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TA 10/25/21: Cards DFA Justin Miller and Activate Jordan Hicks

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to announcing the hiring of a new manager, the Cardinals made the following roster move that went largely under the radar:

10/25/21: Designated RHP Justin Miller for assignment. Activated RHP Jordan Hicks from the 60-day IL. 40-man roster still full.

The Cards did not announce this transaction on Twitter or on their transaction page, although both Derrick Goold and Jeff Jones tweeted about it and there is a blurb in a running article on the Cardinals’ website.

The timing of this transaction is unusual, and it only happened because the 2021 minor league schedule was different than in past years. Clubs are required to activate all players from the 60-day IL on the 5th day following the day that the final game of the World Series starts. Often this just means that the player will be added back to the 40-man roster at that time, but the club could also handling it by outrighting the player to the minor leagues, in which case there would be no net change in the 40-man roster with respect to that player.

Why then, did the Cards activated Hicks now, instead of waiting until the World Series was over? This time, Jeff Jones of the Belleville-News Democrat nailed it. The Cards sent Jordan Hicks on a minor league rehab assignment on September 25th, which was the 6th day before the regular season was over. That type of assignment, which requires the player’s written consent, is an actual assignment of the player’s contract, but is not considered a minor league option, and the player does not count against the minor league club’s active roster. The player gets major league service time credit for it. The assignment may last for 20 days for position players and 30 days for pitchers.

If the player is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, he may consent to up to three consecutive 10-day extensions, or he can consent to a completely new rehab assignment if he either sustains a new injury or suffers a reoccurrence of the original injury. Barring those events, if a player is good to go after the original assignment is over, he has to be activated from the injured list. Hicks started his rehab assignment on September 25th, which means that the 30 days expired on October 24th. He had to be activated from the 60-day IL on October 25th.

There were a couple of oddities about Hicks’s rehab assignment. In past minor league seasons, sending a player like Hicks on a rehab assignment in late September would not have been a possibility because the minor league seasons ended in the first or second week of September. But because this year’s AAA season extended into October, Hicks was actually able to pitch three games for AAA Memphis before that club’s 2021 season ended. He didn’t get any of the three batters out that he faced in his first game (he walked two out of three), but went on to pitch three more innings over two additional games to close out the year, allowing two homers out of the nine batters he faced in the last game. The other odd thing about Hicks is that he pitched in the Arizona Fall League, but only for a bit. In past years, a player in Hicks’s shoes would not have been allowed to pitch in the Arizona Fall League because he had too much MLB service time. Until this year, only MLB players who had less than 1 year of MLB service as of September 1st of that particular year were allowed to play in the League. As it turned out, Hicks was able to pitch four games, but he threw five wild pitches and walked four batters to only five strikeouts over 4.2 IP before he decided to leave, concluding he had finished his rehab goals. Hicks has pitched just 10 innings over 10 regular season games since June 22nd, 2019, accumulating MLB service the entire time he has been on the shelf.

Hicks’s activation required a 40-man roster trim, and the club decided to DFA Justin Miller. Miller being trimmed at some point was not a surprise, as he’s both out of options and eligible for salary arbitration. I thought he might have been a non-tender candidate in December. but the club decided to cut bait now. Miller came over on a waiver claim from the Nationals in early July, and pitched 18 games for the Cards when he wasn’t on one of two trips to the injured list with a right elbow problem. He wasn’t necessarily terrible for us, but he was just more “Meh.” It’s tough to analyze a 16-inning sample, and he didn’t walk a lot of guys, but he didn’t throw very hard, didn’t strike many batters out, and he was an extreme flyball pitcher. In short, he really didn’t stand out as superior to a AAA depth option, and he wasn’t nearly strong enough for the club to want to go to arbitration with him.

Hicks’s activation leaves the 40-man roster still full with 5 more players on the 60-day IL.