It’s a little unusual to have a transaction in the morning before an afternoon game, and then a series of transactions in the later evening. I covered the earlier transaction to option Oviedo and recall Elledge here. But a little after 8:00 p.m. tonight, in advance of the club’s roadtrip to Pittsburgh, the Cards announced the following:
4/29/21: Placed LHP Andrew Miller on the 10-day IL (right foot toe blister). Placed RHP Adam Wainwright on the COVID-19 Related IL. Activated OF Harrison Bader from the 10-day IL. Recalled RHP Kodi Whitley from the ATS. 40-man roster at 39.
First, let’s talk about Wainwright. If you take a look at the members of the rotation that started the season, he’s arguably been the best. Among the group of starters that have started five games, which includes Wainwright, Jack Flaherty and Carlos Martinez, Wainwright has a small edge in innings pitched (his complete game on April 26th counteracted his 2.2 IP start on April 3rd), and has a better strikeout rate, whiff rate and walk rate than the other two pitchers. The one area where is lacking is that he has allowed five home runs, but this can be explained by his 20.3% HR/FB rate, a number that is out of line from his career norms. Fangraphs gives Flaherty and Martinez a 0.5 to 0.4 edge in fWAR over Wainwright, while the “deserved stats” in the form of DRA and DRA- actually give Wainwright a substantial lead.
Katie Woo, the new Cardinals beat reporter for the Athletic, originally broke the news that Wainwright would be placed on the COVID-19 Related IL as a precautionary measure after a family member of his tested positive for the virus. Woo also went on to note that Wainwright will not travel with the club to Pittsburgh for the three-game series against the Pirates, but the club hopes he will be able to rejoin the team when it returns home to face the Mets on Monday, May 3rd. We were tipped off to the fact that Wainwright was not with the club today because Matt Carpenter told the media, in discussing his pinch-hit homer, that Wainwright had texted him from home. We were not aware of the reason at the time.
I wrote an article before the season started that discussed the new COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 season. For 2021, there is a mandatory seven-day quarantine period for players that come into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. I don’t have the 2021 MLB Operations Manual, but the 2020 Operations Manual cited the definition of close contact as that used by the Centers for Disease Control. Under that definition, “close contact” means “living within the same household, being within six feet of someone for fifteen minutes or longer, or being in direct contact with secretions from a sick person with COVID-19.” It does not include brief interactions, such as walking past someone. Before a player that has come into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case can come back, the player must test negative for COVID on day five of that period or later. My article also outlined MLB’s incentives to players to get the vaccine. One of the benefits of becoming fully vaccinated is that if a fully vaccinated player comes into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, he does not have to quarantine at all, as long as he is asymptomatic.
When I try to apply these rules to Wainwright’s situation, I come up with more questions than answers. The no quarantine rule on close contact only applies if the player himself is fully vaccinated, and has nothing to do with whether the club has met the 85% vaccination threshold. We have been told that Wainwright has been placed on the COVID-19 Related IL because of a positive test from a family member. We can presume that Wainwright came into close contact with that family member, or else there should be no need for a quarantine. If Wainwright is fully vaccinated, then why is he being quarantined? If he has not been fully vaccinated, then why not? If he has not been fully vaccinated, then why would he be eligible to rejoin the club on Monday, when the rules specifically state that a seven-day quarantine is mandatory? If he was not with the club today and we call that day one, he would only be quarantined for four days if he rejoined the club on Monday. The only hypothetical set of factual circumstances that I can come up with for this intermediate position Wainwright appears to be in is that he has a family member that tested positive with whom he was not in close contact and this is being done purely out of an abundance of caution, so as not to put the club at risk. But even then, if Wainwright has not tested positive and has no symptoms, why wouldn’t the club know when he could come back? And why would it be necessary, especially if he was vaccinated? I just don’t have anything more for you all here other than theories.
What ultimately happens with the rotation in the upcoming days will depend on how fast Wainwright will be able to come back, and whether the club will be willing to make a slight deviation from their five-day rest plan. Wainwright was scheduled to start on Sunday, May 2nd at Pittsburgh. If Wainwright can come back and start the game against the Mets at home on Monday, May 3rd, they could bump Carlos Martinez up a day to start on four days of rest on May 2nd instead. In that case, the club would need only one extra starter on May 4th, and at least right now, that start will not be made by Johan Oviedo. Oviedo was optioned after making his start on April 28th. It is true that an IL move allows a player to be recalled before he has spent 10 days on option, but only if that recall is the corresponding move to the IL move. The corresponding roster moves the Cards made to place Andrew Miller on the 10-day IL and Wainwright on the COVID-19 Relate IL were to activate Harrison Bader from the 10-day IL and to recall Kodi Whitley to replace Miller in the pen. Unless another IL move is made on May 4th, Oviedo will not be able to start that game.
One can’t discount the possibility that Daniel Ponce de Leon will make the start on May 4th. After resting for eight days, he pitched the 9th inning in the game on April 28th that Oviedo started, and he would be on five days of rest to take the May 4th start. That would leave the club with the full complement of eight extra relievers and would avoid having to option a reliever to accommodate a start by Jake Woodford. If Wainwright can’t come back that fast, the club will probably need two different starters before May 10th, and at that point, Woodford is almost certain to make one of the starts.
I don’t have much to say about Andrew Miller’s IL placement, other than we had no indication it was coming. He hasn’t been able to get right-handers out, his slider isn’t working for him this year at all, and today Shildt brought him in this season when the club had a lead. We don’t know why Whitley wasn’t the one recalled instead of Elledge when Oviedo was optioned, but Whitley’s replacing Miller still leaves the club with a 9-man pen.
Now that Harrison Bader has been activated, Justin Williams will certainly now be part of a 5-man bench, with Dylan Carlson moving to right field. Williams has provided some flashes of what people hoped. He has hit the ball extremely hard at times, as evidence by his 86th percentile showing in Hard Hit%, and he has shown some impressive exit velocity with a couple of lined homers over the fence to the opposite field. But he’s also struck out over 35% of the time, and given us some gray hairs in the outfield.
The defense will improve with the addition of Bader, although Carlson’s center field play has created some dispute. Baseball Prospectus and Statcast disagree on players like Carlson and Victor Robles. BP’s FRAA metric thinks that Victor Robles is the best defensive center fielder in the game, and Carlson has been the 5th best so far, but the Statcast Outs Above Average metric claims that both players are negative defenders. Someone at BP wrote an article actually praising the OAA metric for infielders, which is new this year, while preferring their metric for the outfield. Just how good of a centerfielder Carlson was is worth further study, but all will agree that Bader will improve the outfield defense. Right now, his only offensive bar to clear is to hit better than Williams, and that shouldn’t be too difficult, although we will all be watching to see how Bader hits right-handed pitching.
Cabrera (L), Elledge (R), Gallegos (R), Helsley (R), Hicks (R), Ponce de Leon (R), Reyes (R), Webb (L), Whitley (R)
Sanchez, Carpenter, Sosa, Dean, Williams