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TA 9/12/21: Quezada Off COVID-19 Related IL, Fernandez to 60-day IL

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals-Media Day USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cards announced the following transaction this morning:

9/12/21: Activated RHP Johan Quezada from the COVID-19 Related IL. To make room on the 40-man roster, transferred RHP Junior Fernandez from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL. 40-man roster still full.

This transaction is largely a procedural move, since it doesn’t affect the active roster of the big league club, but it is still worth discussing. The Cards acquired Quezada from the Phillies in a straight cash trade one week before pitchers and catchers reported to 2021 spring training. I covered the trade here, and explained that although Quezada has been in organized baseball since the 2013 season, he actually has very little experience. Before the 2020 season, he had only pitched 37 games above Rookie Ball and none above the High-A level. Somehow, the Marlins ended up pressing Quezada into service for 3 games out of the bullpen last September, although he had never played in AA or AAA. Because he was sent to the Alternate Training Site so late in the season, he couldn’t spend the necessary 20 days on option to burn an option.

Optioned to the minors as part of the first roster cuts in 2021 spring training, Quezada was initially assigned to the Alternate Training Site before the AAA Memphis minor league season started, but was placed on the Memphis 7-day IL with a lat injury on the day the season was supposed to start. That injury knocked him out for about two months. Quezada made 3 rehab appearances with the Card’s Complex League club before being assigned to AA Springfield. He was only able to pitch six games before the Springfield club experienced a COVID outbreak that claimed five other players as well. Quezada was placed on the COVID-19 Related IL, a move which was also reported in the media as a placement on the Springfield 60-day IL with a COVID designation. Either way, it cleared a 40-man roster spot for the Cards. That cost Quezada roughly another month, and he most recently spent four games with the Complex League club on another rehab assignment starting at the beginning of this month. He is now being activated onto Springfield’s active roster to see if he can get some work in before the season ends. This move required the Cards to clear a 40-man roster space, and the club responded by transferring Junior Fernandez to the 60-day IL, an easy move, since Fernandez will be out for the year. Fernandez joins Ryan Helsley, Jordan Hicks, Dakota Hudson, Carlos Martinez and Max Moroff, to make six Cards on the 60-day IL.

It’s hard to make anything out of Quezada’s 2021 season, because he’s only thrown 7.2 innings over six games with Springfield. At that level, he’s been BABIPd around the yard to the tune of a .520 figure, has allowed 2 homers and walked 5 to 11 strikeouts in those 7.2 innings. He’s spent more time with the Complex League club on a rehab assignment than he has at an appropriate level. Quezada dominated there, but you’d expect a 27-year old that approaches 100 mph on his fastball to light those kids up.

The most interesting thing about Quezada is where he stands on his minor league options. He turned 27 years old in late August, but he’s spent no substantial time above the Class A-Advanced level. Quezada spent parts of 5 seasons with short-season Rookie-level clubs and lost the entire 2017 season to shoulder surgery. Remember when I went through the explanation of why Justin Williams was eligible for a fourth minor league option for 2021? In that article, I went through the rest of the Cardinals’ roster and outlined how the arbitrator’s ruling would affect other players. Because Quezada spent so much time either injured or only playing with short-season clubs, the only qualified season that Quezada had going into this year for the purposes of the fourth option rule is 2019. His 2013-2016 seasons didn’t count because they were all in Rookie Ball. His 2017 didn’t count because he didn’t play due to injury. His 2018 didn’t count because he also started that season in Rookie ball and didn’t get 90 days on an active roster. And his 2020 didn’t count because he was only on the major league roster for a handful of days. The only season that counted was 2019, where Quezada spent the whole year with the Fort Myers Miracle in the Florida State League.

Even going into this season, Quezada would have been eligible for a fourth minor league option in 2024 if all three of his options were burned in 2021, 2022 and 2023. As it turns out, the 2021 season will not be a qualifying season for Quezada either. Injured list time only counts towards the 90-day requirement if it is followed by at least 30 days on an active roster. And Quezada doesn’t have that because he was placed on the IL to start the minor league season, and has so far only spent 6 days on an active roster. Quezada has already burned his 2021 option. If his remaining two options are burned in the next two years, he will still get a fourth option for 2024. But suppose the Cards used his option in 2022, and don’t burn the 3rd option in 2023. If they use his third option in 2024, he will be eligible for a fourth option in 2025, because he still will only have had four qualified minor league season by that point. Quezada is just an interesting case because he’s so old for his levels, has so many options remaining, and could be under team control for a long time. Who knows if his talent will ever be able to shine.

There may be one more 40-man roster move towards the end of the year. If Dakota Hudson is added to the major league bullpen, you’ll almost certainly see Wade LeBlanc transferred to the 60-day IL to make room, given that it has been announced that LeBlanc has been shut down for the season. Kodi Whitley would probably be the active roster trim in that case. If Jack Flaherty is somehow able to make it back, the club would not need another 40-man roster trim in that case, because Flaherty is only on the 10-day IL. The active roster trim in that situation would be much more tricky, because at that point the Cards would be just about out of players they would want to option.