The Cardinals have now officially postponed 10 games. After 5 consecutive days of negative tests, the club thought it was free from the COVID-19 virus. But yesterday, we learned that Austin Dean, Ryan Helsley and an additional Cardinal staffer have tested positive. The organization now has a total of 16 people infected, 9 players and 7 staffers. The weekend series with the Cubs has been postponed, and nobody knows anything else about the future of the Cardinals’ season.
At some point on Thursday, August 6th, the Cardinals quietly added both RHP Jesus Cruz and RHP Ryan Meisinger to the Club Player Pool. I say quietly because it was not announced on the Cardinals’ Twitter page. Instead, I randomly found an entry on the MLB transaction page that said these players had been “invited to spring training.” That’s the legalese this season for “added to the 60-man Club Player Pool.”
The next series on the Cardinal schedule is a 3-game series at home against the Pirates, starting on Monday, August 10th. We do not know at the time of this writing if that series will be played. If it is, the Cards will need to add both Dean and Helsley to the COVID-19 Related IL in short order, which opens spots on the 28-man active roster, the 40-man roster and the 60-man Club Player Pool. It’s unlikely that Cruz and Meisinger will be added to the 40-man and active rosters when Dean and Helsley are place on the injured list. The simple reason is that they have not been engaging in formal workouts under the direct supervision of club officials in a long time. Meisinger was not even invited to the first spring training this year. Cruz was, and lasted the entire camp before it was shut down.
This is not to say that both players have been twiddling their thumbs the entire time. I understand that players not on the Club Player Pool still have some form of remote access to coaches, and I’m assuming these players have done some throwing and other work to stay in condition. But because no coaches have been able to personally eyeball these players in some time, I’m guessing these pitchers were added to make it easier for the players at the Alternate Training Site in Springfield to play something approaching an intrasquad game. This is especially important because the Cardinals just grabbed three pitchers from the ATS to take the place of infected Cardinal players on the active roster.
The Cards signed the 25-year old Cruz in July of 2017 after he had been released by a Mexican League club. He was placed at the bottom of the food chain with the Domincan Summer League club as a 22-year old, but ended up playing in a total of 15 games across the DSL, the Gulf Coast League club and Short-Season A State College. He has been rapidly promoted, playing only 5 games with Class A Peoria in 2018 before finishing the season with High-A Palm Beach. Cruz only pitched 30 games in 2018 because he missed about a month with injuries. He took the fast track again last year, pitching only 2 games for AA Springfield before finishing the season with 50 games for AAA Memphis. Cruz has been a strikeout machine at pretty much every level. He struck out 30% of the batters he faced last year in AAA, which actually was a little better over 50 games than the 29.8% strikeout rate he posted at Palm Beach over 30 games the previous season. Cruz also had control problems, however, walking a career-worst 15.6% of batters.
The Cards claimed the now-26-year old Meisinger on outright assignment waivers from the Baltimore Orioles on December 10th of 2018. Meisinger had done well at every minor league stint since he was drafted in 2015, but struggled in 18 major league games. He didn’t last long on the Cards’ 40-man roster, as the Cards designated him for assignment 11 days after claiming him to make room for Andrew Miller. Meisinger ended up being outrighted to AAA Memphis, but the Cards invited him to 2019 spring training, where he lasted quite a while before being re-assigned to minor league camp. Meisinger was only able to pitch 21 games last season because he lost more than 3 months to an injury. But he has excellent peripherals over the 35 innings that he did pitch, walking just 6.7% of batters and striking out 27.3%.
With these additions, the Club Player Pool is now either at 52 or 53, depending on the tricky situation of Ricardo Sanchez, as I have mentioned before. I still don’t know if he has been activated from the COVID-19 Related IL yet. Although he has been cleared to throw at the Alternate Training Site, I have not heard anything other than that after he was placed on the COVID-19 Related IL on the same day as Giovanny Gallegos. When the Cards put Dean and Helsley on the COVID-19 Related IL, that will knock the CPP down to either 50 or 51. For all practical purposes, you can really treat the list as full, because once all the players are eventually activated, including Sanchez in that total, the list will be at a full 60.
40-MAN ROSTER CRUNCH?
The most interesting question going forward is who will replace Dean and Helsley on the active roster. At this point, the Cardinals are dangerously close to a 40-man roster crunch. If Sanchez is still on the COVID-19 Related IL, the 40-man roster is at 32. Dean and Helsley’s addition to the COVID-19 Related IL will make 30, and then when all 9 infected players come back, the 40-man roster would be at 39. That would mean the Cards could add another 40-man roster player right now, without having to DFA anyone when all the infected players come back. Because at that point the 40-man roster would be right at 40.
If, however, Sanchez has already been activated and is on the 40-man roster right now, the Cards can still add one additional player to the 40-man without having to risk losing a player when the 9 infected players come back. That is because the Cards have a 60-day (45-day) IL move in their back pocket with Miles Mikolas. He’s only on the 10-day IL, but we know he’s going to be out for a season. The Cards could thus transfer Mikolas from the 10-day IL to the 60-day (45-day) IL to create one more 40-man roster spot. In a normal season, this would not be allowed right now, because in a normal season the 40-man roster must be full to use the 60-day IL. The MLB 2020 Operations Manual, however, allows clubs to use the 60-day IL this season, without regard to the size of the 40-man roster, until August 31st. As long as the 60-day IL move is made before August 31st, the move can be made even if the 40-man roster is not full.
Unless Sanchez himself is activated and recalled to the big club, the Cards are fresh out of 40-man roster pitchers at the Alternate Training Site. I don’t think the Cards will recall Alvaro Seijas, with him only having pitched 10 games at the Class-A Advanced level. The club needs a pitcher to replace Helsley, so if Sanchez is not in the mix, they will almost certainly add another pitcher to the 40-man roster from the Club Player Pool. Of the available pitchers in the Pool, Seth Elledge, Rob Kaminsky and Johan Oviedo have received the most press attention because they were actually in summer camp in July.
For Dean’s replacement, I predict the Cards will recall Justin Williams. Many will surely lose their minds over the Cards not adding Carlson at this point and will ask what it would possibly take to bring the guy up. Remember that if Sanchez is on the 40-man roster right now, the Cards will ultimately have room to add one 40-man roster player by moving Mikolas to the 60-day (45-day) IL, not two. I expect the Cards to simply recall Williams without putting the club in a position where they are required to DFA a player in a couple of weeks.
All of this, of course, assumes that the Cards’ season continues.