On November 30th, 17 teams nontendered 27 players from their 40 man roster, which means 27 players suddenly became free agents. Included among that list is Jose Rondon, capable pinch-hitter for the Cardinals in the 2021 season. Unfortunately, it was really the right move. There isn’t really a spot for him on the roster. He can hit left-handed pitchers (101 wRC+ versus 45 wRC+ against RHP in career), which is the most useless skill he could have on this Cardinals roster considering two middle infielders in front of him have similar skills (Tommy Edman and Edmundo Sosa).
He not only is behind those two plus Paul DeJong, he’s also behind Brendan Donovan - if we went into the season with Rondon in the fold and someone got hurt, Donovan would get called up and would take any potential playing time away from him. Instead, Donovan may very well make the roster on Opening Day. And he’ll be much more useful subbing for Edman, who is below average against right-handed pitchers, and as a pinch hitter, where you can expect a right-handed pitcher much more often than a left-handed pitcher.
As for the rest, let’s categorize them by potential usefulness to the Cards roster and see if they’re worth signing, whether to a minor league deal (preferable obviously) or an MLB deal.
Potential Bullpen Arms
The bullpen is a truly random place. We saw evidence of this in the form of Luis Garcia, who pitched over 300 innings of uninspiring ball in the pen before the Cardinals signed him, just because they had nobody better. And at 34-years-old, he pitched far better than he ever has in his career. There are countless examples of pitchers just having a randomly great season in the bullpen. So while none of these players are considered strictly good, you can maybe envision them pulling off one of those random great years.
Robert Gsellman (350.2 IP, 18.1 K%, 8 BB%, 4.59 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 4.50 xFIP)
I have no idea what happened to Gsellman in 2020, though he did barely pitch. But you can say that about a lot of players that season. Otherwise, he’s been at least competent most of the time. He struck out just 14.3% of players, because he throws a sinker 60% of the time. He does get groundballs. But once upon a time, he got groundballs and struck out a not ridiculously low number of batters. He’s only 28. Feels like a low risk gamble personally.
Sam Delaplane (Last seen in 2019, AA: 37 IP, 43.3 K%, 6.7 BB%, 0.49 ERA, 1.99 FIP, 2.47 xFIP)
Uhhhhh, can we get this guy now? He hasn’t pitched since 2019, and the Giants claimed him from the Mariners in 2021. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery. He needed it at the beginning of this season, so he’s probably not going to be a useful bullpen piece for most of 2022. But look at those numbers. He did that at 24. He’s now 26. I think I’d be willing to give him a 40 man spot for that reward. He has two options left too.
Joe Palumbo (19 IP, 27.4 K%, 11.6 BB%, 9.47 ERA, 8.00 FIP, 4.72 xFIP)
I would say he’s interesting for two reasons. Because he’s left-handed and four of his nine MLB appearances were starts. And while I doubt he was anything to write home about, his xFIP isn’t too bad. He did miss most of 2021 though. Not a great sign. But he doesn’t really have much of a history of being in the bullpen, and some bad starters become good relievers. Such as former Card Adam Ottavino. Clearly minor league deal here though.
Kyle Dohy (AA: 37.1 K%, 10.6 BB%, 2.17 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 3.42 xFIP)
Another 24-year-old with amazing AA stats, though he did this in 2021. So he’s 25 next year. On the downside, he did make it to AAA back in 2019 and was downright awful, walking 18.8% of batters. So he struggles with control. He also got back to AAA this year, pitching 5.1 IP, walking 12 and giving up 5 runs. He pitched a scoreless inning in the MLB, which had a walk and a K. But his very bad AAA numbers in 2019 were when he was 22. Might be worth gambling, at just 25, to see if he can get over the hump. Another minor league deal candidate.
Jose Castillo (39 IP, 35.1 K%, 8.4 BB%, 3.23 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 3.18 xFIP)
Castillo will be 26 next year and those are his career MLB stats. What’s the catch? Except for 0.2 IP, that was all in 2018. In 2019, he had a left flexor strain, which knocked him out to June. But either he got re-injured or was in rehab for two months because he wasn’t activated until early August. He pitched in one game, and went on the 60 day for a left middle finger injury. In 2020, he had a left lat strain before the season even started and never pitched. In 2021, he had Tommy John surgery in early March. So he can’t stay healthy. But maybe the TJ fixed all his problems. Only 26 and with two options left.
Trey Wingenter (70 IP, 33.3 K%, 13 BB%, 5.14 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 4.09 xFIP)
The 6’7 right-handed pitcher is yet another player who missed 2021 due to Tommy John. Unlike Castillo, he actually returned to pitching this year. He pitched in three rehab games, absolutely dominated, and then had to miss the rest of the year. He underwent back surgery in late September. Pitching’s a bitch, huh? Anyway, he had walk problems even when he was effective and he’s going to be 28, so I’d probably avoid. But he is also worth a minor league deal, if you can swing it.
Matt Strahm (260 IP, 25 K%, 7.4 BB%, 3.81 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 4.24 xFIP)
I’m a broken record at this point. Injuries, injuries, injuries. He had a right patellar tendon injury in April, returned, his year was finished with just 6.2 MLB innings after a right knee inflammation injury. He’s been a good reliever in the past, stranger things have happened than getting another good year out of him at 30-years-old.
Jason Adam (78.1 IP, 27.9 K%, 11.4 BB%, 4.71 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 4.98 xFIP)
He actually had very good advanced stats in 2021 for the Cubs in just 10.2 IP. He struck out 38% of batters he faced and had a 3.36 FIP. But even when he’s good, he walks a lot of batters. He does still have an MLB option and looks like a capable reliever so there’s really no harm in giving him a shot at all.
Wander Suero (185.1 IP, 25.4 K%, 8.4 BB%, 4.61 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 4.24 xFIP)
Suero’s problem appears to be that.... he underperforms his advanced stats. Look at that disparity. His xERA mostly supports the ERA being right. And he was very bad last year. He does have an option, I just don’t see a ton of upside here.
Ryne Harper (113.2 IP, 21.9 K%, 6.8 BB%, 4.67 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 4.49 xFIP)
Listen, it’s really not a good sign, in the case of Suero and Harper, if the Nationals are nontendering you. They always need bullpen arms. Harper will be 33. I’m not seeing any reason for a flyer.
Stephen Nogesek (9.2 IP, 23.9 K%, 4.3 BB%, 9.31 ERA, 6.92 FIP, 4.33 xFIP)
Nogosek sort of got screwed by the pandemic. He split his 2019 season at the age of 24 between AA and AAA. He was very good in AA, not especially impressive in AAA. He made his MLB debut, and sucked. In 2020, he never pitched. in 2021, he had fairly strong stats in AAA (33.1 K%), and then pitched 3 innings of bad baseball. There might be something here.
Andrew Vasquez (6.2 IP, 28.6 K%, 11.4 BB%, 8.10 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 2.91 xFIP)
Here we have a classic “literally doesn’t know where the ball is going but nobody can hit him” reliever. In 2018, he started at High A and made stops at AA, AAA, and the majors, posting effective stats at all. In 2019, hitters stop chasing. I mean he still struck out a lot, but he walked 20% of batters, spent the year split between AA and AAA and had one bad appearance in majors. He didn’t pitch in 2020. And in 2021, he struck out a ridiculous 38% of batters in AAA, while walking 11.5% of batters and... also hitting another 13 batters. He managed a perfect 1.2 in the majors for the Dodgers. He is already 28 and left-handed, but certainly has swing-and-miss stuff... if he can miss the batter.
Chad Kuhl (439.2 IP, 20.8 K%, 10.3 BB%, 4.44 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 4.64 xFIP)
There is hypothetical potential here in the form of a move to the bullpen. He’s only been in the bullpen for 16 of his 100 games pitched. I don’t think he’d good as a reliever, but it’s not hard to see a functional one at least.
Richard Lovelady (41.2 IP, 21.7 K%, 8.2 BB%, 5.62 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 4.13 xFIP)
The 26-year-old’s 2021 ended late in the year with Tommy John surgery. So he’s definitely out for all of 2022. In theory, you could give him a 2-year deal, but I’m not really sure he has enough potential to make that worth it. But he had pretty promising stats in the majors before he got hurt.
Juan Minaya (168.1 IP, 25.2 K%, 11.7 BB%, 3.58 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 4.65 xFIP)
There are two main problems with Minaya, and that is that he is going to be 31 and that he has no MLB options. He’s a functional MLB reliever, but definitely somebody who I’d want to be able to send down.
Trevor Megill (23.2 IP, 26.1 K%, 7 BB%, 8.37 ERA, 5.62 FIP, 3.94 xFIP)
I’d be more inclined to believe his xFIP if his AAA numbers were more impressive and if he weren’t already 28. He was not good enough for the Cubs bullpen if that tells you anything.
Richard Rodriguez (228 IP, 24.5 K%, 6.4 BB%, 3.28 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 4.47 xFIP)
The good news is that despite underwhelming advanced stats, there is a possibility he can produce better results somehow. The bad news is that he’s going to be 32 and struck out nobody last year, not a great sign. While his xERA roughly matches his actual ERA through 2020, in 2021, his xERA was 4.36 to his actual ERA of 2.94 ERA. There’s little reason to think this year wasn’t lucky.
Luis Gonzalez, OF (.241/.352/.423, 13.5 BB%, 25.2 K%, 111 wRC+ - AAA)
Not that Luis Gonzalez. Talk about a guy whose career is really destroyed by the pandemic. At 23-years-old, he spent 2019 in AA and had a 96 wRC+. He made an appearance in the 2020 season, striking out and walking in two plate appearances. In AAA this year, he had the above numbers, and then in 11 PAs in the majors, he doubled twice and walked three times with only two strikeouts. But he missed the majority of 2021 out with an injury. He’s going to be 26 and is honestly kind of interesting. Clearly a minor league deal though.
Mark Payton, OF (.175/.250/.200, 8.3 BB%, 29.2 K%, 19 WRC+)
Payton did have a 131 wRC+ in AAA for the Mets after being DFA’d by the Reds in 2021. But he’s going to be 30 and I don’t see anything here.
Mike Ford, 1B (.199/.301/.422, 11 BB%, 21 K%, 92 wRC+)
He was a nice story back in 2019, but whatever magic he possessed, he’s completely lost. He had a 59 wRC+ in the majors in 72 PAs, and 66 wRC+ in AAA. But he barely played, getting less than 200 PAs combined this year.
Billy McKinney, OF (.215/.286/.404, 10.7 BB%, 26 K%, 84 wRC+)
He got drafted by the Athletics and was traded to the Cubs and Yankees before making the majors. He appeared in two games before being traded to the Blue Jays. In 2021, he played for the Brewers, Dodgers, and Mets, and yet he was non-tendered by the Rangers. He can’t play CF and can’t hit, so really nothing here for the Cards.
Daniel Vogelbach, 1B (.209/.336/.403, 15.7 BB%, 25.5 K%, 103 wRC+)
Cardinals fans will not like him. He has an absurdly good projection by Steamer given his history - 115 wRC+ somehow. He has the approach of Matt Carpenter - his patience will annoy people, especially since he gets his fair share of strikeouts (looking too). He’s not a bad option if you at all believe that projection (I do not)
Colin Moran, 1B/3B (1,564 PAs, .267/.329/.418, 8.1 BB%, 22.2 K%, 99 wRC+)
JP has made the case for Moran as a guy and I can certainly see the argument. But he has a career 107 wRC+ against RHP with a career 99 wRC+ overall. His current projection is just 95 wRC+, which means if you take his career splits literally, his expected production against RHP is 103 wRC+. That... seems not worth getting since his defense is horrendous. Hell, even a 107 wRC+ when it comes with -12 UZR/150 at 3B and -6 UZR/150 at 1B.
Matthew Boyd (784.1 IP, 22.5 K%, 7.4 BB%, 4.96 ERA, 4.69 FIP, 4.64 xFIP)
I mean he kind of fits the whole “6th starter” thing the Cards allegedly said they were interested in when they said they were seeking out a 3rd and 6th starter. He had 1.4 fWAR in 15 starts last year. He has a history of being an above average starter. In fact, the only thing wrong is that he’ll get a guaranteed spot somewhere and technically, the Cardinals don’t seem willing to give it, even though he’ll probably start 25+ games if healthy even if he comes into season as 6th starter.
The rest of the nontender players I either missed or thought there was no real use for them on the Cardinals roster, which is why I chose to exclusively focus on lefty bats. MLBTR had a helpful non-tender list of players, but they didn’t list players like Daniel Vogelbach or Matthew Boyd, who I guess were nontendered the day before. So I would be surprised if I didn’t miss a few guys. So consider this an incomplete list.
But whether through a minor league deal or a guaranteed 40 man spot, there are a few players listed here who are worth signing. Obviously, none of these are likely to happen for a while with the MLB lockout officially underway. But at some point, baseball will come back and when that time comes, these players will still be available. It is possible some of these players are not currently available, having already signed (I had a few players written up who I had to delete because they signed already).
Anyone who pops as interesting for the readers?