59. Cecil was released to make it 58. Jesus Cruz and Ryan Meisinger were added to make it 60. Mikolas was transferred from the 10-day IL to the 45-day IL to make it 59, and the three additions of Bryan Dobzanski, Pedro Pages and Kramer Robertson put the club at 62.
This means that, similar to the 40-man, if none of the COVID-19 Related IL players have been removed from the CPP before now, at least 2 would have to be removed today to cut the CPP down to 60. Three COVID-IL players have to be removed from the 40-man under the alternate theory, so by default, the CPP would temporarily be at 59. But if all 3 players cleared waivers, for example, the club could keep one on the CPP, but leave the other 2 off. Then as COVID-IL players trickle back, the Cards would be constantly walking this tightrope. Wouldn’t it be easier if all the COVID-IL players were removed from the CPP, and the club wouldn’t have to worry about the CPP limit until they all came back? It’s a little more tricky to remove a player from the CPP than it is from the 40-man. If the CPP player you want to get rid of is not on the 40-man roster, you basically have to trade or release him. This may ultimately not matter, as Baseball America reports that MLB is considering allowing clubs to expand their CPP rosters from 60 to 75. Given that, you would think the clubs would delay trying to trim people from the CPP while that issue gets sorted out.
I won’t say much about the new additions. I didn’t double count the addition of Pages in the CPP total. I mentioned it in my previous article, but the Cards didn’t confirm it until August 13th. Pages was the Cards’ 6th round draft choice in 2019. He was added because, with Jose Godoy likely to be on the taxi squad as a bullpen catcher, the ATS could use another catcher to catch the 9 pitchers they’ve got. Dobzanski was the Cards’ 29th round draft choice in 2014. This is his 7th year in the organization, and he only has 3 games pitched at the AAA level. He’s kept the ball on the ground with extreme prejudice and, for the most part in his minor league career has limited home runs. Last year in AA, his home run rate and walk rate spiked, but he stuck out almost 28% of batters. Robertson was the Cards’ 4th round choice in 2017. He’s middle infield depth and was an extreme contact hitter. Last season, he increased his walk and strikeout rates significantly across AA and AAA with a small power spike, but not enough to slug over .360, and he’s always been a low BABIP guy. Both Dobzanski and Robertson are eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.
The issue of whether and when Carlson should have been added to the Cards’ 40-man or active roster has been beaten to death, and I won’t get into that question too deeply. Everyone knows who he is, because, to be frank, the Cards haven’t had very many high upside position player prospects to get overly excited about in a long time. People act as if Carlson was an elite prospect from the beginning, but the Cardinals signed him #33 overall in 2016 for $600,000 under slot. And while it was nice to see a player hold his own against older players, that’s all he did until last season. Before then, he wasn’t really on the national prospect radar screen. Going into 2018, Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Wadye Ynfante were ahead of him on the Cardinal Prospect List from Baseball Prospectus. He didn’t crack the top 10 either going into 2019. And he wasn’t on the national lists from Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus until last year.
While Carlson did show the ability to get on base, his defense was a question, and until last season, he didn’t show the power typically associated with a player of his size or position. It was unclear if his bat could carry a corner outfield or first base job. Last year, as we all know, he busted out with a phenomenal season at AA Springfield, showing his power and strength, slashing .281/.364/.518 with 24 doubles and 21 HR in 108 games. He also mashed in a brief stint with AAA. Playing mostly center field, Baseball Prospectus did not like his defense at all, giving him a -11.1 FRAA.
I agreed with the decision to leave Carlson off of the opening day roster because I thought it was more important to give Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas a shot, with quicker decisions required for those players. Despite Carlson’s upside, I didn’t believe that his outstanding AA season necessarily demonstrated that he would be better than the options we had on hand. And I don’t generally agree with rookies, especially prospects, having bench jobs if it can be avoided. Now, however, the Cards find themselves in a situation where they have no backup outfielders. The DH job against left-handed pitching is open, and Carlson can come in to pinch hit for someone like Brad Miller when a lefty is brought into the game. The Cards also find themselves in a position where they have to play a lot of games—starting today, the club plays 23 straight games in 19 days without a day off, including 4 doubleheaders. I don’t think John Mozeliak has wavered from his desire to see what O’Neill, Bader and company have to offer. He has always said when there’s room to play every day, Carlson would play. With the club’s long layoff, and no backup outfielders, the Cardinal brass recognizes that injury risks are real, and it would behoove them to get the regulars some rest to give everyone concerned a chance to get back in game shape. Carlson should figure to get starts in the outfield as the DH job is passed around to give regulars rest from playing in the field.
The question now is, how long will he stay? A lot of that surely depends on how long Thomas and Dean are out, and how long it will realistically take for them to get ready to play, even after they are symptom-free. My math shows that if the Cards leave Carlson on the roster all year, he will accrue 122 days of service time. That might put him into Super Two status after the 2022 season, and it might not. Mark Saxon seems to suggest that he had this date earmarked as a Super Two cutoff date, but there is no possible way that Saxon could guess how many days of service it will take to be a Super Two that far in advance. In the last 10 years, the Super Two cutoff has been at a high of 2 years and 146 days to a low of 2 years and 115 days after last season. There is simply no way to know what could transpire in two years. But if the Cards don’t option Carlson as Thomas, Dean and Ravelo come back, he will be in Super Two territory. Personally, I’d rather have Carlson for a full 2027 season at age 28 instead of a possible 55 games at age 21, and I would have done what I could to avoid this circumstance. But fate has dealt the Cards an unusual hand with the virus, and the club was almost put in a position where it didn’t have much of a choice but to add Carlson. If the club leaves Carlson on the roster for the rest of this year, the only way the it can avoid Carlson declaring free agency after the 2026 season will be to option him next year until all but 49 days of the season has expired. There is scarcely a chance the club will be able to get away with that. I sincerely hope the skills the young man showed last year translate to the majors right now and he fulfills all of the promise that he has shown. I am not, however, expecting him to save the day.
I was the most stunned by this move, especially since the Cards could have eased the 40-man roster crunch by simply recalling Justin Williams. Nogowski has an interesting story, having been released by the Oakland Athletics organization and plucked by the Cards from an independent club. His problem was always that he was positionally limited to first base and had no power. He has good on-base skills, walks more than he strikes out, he increased his power over the last two years, and was third in all of affiliated full-season baseball in K%-BB% last season.
Although I would have recalled Williams to see what he could offer before his final option year was burned, I can understand a logic to this move. With the roster at 15 pitchers on a non-doubleheader day, the bench is short, and the backup catcher on any given day is unlikely to pinch hit. If Carlson is in the game, the Cards would have no right-handed sock off the bench. Further, with Ravelo out, Brad Miller is the only real backup first baseman, and Paul Goldschmidt will need a rest every once in a while. Nowgowski could also DH against left-handed pitching. Nogowski is eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft, and this will give the Cards an opportunity to give him a look-see. But the move unnecessarily added to the 40-man roster squeeze in my book, and I’m not seeing a long-term future for Nogowski in the organization, as he will turn 28 next January, and we’ve got a first baseman locked up for a while.
ELLEDGE AND KAMINSKY
Elledge, who recently turned 24, was the return for Sam Tuivailala from the Mariners at the trade deadline in 2018. He had always been a high strikeout guy, almost always with a K% at 30% or above, and rarely walking a double digit percentage. His time in AA last season was tremendous, but he struggled as many pitchers did when he was promoted to AAA Memphis in the Pacific Coast League, posting the worst strikeout and walk rates of his career, even as he allowed a BABIP of about 100 points less. He is eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.
Kaminsky was the Cards’ 1st round draft choice in 2013, but we traded him to the Indians for Brandon Moss at the 2015 trade deadline and he never panned out. He missed almost the entire 2017 season due to injuries, and was converted to full time relief in 2018. After 7 years in the minor leagues, he became an automatic Rule 55 minor league free agent, signing a deal with the Cards immediately afterwards. He keeps the ball on the ground, but has had control problems, and did not crack AAA until last season. In his only season in AAA, he posted the best strikeout rate of his career and the 2nd worst walk rate. His 56 total IP last season was his highest innings total since 2016. He will turn 26 in a couple of weeks.
I am not sure if it is happening just now, or whether Sanchez was secretly activated from the COVID-19 Related IL at some earlier date. What matters is that he is on the 40-man roster now for sure, and he has been added to the active roster as the 29th man for this doubleheader. This move gives the Cards 16 pitchers for the twin-bill today. His addition is not considered a recall from the Alternate Training Site. Because Sanchez has spent at least 10 days on option, the Cards could, theoretically, send someone else down to the minor leagues after the 2nd game of the doubleheader. But because he was named as the 29th man, the odds are that he will be removed from the active roster after the 2nd game, and when that happens, that is not considered another option that requires another 10-day period at the ATS.
What will likely happen is that Sanchez will be part of the traveling taxi squad, which has been increased to 5 men. So when he is removed from the active roster, he will not actually go to the ATS, but will stay with the club and be added again for the doubleheaders against the Cubs next week. I wrote about Sanchez here when the Cards claimed him from the Seattle Mariners on outright assignment waivers back in February. Although Sanchez is ostensibly on his final option year, he might actually be eligible for a fourth minor league option next season, depending on how the rules are ultimately interpreted. But that is an article for another time.
ACTIVE ROSTER (29)
Starters (5): Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Kwang-Hyun Kim, Daniel Ponce de Leon
Relievers (11): Genesis Cabrera (L), Seth Elledge, Giovanny Gallegos, John Gant, Rob Kaminsky (L), Andrew Miller (L), Roel Ramirez, Alex Reyes, *Ricardo Sanchez (L), Tyler Webb (L), Jake Woodford
POSITION PLAYERS (13)
Catchers (2): Andrew Knizner, Matt Wieters (S)
Infielders (7): Matt Carpenter (L), Tommy Edman (S), Paul Goldschmidt, Brad Miller (L), John Nogowski, Max Schrock (L), Kolten Wong (L)
Outfielders (4): Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson (S), Dexter Fowler (S), Tyler O’Neill
*Note that as the 29th man, LHP Ricardo Sanchez by default will be removed from the active roster after the 2nd game of the doubleheader today, unless someone else is named.
45-DAY IL (2)
RHP John Brebbia, RHP Miles Mikolas
RESTRICTED LIST (1)
RHP Jordan Hicks
COVID-19 RELATED IL (11)
OF Austin Dean, SS Paul DeJong, RHP, Junior Fernandez, LHP Austin Gomber, RHP Ryan Helsley, RHP Carlos Martinez, C Yadier Molina, 1B/DH Rangel Ravelo, IF Edmundo Sosa, OF Lane Thomas, RHP Kodi Whitley
ALTERNATE TRAINING SITE (22)
Optioned Players (3): 3B Elehuris Montero, RHP Alvaro Seijas, OF Justin Williams
Non-roster Players (19): RHP Nabil Crismatt, RHP Jesus Cruz, RHP Bryan Dobzanski, LHP Matthew Liberatore, RHP Ryan Meisinger, RHP Johan Oviedo, RHP Angel Rondon, LHP Zack Thompson, RHP/SS Masyn Winn, C Jose Godoy, C Ivan Herrera, C Pedro Pages, C Julio Rodriguez, OF Tre Fletcher, 3B Nolan Gorman, IF Evan Mendoza, 3B Malcolm Nunez, IF Kramer Robertson, 3B Jordan Walker