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TA 8/19: Cards add 3 More Pitchers to the 40-Man Squeeze: 29th Man, Taxi Squads, and Roster Catch-Up

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Which 6 would you DFA?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals-Workouts Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

With the flurry of roster moves over the last several days, I wanted to catch the group up on the most recent transactions. The state of the roster when the Cards resumed play with a doubleheader against the White Sox on Saturday, August 15th, was that there were 11 players on the COVID-19 Related IL. The Cards had just purchased the contracts of OF Dylan Carlson, 1B John Nogowski, RHP Seth Elledge and LHP Rob Kaminsky, and added LHP Ricardo Sanchez as the 29th man for that doubleheader. The 40-man roster was at 32. Then, over the past few days, the Cards did this:

8/15/20: After 2nd game of the White Sox doubleheader, optioned RHP Jake Woodford to the ATS. Active roster back down to 28.

8/17/20: Before 1st game of the Cubs doubleheader, optioned RHP Roel Ramirez to the ATS. Purchased the contract of RHP Nabil Crismatt from the ATS. Added RHP Jake Woodford to the active roster as the 29th man. 40-man roster at 33.

After 1st game of the Cubs doubleheader, optioned 1B John Nogowski to the ATS. Purchased the contract of RHP Ryan Meisinger from the ATS. 40-man roster at 34.

After 2nd game of the Cubs doubleheader, returned RHP Jake Woodford to the ATS. Active roster back down to 28.

8/18/20: Optioned LHP Rob Kaminsky to the ATS. Purchased the contract of RHP Jesus Cruz from the ATS. 40-man roster at 35.

8/19/20: Before 1st game of the Cubs doubleheader, optioned RHP Ryan Meisinger to the ATS. Activated LHP Austin Gomber from the COVID-19 Related IL. Added RHP Jake Woodford to the active roster as the 29th man. 40-man roster at 36. CPP at 52.

TAXI SQUAD AND 29th MAN TIGHTROPE

EXPLANATION OF TAXI SQUAD

When the doubleheader with the White Sox first started, the Cards had added LHP Ricardo Sanchez as the 29th man and had a traveling taxi squad consisting of C Jose Godoy, RHP Nabil Crismatt, RHP Jesus Cruz and RHP Ryan Meisinger.

Some commentators have referred to the taxi squad as that collection of players that are not on the active 28-man roster, but are part of the club’s 60-man Club Player Pool stationed at the Alternate Training Site. That is not a description. The MLB 2020 Operations Manual specifically refers to the taxi squad as a collection of players that are part of the Club Player Pool and not on the active roster, but permitted to travel with the club to road games. Originally, the taxi squad was set at a maximum of 3, and if the full allotment of 3 was used, at least 1 had to be a catcher. Recently, the rules were changed to expand the taxi squad to 5 players, with 1 having to be a catcher if the full allotment was used. In a normal season, this type of arrangement would be completely illegal. Indeed, there is a section in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, Article XV.E(3), entitled “Prohibition on Taxi Squads,” that outlines strict rules that are normally in place for how long someone not on the active roster can remain with the major league club. The setup this year was specifically agreed to by MLB and the MLBPA just for the 2020 season.

EXPLANATION OF THE 29th MAN RULE

With that explanation, let’s go back to the 29th man rule for a moment. The rule on the availability of the extra man for doubleheaders has changed over time this season. Originally, the extra man was going to be allowed only at the point in the season when the rosters had been reduced to 26. So it was going to be a 27th man rule, just like it would have been in a theoretical normal 2020 when the active rosters were supposed to be at 26 until September 1st. Then the situation changed, and all parties decided to leave the active rosters at 28 for the rest of the 2020 season, including playoffs. So now we have a 29th man rule that functions in all respects identically to the extra-man rule in a normal season, with one difference. In a normal season, the extra man is not allowed for doubleheaders after August 31st, because in a normal season, the active rosters would be allowed to expand starting on September 1st. Before 2020, the rosters expanded to a permissible 40, and in this season, they were supposed to expand to a mandatory 28. Once the pandemic hit this season, however, active rosters were designed to get smaller over time, not larger. The important point to remember here is that the 29th man will be in operation for doubleheaders in September for the first time since the creation of the rule. In case you were wondering, the 29th man does not have to be a pitcher, but for the Cards you can bet it will be every time.

SYNOPSIS OF THE 5-DAY CHICAGO GAUNTLET

Now let’s go over how the operation of the 29th man rule has worked for the Cards over the last several days. Ricardo Sanchez was added as the 29th man for the August 15th doubleheader. Typically the way it works is that the addition of the player as the 29th man is not considered to be an official recall from the minor leagues, or with this season, the ATS. Immediately following the doubleheader, the club is required to go back down to 28 players. One way to do that is just return the designated 29th man to the minor leagues, or again, the ATS. If the club does that, the 29th man gets 1 day of MLB service, the day he spent on the active roster is not considered to be a day spent on option, and the return of that man to the minors or ATS is not considered to be another option that triggers another 10-day stay off of the active roster.

The club has the option, however, of making another roster move to get down to 28 players instead, as long as the Collective Bargaining Agreement and all other Major League Rules are followed. The major rule that needs to be followed is that, if a club wants to keep the designated 29th man on the active roster, and make a separate roster move, that 29th man must have already spent 10 days on option since his most recent option. In the Cardinals’ case, instead of returning Sanchez to the ATS after the White Sox doubleheader, they decided to option Woodford to the ATS instead. That move was legal because Sanchez has been on option since the start of the season. He was actually optioned back in March, and had spent well over the 10 required days on option. The Cards made a separate move because Sanchez did not pitch in the White Sox doubleheader at all. Woodford, on the other hand, started the second game of the White Sox doubleheader, and thus would not have been available for probably three days after that. He made the most sense as the required roster trim. When that happened, the designation of Sanchez as the 29th man was practically converted to an official recall.

But now we circle back to the taxi squad again. Because the Cards have been on the road, and because the taxi squad rules were changed, Woodford was optioned on paper, but didn’t actually go anywhere. He stayed with the club on the traveling taxi squad, which was now at a full 5 players: Godoy, Crismatt, Cruz, Meisinger and Woodford. Now that Woodford had been optioned, he had to remain on option for 10 days. But that fact did not prevent him from being added as the 29th man for the doubleheader with the Cubs on Monday, August 17th. And indeed, Woodford was added back to the roster as the 29th man. During the 3-game, 2-day series with the White Sox, the Cards used 8 relievers. So on Monday afternoon before the doubleheader with the Cubs, the Cards optioned RHP Roel Ramirez, who had been torched for 4 home runs in one innning, to the ATS, and added RHP Nabil Crismatt to the 40-man and active rosters. Crismatt was already traveling with the club on the taxi squad, and was replaced on the taxi squad by Ramirez.

In the first game of the Cubs’ doubleheader, the Cards used 3 relievers, all 3 of which had just pitched for the 2nd time in 3 days. The Cards felt they would need more pitching, so before game 2 of the doubleheader, the club optioned 1B John Nogowski to the ATS and added RHP Ryan Meisinger to the 40-man and active rosters. In game 2, although the Cards were physically on the road, they were functioning as the home team because the game that was made up was originally scheduled as a home game for the Cards. That game was a bullpen game with Alex Reyes starting and only able to complete one inning. The Cards ended up using 5 relievers to throw 6 innings. After that game, the Cards had to get down to 28 players immediately, and this time they had to return Woodford to the ATS (physically the traveling taxi squad) because he had not yet spent 10 days on option since he was optioned after the August 15th White Sox doubleheader. The demotion of Nogowski between games of the Cubs doubleheader left the club with only 12 position players and a 3-man bench going forward. They now have 11 available relievers in a non-doubleheader and with the 29th man being a pitcher, 12 theoretically available relievers in a doubleheader (really only 11 actual relievers, because 1 starts in a bullpen game).

Then yesterday afternoon, before the 9-inning game with the Cubs, the Cards decided that they needed yet another pitcher. So they optioned LHP Rob Kaminsky to the ATS, and added RHP Jesus Cruz to the 40-man and active rosters. Kaminsky pitched 1 inning in the 9-inning game against the White Sox on Sunday, August 16th. He then pitched 1 more inning in game 2 of the doubleheader against the Cubs on Monday, August 17th. He only pitched 2 total innings, gave up no hits, no walks, and struck out two. But because he would likely not be available to pitch a third day in a row, the Cards decided to option him and get a fresh guy. Last night was a 9-inning game against the Cubs. Starter Daniel Ponce de Leon took 3.1 IP to throw 79 pitches, and we had to use four relievers. And did I mention that we have to play a doubleheader today? Because they needed more pitching, the Cards activated LHP Austin Gomber from the COVID-19 Related IL this morning and optioned Meisinger to the ATS. Gomber hasn’t pitched since July 28th. I thought the club might have optioned Crismatt since he’s pitched two days in a row now. But it has also been said that Johan Oviedo is on his way to Chicago, so we could see another between-game transaction like we saw for the last doubleheader.

The Cards must have had in this in mind all along. Of all the pitchers the Cards had on the traveling taxi squad, all have been added to the 40-man and active rosters and all have made their major league debuts. Since Saturday August 15th, 10 Cardinal players have made their major league debuts, including 7 pitchers, all in just a 6-game span. Here is what has happened with those 7 pitchers, just in the last 4 days. Woodford made one 3-inning start, and will almost certainly be added as the 29th man for today’s doubleheader, and then returned to the ATS immediately afterward. After that, he’ll have to spend 8 days on option before he’s available for a non-doubleheader day without an injury. Kaminsky pitched two days in a row, and has already been optioned. He now has to spend 10 days on option before he’s available for a non-doubleheader day without an injury. Crismatt has now pitched 2 days in a row for a total of 2.1 innings. Elledge has pitched in 2 out of the last 3 days, for a total of 3 IP. He was very impressive in his first outing, with no hits, no walks and 5 strikeouts over 2.1 IP this past Sunday, but walked 2 and gave up a 2-run homer in only .2 IP last night. Neither Crismatt nor Elledge are likely available in the doubleheader tomorrow. Meisinger pitched last night and allowed 1 hit and 2 walks with 2 strikeouts over 1.2 IP. He’s now been optioned, and will have to be away for 10 days, unless it’s a non-doubleheader day or an injury arises. Cruz pitched 1 inning last night and gave up 3 hits and 1 walk with 2 strikeouts. Other than perhaps Woodford, Sanchez (who incidentally skipped the AAA level entirely) is the most fresh of the 7, having only pitched once since his August 15th addition, a 2-inning stint in Game 2 of the Monday, August 17th doubleheader with the Cubs, where he walked 2 but struck out 3.

WHAT IS IN STORE?

As you can see, the Cards have a serious situation on their hands with their pitching, one that quite honestly, I should have foreseen, but did not. I had thought, naively at first, that the additions of Kaminsky and Elledge would have been the end of the 40-man roster and pitching issues. But there is a limit on how much these guys can pitch. The entire club had a 16-day layoff between regular season games and were in total quarantine for an extended period. The starters can’t go very long yet. We lost Miles Mikolas, Jordan Hicks and John Brebbia for the season and Carlos Martinez for an extended period due to the virus. Kwang-Hyun Kim had to get re-tooled from being the closer to being part of the rotation. Jack Flaherty will start game 1 of the doubleheader today after a 25-day layoff. Both Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes had their entire summer camps wiped out due to the virus, and neither made their 2020 season debut until game 2 of the Saturday, August 15th doubleheader. Giovanny Gallegos lost most of his camp for the same reason. He only pitched two-thirds of an inning on July 28th before the club came back on August 15th. Although Woodford was added to the active roster on July 28th, he didn’t get a chance to pitch before the layoff and quarantine and did not debut until August 15th. Cruz and Meisinger were not invited to summer camp at all, and were not even part of the Club Player Pool until August 6th, yet both have made their major league debuts. Meisinger was not even invited to spring training 1.0 in February. Only the shadow knows what kind of work they Cruz and Meisinger were able to get in from the time of the shutdown of spring training 1.0 until August 6th and how much they have accomplished at Springfield since August 6th.

And this is just the beginning. The Cards have 10 players on the COVID-19 Related IL, including 4 pitchers. Although it has been reported that some of the COVID-19 IL players have been “cleared” by MLB to return, those players are not in game shape. They will still have to conduct workouts at Busch Stadium and then for a time at the ATS in Springfield before they are officially activated. And when they are, they still probably will not be at full strength. Meanwhile, by the end of today, the Cards will have played 8 games in 5 days. They don’t have a day off until September 3rd. So starting today, the club has to play 17 games in 15 straight days, with 2 doubleheaders, one of which is today. After one day off on September 3rd, they then play 7 games in 5 straight days, including 2 doubleheaders. They then have one day off September 9th, but that’s the last off-day of the season. After that, it’s a crushing gauntlet of 23 games in 18 straight days, with 5 more doubleheaders. Three of those doubleheaders come in one calendar week over a 5-day span. And that schedule will hold only if the Cards stick with a 58-game slate and aren’t forced to play a doubleheader against the Tigers on September 28th, the day after the official regular season is over, to solve any issues with playoff implications.

As you can see, this is an amazing tightrope the club has had to walk and will continue to have to walk. The Cards played this taxi squad/29th man rule game for the entire series in Chicago. But they won’t be able to play it for a while after today. The 5-man traveling taxi squad right now consists of C Jose Godoy, 1B John Nogowski, LHP Rob Kaminsky, RHP Roel Ramirez and RHP Jake Woodford, after he is added today as the 29th man and returned after the game. But the taxi squad is not available for home games, other than for Godoy to serve as a bullpen catcher. Other than Godoy, who is not even on the 40-man roster, every one of the other players has already been optioned and will not be available for any non-doubleheader day without an injury until they have spent 10 days on option. If anyone we’ve got has to be put on the injured list, they’re gone for 10 days. If anyone gets optioned, they’re gone for 10 days and can’t be used without an injury or a 29th man designation. And there are only 40 days left in the season. After today, the next doubleheader is scheduled for Thursday, August 27th. Woodford will be able to added as the 29th man for that doubleheader and not before, because 10 total days on option will not have elapsed since his most recent option. The same is true for each one of the taxi squad players (minus Godoy) that I named above, again, because 10 days on option will not have elapsed before then.

What will happen for the rest of the season with the pitching is anyone’s guess. The Cards have already used 24 pitchers in only 11 games so far. They used 22 regular pitchers in 162 regular season games and the playoffs last year, 23 if you include the 1 batter that Jedd Gyorko faced. We expect all 5 pitchers on the COVID-Related IL to come back, but how long will it take them to get to the club and pitch like their normal selves? Will we see any more roster moves and 40-man additions any time soon? They’re already running out of pitching.

Assuming the Cards don’t call up Masyn Winn, the club’s 2020 2nd round draft choice, the club only has 6 pitchers left in the Club Player Pool that you haven’t already seen. RHP Alvaro Seijas is on the 40-man roster, but he split last year as a starter between Class A and Class A-Advanced, with only 10 games pitched at the latter level. LHP Matthew Liberatore, also a starter, is only 20 years old, has only 24 games of professional experience and hasn’t pitched above A ball. LHP Zack Thompson was drafted in the first round of the 2019 draft, and has only 13 games of professional experience, 11 of which were in Class A-Advanced. RHP Angel Rondon is a starter, and split last year between Class-A Advanced and AA, with 20 starts at AA. RHP Johan Oviedo was in the AA Springfield rotation last year with Rondon, and has been almost exclusively a starter. He didn’t pitch above A ball until last year, when he pitched 6 games at the Class A-Advanced level and 23 games in AA. RHP Bryan Dobzanski first pitched above the Class-A Advanced level last season, pitching 24 games in AA and 3 in AAA. Dobzanski has the most relief experience out of the lot. All of these pitchers were invited to spring training 1.0 in February, but only Oviedo was named to the initial summer camp roster for July. Thompson was added to the summer camp roster after about a week later. The rest were part of the original ATS group that got started a little over a month ago.

WHO ARE THESE F’N GUYS?

Now for a very brief blurb about the three most recent 40-man and active roster additions.

CRISMATT

Nabil Crismatt originally signed with the New York Mets as a 17-year old undrafted free agent out of Colombia in May of 2012. He took a while to get going, and didn’t make it out of Rookie Ball until 2016. He only pitched 13 games that season because he climbed 3 levels, starting with Short-Season A ball. As a starter that season, however, he struck out 74 batters to only 6 walks, with a 2.68 FIP on the year. After a season with Class-A Advanced in 2017, and a season split with AA and AAA in 2018, Crismatt left the Mets organization as an automatic Rule 55 minor league free agent and signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners for 2019. Last season, he split time between AA and AAA again, and in AA was part of the Arkansas Travelers’ rotation with Ricardo Sanchez, who is now on the Cards’ active roster. After just the one season, Crismatt declared automatic Rule 55 minor league free agency again, and signed a minor league deal for 2020 with the Cardinals with a spring training invite.

Now 25, Crismatt has dominated AA (2.82 ERA in 195 IP, FIP of 3.5 or lower in each spin), but has gotten crushed in AAA (8.96 ERA in 85.1 IP, FIP of 6.4 or higher in each spin). He’s got strikeout potential, as he struck out 29.7% of AAA batters last year, but each time he has pitched in AAA, his walk rate spiked from the AA level. He did get super unlucky with a 35.7% HR/FB rate in AAA, and his K%-BB% figure was strong, but there has to be some explanation for why he has had home run issues and BABIPs of over .400 in each spin with AAA, while mowing through AA hitters. The book on him was that he touched 95 mph with his fastball, with a curve and change.

MEISINGER

Ryan Meisinger was an 11th round draft choice of the Baltimore Orioles in 2015 and rocketed through their system with super impressive K/BB ratios. The Orioles purchased his contract in June of 2018. In 18 games with the big club, he got crushed, allowing 6 HR in just 21 IP, although he did strike out 20 batters and allow fewer hits than innings pitched. His AAA season was much more impressive with a 32.1% K rate. Despite the fact that he had only burned one minor league option, the Orioles designated him for assignment and tried to outright him to the minors after the season.

The Cards claimed Meisinger on outright assignment waivers on December 10th, 2018, but designated him for assignment themselves 11 days later and outrighted him to AAA Memphis because the club had to make room on the 40-man roster for Andrew Miller. He spent the entire 2019 season with AAA Memphis, striking out 27.3% of batters, while walking only 6.5%. Along with Crismatt, Meisinger was among the top 30 pitchers in K%-BB% in the Pacific Coast League out of 258 pitchers who had pitched at least 30 innings in the league. He did, however, miss over 3 months with injuries and only pitched 21 games and 35 innings. Described as a sinker/slider guy with a deceptive motion, Meisinger has become a more extreme fly ball pitcher over the last couple of years. He has two minor league options remaining, as one was burned by the Orioles in the 2018 season.

CRUZ

Jesus Cruz, a Mexican native, was signed by the Cards to a minor league deal on July 2nd, 2017, with the Cards essentially purchasing his rights from the Monterrey Sultans of the Mexican League. The Mexican League was a relatively new market for the Cardinals at the time, and the club had also recently signed Ramon Urias from there. A 6’1”, 230-pounder, Cruz’s fastball touched 94-96 with a change up and slider. He didn’t pitch many games in 2017, but when he did, the then-22-year old blew through hitters in the Dominican Summer League and Short-Season State College.

In his first taste of full season ball in 2018, Cruz split time between A Peoria and A-Advanced Palm Beach, part of the time as a starter. He struck out between 25% and 30% of batters at both levels, but also had double-digit walk rates at both. Last season, after 2 games with AA Springfield, where he walked 5 batters in 3.2 IP, he was promoted to AAA Memphis and stayed there the rest of the year, pitching 50 games out of the bullpen for that club. He pitched to extremes again, with a 30% strikeout rate, but a career-worst 15.6% walk rate. His home run rate went up a bit as well, resulting in a 5.31 FIP, which in the Pacific Coast League last year, was about in the middle of the road. His walk rate was still very concerning.

YOUR NEW ACTIVE ROSTER

PITCHERS (16)

STARTERS (5): Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Kwang Hyun Kim (L), Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jack Flaherty

RELIEVERS (11): Genesis Cabrera (L), Nabil Crismatt, Jesus Cruz, Seth Elledge, Giovanny Gallegos, John Gant, Austin Gomber (L), Andrew Miller (L), Alex Reyes, Ricardo Sanchez (L), Tyler Webb (L)

POSITION PLAYERS (12)

CATCHERS (2): Andrew Knizner, Matt Wieters (S)

INFIELDERS (6): Matt Carpenter (L), Tommy Edman (S), Paul Goldschmidt, Brad Miller (L), Max Schrock (L), Kolten Wong (L)

OUTFIELDERS (4): Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson (S), Dexter Fowler (S), Tyler O’Neill

*OF Tyler O’Neill was scratched from his scheduled start last night because of a sore ring finger. He’s day-to-day. The Cardinals already had only a 3-man bench with this setup, and if O’Neill can’t at least pinch hit, we have only a 2-man bench consisting of either Knizner or Wieters (whoever is not the starting catcher) and Schrock.

*RHP Jake Woodford will be recalled for today’s doubleheader as the 29th man. I didn’t list him in the above total, because he will only be with the club today. He must be returned to the ATS immediately after the doubleheader is over because he has not spent at least 10 days on option since his most recent option. That will give the club one extra pitcher for today only for 17 pitchers total.

SIX IS A SERIOUS NUMBER—WHO YOU WANNA DFA?

The Cards’ 40-man roster is now at 36 players. When you add the 10 players that are currently on the COVID-19 Related IL, that leaves a total of 46 players, which, as we know, is 6 more than the 40-man roster limit. It won’t happen all at once, but sooner or later, those guys are going to come back in piecemeal fashion. Six out of the 10 have been cleared to start working out with the club again. Eventually, the Cards will have to trim 6 players off of the 40-man in total.

I talked about this in the game thread last night. Let’s play “Who you wanna DFA?” Let’s suppose everyone is healthy and all available at the same time. Let me know in the comments which 6 players you think the club should bounce off of the 40-man roster. As I said in the thread, I promise that I will not disagree, argue or push back against any suggestion. I will only respond in the comments if someone has a transaction or roster-related question, such as potential arbitration eligibility, free agency, or something else concerning the rules.

In case you don’t know who your choices are, here’s the list of 46 possible people. You will notice that RHP Jordan Hicks (restricted list), RHP John Brebbia (60-day IL) and Miles Mikolas (60-day IL) are not there. You can’t choose them because they are off of the 40-man already and won’t help the crunch. I’ll even give you the information on how many options the players have left in parentheses next to their names. That number includes this season. The only players who have already burned an option year this year are LHP Ricardo Sanchez, RHP Alvaro Seijas, 3B Elehuris Montero and OF Justin Williams.

PITCHERS (25)

Genesis Cabrera (2), Nabil Crismatt (3), Jesus Cruz (3), Seth Elledge (3), Junior Fernandez (3), Jack Flaherty (2), Giovanny Gallegos (1), John Gant, Austin Gomber (1), Ryan Helsley (2), Dakota Hudson (3), Rob Kaminsky (3), Kwang Hyun Kim, Carlos Martinez, Ryan Meisinger (2), Andrew Miller, Daniel Ponce de Leon (1), Roel Ramirez (3), Alex Reyes (2), Ricardo Sanchez (1, might be eligible for a fourth option next year), Alvaro Seijas (3), Adam Wainwright, Tyler Webb, Kodi Whitley (3), Jake Woodford (3)

CATCHERS (3)

Andrew Knizner (2), Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters

INFIELDERS (11)

Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong (3), Tommy Edman (3), Paul Goldschmidt, Brad Miller, Elehuris Montero (3), John Nogowski (3), Rangel Ravelo, Max Schrock (3), Edmundo Sosa (1, this year is his fourth option year, unclear if a fourth option will be available next year if not exercised this year), Kolten Wong

OUTFIELDERS (7)

Harrison Bader (1), Dylan Carlson (3), Austin Dean (2), Dexter Fowler, Tyler O’Neill (1), Lane Thomas (2), Justin Williams (1)

Let the games begin!