A few days ago, I tried to predict the players the Cards would roster for the Wild Card Game. As it turns out, I was close, but not quite right.
Here is the list for the Cards:
Genesis Cabrera (L), Jack Flaherty, Giovanny Gallegos, Luis Garcia, Dakota Hudson, Kwang Hyun Kim (L), T.J. McFarland (L), Miles Mikolas, Andrew Miller (L), Alex Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Kodi Whitley
POSITION PLAYERS (14)
Andrew Knizner, Yadier Molina, Nolan Arenado, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Rondon, Edmundo Sosa, Juan Yepez Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill
On the pitching side, I thought the club would only carry 11 pitchers. They left J.A. Happ, Jon Lester and Jake Woodford off like I thought, and carried Miles Mikolas as a backup starter in case something went seriously wrong early. Counter to my prediction, the club decided to keep Kim on the roster. I think 12 pitchers is overkill even with a 26-man roster, but one can conceptualize Kim as a potential lefty long man that could be used instead of a righty long man like Hudson early in the game if something went wrong, and depending on where in the order the Dodgers were.
For position players, the club did something I think many of us were clamoring for, and that was to add Juan Yepez. Including this season and the 2020 non-season, Yepez had spent 7 years in the minor leagues, which meant that he was eligible for automatic Rule 9 minor league free agency on the 5th day following the end of the World Series. The only way to stop him from becoming a free agent was to either add him to the 40-man roster, or sign him to a successor minor league contract. The Cards went ahead and selected his contract from AAA Memphis today, and added him to the Wild Card Game roster. For those of you that missed the various conversations we had in the comments sections over the past couple of weeks, Yepez was eligible for the playoffs because he was in the organization as of August 31st and was used as an injury replacement for a player that was otherwise automatically eligible.
The Cards’ 40-man roster was full, and the club had to make a move. Transferring a pitcher like Wade LeBlanc from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL was not an option, because clubs are not permitted to use the 60-day IL after the regular season is over. Thus a DFA or placement on unconditional release waivers was required. If the club did add Yepez, I thought they might DFA someone that would have been a non-tender candidate or automatic Article XX-B free agent in the offseason, like Justin Miller or Wade LeBlanc. In other words, I believed that if someone was going to be removed from the roster in a month or two, either automatically or by choice, the Cards would go ahead and make that move now to make room for Yepez.
Instead, the club chose to DFA Seth Elledge, which means you can close the book on the July 2018 Sam Tuivailala trade. Elledge was pressed into service last season during the COVID pandemic, and while he flashed a nasty slider, he had serious walk issues. Elledge pitched like a stud in AA in 2019, but his control has been a problem since he cracked the AAA level that same year. He’s always had good strikeout rates, but he’s yet to walk less than 12.9% of the batters he has faced during 2 spins with AAA Memphis over a 3-year period and 2 stretches with the big club. Still only 25 years old, Elledge does not have enough service time to elect free agency in lieu of an outright assignment, and has not been in pro ball long enough to be a minor league free agent. Unless he retires, or the club releases or trades him, he’ll be toiling for AAA Memphis again next season. I did not expect the club to dump a player that would have had two minor league options remaining after this year.
I’m a little surprised the club decided to roster Yepez, although I’m certainly in favor of the move. The fact that Yepez was not rostered before now was a function of two particular circumstances that prevailed in this 2021 season. The first was that rosters were limited to 28 in September, and the second was that the AAA season ended the same day as the major league season. If we had been playing under 2019 circumstances, Yepez probably would have been added. I supported the club not adding Yepez because I thought it was much more important for him to play every day in AAA Memphis, instead of languishing on the major league bench. Yepez is not a good defender, and essentially, I didn’t believe that Mike Shildt would use him enough to justify interrupting his flow in AAA.
Yepez came to the Cardinal organization on May 20th, 2017 from the Atlanta Braves in a trade for Matt Adams and cash considerations. His minor league career trajectory is a littler strange. Yepez had 3 different spins in A ball, and didn’t crack AA until his 5th season, and that was only at the very end. Until this season, he wasn’t much of a home run guy, but he busted out in 2021 with 5 homers in the first 19 games for AA Springfield in a reunion tour. Then he slashed .289/.382/.589 in 357 PA with AAA Memphis with an additional 22 homers, and posted a double digit walk rate to boot, his best since his rookie year. His .302 ISO was top 10 in the upper minors, and he had a very respectable strikeout rate to go along with it. Defensively, his best position is hitter, although he does have experience at the corner infield and corner outfield positions. Putting him in the outfield should be avoided it at all possible.
With Yepez on the roster, it means that Andrew Knizner will not pinch hit, so the Cards really have a 5-man bench, not a 6-man bench. I’m not sure how much that’s going to make a difference, and I would expect Yepez and Knizner to be our last two batters off the bench. The one thing about carrying this many pitchers, is that unless they plan to use Jack Flaherty, they won’t be able to run for a slower player as easily as they could if they carried more position players.
While I might have preferred more position players on the Cards’ roster, I don’t have a serious objection to not carrying a third catcher, and there weren’t too many other choices with Justin Williams and Austin Dean both being injured for much of the year. Let’s hope that Shildt isn’t put in the position of having to decide whether to run for Yadier Molina in the late innings.
Phil Bickford, Tony Gonsolin, Brusdar Graterol, Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, Corey Knebel, Max Scherzer, Blake Treinen, Julio Urias (L), Alex Vesia (L)
POSITION PLAYERS (16)
Austin Barnes, Matt Beaty, Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Gavin Lux, Billy McKinney, Zach McKinstry, AJ Pollock, Albert Pujols, Luke Raley, Corey Seager, Will Smith, Steven Souza, Jr., Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, Trea Turner
The Dodgers’ roster is much more practical in my mind with 10 pitchers, but the extra offense also plays to that club’s strengths. Urias is the backup emergency starter, and Graterol also started 13 games for the club. The Dodgers only have two lefty pitchers in Urias and Vesia. With Max Muncy unavailable due to an arm injury he suffered at a play at first base in the last game of the regular season, Matt Beaty is playing first base for the club. Additional players added to the roster that were not on it as of the final game of the regular season are outfielders Billy McKinney (activated from the 10-day IL) and Steven Souza, Jr. (contract selected from AAA) and Luke Raley, and second baseman Zach McKinstry. Left off the roster were first baseman Max Muncy, and pitchers Justin Bruihl, Walker Buehler, Andre Jackson, Evan Phillips and David Price.