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TA Catch-Up 8/13/21: Jack is Back, But Cards Lose Kim and LeBlanc

Plus the 40-man roster mystery involving Quezada

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cards announced the following series of transactions in recent days:

8/9/21: Placed LHP Kwang Hyun Kim on the 10-day IL (left elbow inflammation). Activated RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon from the 10-day IL.

8/11/21: Recalled RHP Johan Quezada from AA Springfield and placed him on the 60-day IL. 40-man roster at 39.

8/13/21: Placed LHP Wade LeBlanc on the 10-day IL. Activated RHP Jack Flaherty from the 60-day IL. 40-man roster full.

It turns out that Kim actually noticed that he had elbow pain during his start back on July 22nd, and that was why the Cards gave him 9 days of rest between starts to see if it settled down. Supposedly, the imaging has not revealed a structural problem with the elbow, but he is having trouble recovering between scheduled starts. Ponce has already had two shoulder injuries this season, and hasn’t pitched in a major league game since June 22nd. After opening the season in the starting rotation, he has been repurposed to a short reliever. In his most recent minor league rehab stint, he threw 7.2 IP over 4 games, and walked 4 against 7 strikeouts. He doesn’t figure to get another crack at the rotation, at least this year.

LeBlanc had to leave last night’s start after 2 innings with elbow pain. Before last night’s abbreviated start, he pitched out of the Cardinal bullpen for 4 games starting in mid-June, and moved into the rotation for 7 games on June 28th. He was basically what was advertised and expected. A little too hittable, gave up the long ball on occasion, didn’t strike anybody out, but kept the walks in check. The Cards don’t have the imaging back on him yet, so we don’t know how serious his injury is.

Jack Flaherty rejoins the rotation tonight. He has been out of action since May 31st, when he injured his oblique swinging the bat. It later came out that he noticed a problem with his side when he was pitching in the half-inning immediately preceding the fateful plate appearance. He made three minor league rehab starts, two for AAA Memphis and one a week ago for AA Springfield. Over the three games, he pitched 9 innings and struck out 11 batters to just 1 walk.

The 40-man roster was full before today’s transaction, and the manner in which the Cards cleared a roster spot for Flaherty has been somewhat of a mystery. None of the official sources have reported it at all, as far as I can tell. Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat tweeted that the Cards “moved” RHP Johan Quezada to the 60-day IL. We know that Quezada was injured way back in spring training (Jones also tweeted that the injury was a lat injury), and he started the season on the AAA Memphis 7-day IL. This injury must have been discovered after his option to the minor leagues on March 14th. Injured players can actually be optioned to the minor leagues during spring training, but not if they accrued MLB service time during the previous season, and Quezada pitched 3 games for the 2020 Miami Marlins.

Quezada wasn’t able to pitch at all until he started a rehab assignment with the Florida Complex League Cardinal club on July 3rd. He pitched 3 games for that club and 6 games for AA. Then, the Springfield club suffered a COVID-19 outbreak, and Brian Walton’s roster matrix shows that Quezada was placed on the AA Springfield COVID-19 Related IL. Quezada’s personal transaction page doesn’t reflect that COVID IL placement, but says that he was placed on the AA Springfield 60-day IL on August 11th.

I have every reason to believe that Jones is correct here. If he is, what actually happened was that the Cards recalled Quezada from AA Springfield, and then placed him on the major league 60-day IL. This type of move was a gambit that clubs used back in the day to get extra players eligible for postseason play. Clubs now have access to at least their entire 40-man roster as of August 31st for the postseason. In years past, the only way a player could get be eligible for postseason play if he wasn’t on the active 25-man roster as of August 31st was to replace an injured player. Recalling an injured 40-man roster player from the minors and placing him on a major league injured list was a way to get an extra player eligible as an injury replacement. In this case, the Cards not only weren’t prepared to DFA anyone right now, but they also weren’t prepared to concede that LeBlanc is done for the season without getting the imaging back. That explains the move, if it happened as I believe it did.

Recalling Quezada and placing him on the major league 60-day IL has consequences all the way around. First, if that’s what happened, Quezada gets not only the major league salary while he’s on the list, but also MLB service time credit. That also means that if this injury lingers all the way into spring training for next season, he will be unable to be optioned to the minor leagues if he’s injured.

Because of the off-day on Monday, August 16th, the club can get by with a 4-man rotation until Saturday, August 21st. Miles Mikolas is scheduled to start tomorrow for High-A Peoria for what could be his final rehab appearance. If it is, he could make the start on August 21st on what would be six days of rest, or even take the start the day before on 5 days of rest. When Mikolas comes back, the club will either place LeBlanc on the 60-day IL, or they’ll have to actually trim a player at that time.