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Did the Cardinals Make the Right Roster Decisions? (Hint: Yes and No).

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The current roster situation allows the Cards to achieve 2 goals this season: see what they have with Lane Thomas & create space for Carlson to play every day. They might pass on both.

Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The roster is a mess. But at least we will have baseball!

On Tuesday night a batch of negative test results cleared the path for the Cardinals to exit their self-imposed quarantine in Milwaukee and return to St. Louis. Barring any changes, the Cardinals will play the Cubs on Friday at 7:15 pm.

Special emphasis needs to be placed on the first part of that sentence: barring any changes. 2020 always seems to find a way.

So, everything written from here on, as with anything in life, is only accurate at this immediate moment and subject to change. (I’ve already had to re-write this article 3 times.)

As of the morning of August 6, 2020, the Cardinals have lost seven players to COVID-19:

Bats: Yadier Molina, Paul DeJong, Rangel Ravelo, Edmundo Sosa
Pitchers: Carlos Martinez, Junior Fernandez, Kodi Whitley

Those players have (or will be) placed on the IL. Additionally, before the Cubs game, active rosters across baseball will be declining from 30 to 28, where they will reportedly hold for the rest of the season.

Skyric has done an excellent job of walking through the nuances of this. I highly suggest catching up on his articles if you want all the gory details of this roster mess. My purpose is to not to report what has happened but to dissect the club’s chosen course of action.

Let’s just catch up on the convoluted depth chart. With so many players out, can the club even field a full complement of 28 players with sufficient depth at necessary positions? The answer is yes, with some problems.

Cardinals Active Roster (as of 8/6/2020, 10:30 am):

Batters
C: Matt Wieters, Andrew Knizner
1b: Paul Goldschmidt
2B: Kolten Wong, Brad Miller (INF)
SS: Tommy Edman
3B: Matt Carpenter
OF: Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Austin Dean, Lane Thomas

Pitchers
SP: Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson, Daniel Ponce de Leon
LHRP: Kwang-Hyun Kim, Andrew Miller, Tyler Webb, Austin Gomber
RHRP: Ryan Helsley, John Gant, Giovanny Gallegos, Jake Woodford

Roster additions (8/5/20): Max Schrock (INF), Alex Reyes (RHRP), Genesis Cabrera (LHRP), Roel Ramirez (RHRP).

Total roster: 13 batters, 15 pitchers. 28 players.

St Louis Cardinals Summer Workouts Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Offensive Roster Depth & the Starting Lineup

The biggest depth concern the Cardinals have is shortstop. Their depth at the position is so thin that Ozzie Smith told Willie McGee he still had some innings in him. (Yes, please!) The silver lining is that club has wanted to get a look at Tommy Edman at short and now they’ll have their chance. Carpenter, meanwhile, will likely return to 3rd while Brad Miller and Max Schrock back up the infield. Neither are viable shortstops defensively, so if something happens to Edman one of those will just have to handle the position as best they can.

What does that mean for the starting lineup? Here’s the lineup I think we’ll see on a regular basis:

1. Kolten Wong (2b)
2. Tommy Edman (SS)
3. Paul Goldschmidt (1b)
4. Tyler O’Neill (LF)
5. Matt Carpenter (3b)
6. Dexter Fowler (RF)
7. Austin Dean/Brad Miller (DH)
8. Matt Wieters/Andrew Knizner (C)
9. Harrison Bader (CF)

You might have noticed that the lineup does not include Lane Thomas and the roster does not include Dylan Carlson. (Excuse me while I indulge myself in a lengthy diatribe about these two omissions.)

Let’s start with Thomas. With Carpenter exiting the DH spot and returning to 3rd, it seems natural that the Cardinals would use this opportunity to fulfill one of their stated goals this season: get a “look” at their outfielders, especially Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas.

Cardinaldom has collectively sighed in relief and praised the baseball gods that the club has finally — FINALLY — given TON (Tyler O’Neill) the opportunity to play everyday. It only took two years. But, their frustration has only transferred to Lane Thomas, who still can’t find anything resembling regular playing time.

That’s gotta change now, right? DH is open so the club will surely just bump Dexter Fowler to DH and start Lane everyday until DeJong returns? Right? Obviously?

Nope.

Brendan Schaeffer of KMOV asked Manager Mike Shildt if Thomas was looking at more playing time. Shildt stepped carefully around Lane and instead offered this:

Schaeffer clarified further down the thread that he expects Miller and Dean to occupy the DH spot and he is uncertain what that means for Thomas.

What it means is more time on the bench as the Cardinals, who spent all winter saying they needed to see what they have with Lane, continue to punt his playing time down the road by creating unnecessary roster obstacles for their own talented young players.

We’ll just have to see how this plays out. What Shildt said yesterday and what actually happens over three weeks of games might not be the same.

That brings me to Dylan Carlson.

The Cardinals have again bypassed an opportunity to add their top prospect — and one of the best prospects in the game — to their roster. They rightly did so at the beginning of the season to buy an extra year of service time. Their motivation now is not so clear. The argument against his addition is (to paraphrase Mark Saxon): with no outfielders out, if the club didn’t have room for him before this crisis, why would they have room for him now?

That logic is based on two faulty assumptions.

Assumption #1: Carlson can’t be added because he needs to play and there is no room on the roster for him to play.

This is patently false. Let’s assume that the COVID positive players will not return for three weeks. (Alex Reyes, Genesis Cabrera, and Giovanny Gallegos all tested positive before the start of Summer Camp and none of those players returned within a month.) Between the three OF spots and DH, Shildt could start four outfielders everyday. That’s 20 games and 80 starts worth of “room”.

It took me less than 3 minutes and one cup of coffee to outline a scenario where Carlson can be added to the roster and start in 80% of the games without cutting anyone’s playing time too deeply AND expanding time for Lane Thomas.

Tyler O’Neill: 20 in LF
Dexter Fowler: 18 at DH
Dylan Carlson: 16 in RF
Harrison Bader: 14 at CF
Lane Thomas: 10 at CF/OF
Austin Dean: 2 in OF/DH
Total: 80 starts

Adjust as necessary. Remember, the club has said (repeatedly) that they want Carlson to play. Need I remind everyone that Carlson is not currently playing, has not been playing, and will not play a single game this season if it’s not with the big league club?

If the club wants him to play, they have to play him. There’s space to do so. What’s the issue? Enter assumption #2.

Assumption #2: Outfielders that have seniority over Carlson should play over him.

This assumption has no consideration of talent, the team’s competitiveness, or on-the-field reality. The players that have “seniority” over Carlson have earned that seniority by not performing as well as Carlson in the minor leagues at an older age and over a longer period of time. That includes Thomas, whose prospect status falls far below Carlson’s. However, I believe there is playing time for both Thomas and Carlson (as well as O’Neill, Bader, and Fowler), so at this point, the seniority issue boils down to one player: Austin Dean.

That’s where I return to Shaeffer’s Tweet. The club knows it has a window of opportunity to look at some of it’s outfield depth and for some reason they want to use that window to give regular playing time to Dean.

Can someone explain the logic here?

Dean is not a player the team drafted, developed, and poured years of resources into. He’s a Cardinal only because he was DFA’ed by the hapless Marlins at the end of the season. He had two seasons with the Marlins and produced a wRC+ in the 70’s. (That’s really bad.) Dean might be a useful player on a team with outfield depth issues, which the Cardinals don’t have, but he has no more upside than Jeremy Hazelbaker did.

The club — both Shildt and Mozeliak — have said that Carlson has nothing left to prove in the minors. He’s ready. Organizations cannot let the presence of a roster-flyer and a fringe major leaguer inhibit the opportunity of an elite MLB-ready talent. They certainly can’t let that happen when said prospect is locked up in a Springfield, MO hotel room while occasionally taking live BP against A/AA arms.

Cardinals! The opportunities to play your talented prospects are there! For the love of all things holy, take them!

Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Pitching Roster Depth & the Starting Rotation

Reyes (he does exist!) and Cabrera’s return from their own battles with COVID are timely. Both players would have likely made the original 30-man roster, had they received a normal “Summer Camp” and both can slide easily into the spots occupied by Whitely and Fernandez.

How should the club use these two additions?

I would suggest caution. Last week I wrote that the Cardinals had the roles of Kwang-Hyun Kim, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and Ryan Helsley mixed up. The Cardinals have taken one step to correct that by moving KK to the rotation. With two starters down, the club does need someone that can go a little deeper into games. KK is the best equipped of all the remaining starters to do so.

Helsley should take over as the closer, with Gallegos sliding into a more prominent role when his arm gets on track.

Ponce probably needs to stay in the rotation for now, but the club could view that 5th starter spot as a “bullpen” start, where Ponce, Gomber, Reyes, and Cabrera all compete for multi-inning outings. While I’m generally not a fan of using the bullpen this way, the upcoming schedule is going to demand it. I don’t feel comfortable giving any of those arms 5-6 inning starts consistently, but I feel really good about giving all of them 3-4 innings.

MLB is likely to add multiple 7-inning double-headers to the Cardinals schedule in the upcoming weeks. So many of those games would be murder on a 5-man rotation, but they’re perfect for multi-inning relievers. The Cardinals now have those in abundance and they should use them all now so they are peaking when the doubleheaders begin.

And Roel Ramirez? He has some interesting velocity, but at this point, he’s an extra arm who the club hopes they never have to use.