Over the past few days, the Cards announced the following transactions:
2/10/21: Traded cash considerations to the Philadelphia Phillies for RHP Johan Quezada. 40-man roster at 38.
2/11/21: Traded cash considerations to the New York Mets for C Ali Sanchez. 40-man roster at 39.
Quezada originally signed with the Twins in September 2012 as an 18-year old international free agent out of the Dominican Republic. It may not make any sense, but he doesn’t have as much pitching experience as you would expect for a player who has been around as long as he has. He missed the entire 2017 season due to shoulder surgery, and didn’t pitch for a full-season club until 2018, and that was only for 4 games in Class A. His last minor league level played was in Class A-Advanced in 2019, where, at 24 years old, he was one of the oldest players in the league and had peripherals that were middling at best and were worse than his prior season in A-ball.
After 7 years in the Twins organization, he was declared an automatic Rule 55 minor league free agent and signed a minor league deal with the Marlins for the 2020 season. He wasn’t invited to Spring Training 1.0, but was included in the Club Player Pool that took shape in late June to prepare for Summer Camp and was sent to the Alternate Training Site. Needing pitching help in late September, the Marlins purchased Quezada’s contract and added him to the 40-man roster on September 11th. He pitched 3 innings over 3 games out of the bullpen. He didn’t allow a hit or run in his first two appearances, but gave up 3 hits, including a 3-run homer in his final outing of the season. The Marlins optioned Quezada back to the Alternate Training Site on September 18th, where he remained for the rest of the season. After the 2020 season, the Marlins had to make some 40-man roster trims to make room for all the players they had to reinstate from the 60-day IL. Quezada was one of the casualties and was claimed by the Phillies on outright assignment waivers in late October. But when the Phillies recently re-signed Didi Gregorius, they had to clear a spot, so they DFAd Quezada and made him available in trade to the Cards.
Quezada is 26 years old and although he has 3 games pitched in the majors, he has never even pitched at the AA level. He’s had serious control problems in the minors, with a career walk rate of about 18%. He’s had double digit wild pitches in 5 of his 6 career minor league seasons and poor K/BB ratios. On the flip side, he’s a beast at 6’9” and 255 pounds, he throws about 100 miles an hour, he keeps the ball on the ground with extreme prejudice, and has only given up 4 home runs in his minor league career. Because he didn’t spend at least 20 days on option in 2020, that minor league option was not burned, and he still has all 3 options remaining. Although he’ll get a look in camp and has a theoretical chance, I wouldn’t expect him to make the opening day roster given the pitching talent the Cards already have on hand.
Sanchez signed with the Mets for future service as a 16-year old international free agent out of Venezuela in July of 2013. He has been in the Mets organization ever since. Once considered a top catching prospect in the organization and the system’s best pitch-framer, he wasn’t added to the 40-man roster until after the 2019 season. He got a very brief look as a 3rd catcher last season, getting 4 starts and 10 trips to the plate.
All the information about Sanchez has the same theme: he’s an above-average defender who can’t hit. He’s thrown out 46% of runners trying to steal in his career. But in 6 seasons and 1,484 plate appearances, Sanchez’s career slash line is .259/.317/.331. He only has 17 starts at the AAA level, which he received in 2019, when he spent most of the season in AA. He’s proven to be an extreme contact hitter that doesn’t strike out much, but also doesn’t have much patience and has no power (11 career minor league homers). He hit a fairly empty .278 in AA where he got the most time in 2019, and it took a .341 BABIP to accomplish it, a figure far out of line with his career norms.
The Cardinals already had Yadier Molina and Andrew Knizner on the 40-man roster. Back in November, Tyler Heineman was signed to a minor-league deal with a spring training invite. He was not added to the 40-man roster because the Cards didn’t have to add him. The Cards added Sanchez to the 40-man because they had to—he was on the Mets’ 40-man roster when the Mets DFAd him to make room for OF Albert Almora, Jr. I don’t think this puts Sanchez higher in the pecking order than Heineman, but that this was just a function of the rules. Sanchez burned an option last year, and has two options left.
Why the need to get Sanchez and add him to the 40-man when the Cards already had Knizner and Heineman, not to mention Julio Rodriguez? Rodriguez has been described as the best defensive catcher in the organization after Molina, but he has only started 13 games at the AA level, and he might be slated for Springfield again. It is also worthy of note that, just like last year, MLB clubs will be permitted to have a 5-man taxi squad that travels with the club for road games. If a club chooses to deploy the full 5-man squad, one of the players must be a catcher. Thus, if the Cards use such a squad, they will need a setup of 2 catchers on the MLB roster, 1 catcher on the taxi squad and 2 catchers at AAA Memphis. Molina, Knizner, Heineman, Sanchez and Rodriguez round out the 5 necessary catchers under that format.
We’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink the comments recently on how the Cards should handle the playing time catcher. I maintain that it’s not a foregone conclusion that the job is Knizner’s by default, and feel that the club should choose the player that they feel is the best defender at the position who can handle a major league staff. While Heineman was the better all-around player in AAA in 2019 on both sides of the ball, Sanchez’s signing likely reflects the Cards’ conclusion that Sanchez is a strong enough defender to compete for and win that backup job.
Spring Training is right around the corner, with pitchers and catchers set to report on Wednesday, February 17th. The Cards have announced their list of non-roster invitees. Over the next several days, I’ll have an updated NL Central transaction piece to reflect the additions the other clubs have made to fill their 40-man rosters. Then I’ll have Spring Training previews for each NL Central club and another piece that will describe the new health and safety protocols and roster rules that are in store for 2021.