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TA 5/8/21: Molina Comes Back, Sanchez Optioned

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MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Before this afternoon’s game, the Cards announced the following transaction:

5/8/21: Optioned C Ali Sanchez to AAA Memphis. Activated C Yadier Molina from the 10-day IL.

I wasn’t expecting Molina to be activated this quickly, because the club said two days ago that he was merely cleared “to resume some baseball activities.” He was not sent on a rehab assignment to AAA Memphis. Andrew Knizner started four games before Molina went on the shelf on April 27th. One of those was engineered on April 13th so that Molina’s 2,000th game caught would come with Adam Wainwright on the mound. Two of those were on April 24th and 25th when the Cards were evaluating Molina’s injury. Knizner started every game from the time Molina went on the injured list until today, with the exception of the 2nd game of the doubleheader on May 5th against the Mets, which went to Sanchez.

It’s a small sample, but Knizner hasn’t hit much in 58 PA (.208/.276/.264), and that line was actually much worse while he started every day in Molina’s absence. Out of 81 catchers Baseball Prospectus lists in its leaderboards for catcher defense, it ranks Knizner 76th. He’s not exactly in exclusive company, as every catcher from 46 down to 81 is listed as negative according to that site’s Catcher Defensive Adjustment metric. Knizner threw out only 1 out of the 6 runners that tried to steal against him, but frequently bases are stolen off of the pitcher. His biggest issue is framing, as BP dings him for -1.3 framing runs, with only 3 catchers in the game being worse than that. The question is whether a statistic like that matters, especially for a backup job. It probably doesn’t, and even if does what matters more is the catcher’s familiarity with the pitching staff and the pitchers’ comfortability with that catcher. On those points, Knizner gets high marks and he’s on the 40-man roster, which means he’s not going anywhere, even if someone like Heineman might score higher on the defensive metrics.

Sanchez caught Johan Oviedo in the 2nd game of the doubleheader against the Mets on May 5th. He tried to backhand and failed to stop a slider in the dirt to Tomas Nido, which resulted in a wild pitch and a run scored. Oviedo hang a slider to Nido later in the plate appearance, which Nido smacked for a 2-run homer. Oviedo said he was focusing on the not throwing another wild pitch when he hung that slider and that it was “more about trust.” It was unclear if Oviedo didn’t trust Sanchez to block it, or if he didn’t trust himself. At the plate, Sanchez got a double and hit the ball 100 mph or harder in two of his three trips to the plate.

Instead of being sent directly to AAA Memphis, Sanchez was assigned to stay in St. Louis to serve as the bullpen taxi squad catcher, which means he is on the active list of no club. Memphis already has three catchers, namely Dennis Ortega, Tyler Heineman and Aaron Antonini. Antonini has not caught at all so far, instead serving as the DH in one game. His highest level before this year was Rookie level Johnson City in 2019. But the minor league clubs, at least in the Cardinal chain, have not been making cascading roster moves in the middle of a series. The major league club has a day off on Monday, May 10th, and then begins a 6-day road trip starting on May 11th. It will be interesting to see if the Cards use a full 5-man taxi squad for that trip, a shorter one, or none at all to make sure that the theoretical taxi squad players would get regular work in the minor leagues. The club put Sanchez on the 40-man, so I don’t understand why they wouldn’t put him at an appropriate level to get regular innings behind the dish and regular plate appearances. This would also allow Antonini to play at an appropriate level instead of rotting on the Memphis bench. But I am sure there are factors that are either not within my purview or that I don’t understand.

BENCH

Knizner, Carpenter, Sosa, Thomas, Williams