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Transaction Update 9/25/21: Ponce Gone, Jack and Dak Back, Justin Miller to IL Again

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MLB: Game Two-St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Happy streak, folks. Let’s get you caught up on all the most recent transactional happenings, moves which may be the last before the Wild Card game:

9/20/21: Designated RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon for assignment. Recalled LHP Brandon Waddell from AAA Memphis. 40-man roster at 39.

9/22/21: Outrighted RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon to AAA Memphis.

9/23/21: Memphis Redbirds released RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon.

9/24/21: Before 1st game of the doubleheader, activated RHP Dakota Hudson from the 60-day IL and added him as the 29th man for the doubleheader. 40-man roster full.

Between games of the doubleheader, optioned LHP Brandon Waddell to AAA Memphis. Activated RHP Jack Flaherty from the 10-day IL.

After Game 2 of the doubleheader, optioned RHP Jake Woodford to AAA Memphis.

9/25/21: Placed RHP Justin Miller on the 10-day IL (right elbow strain). Recalled RHP Jake Woodford from AAA Memphis.

PONCE

Ponce started this season in the rotation with Dakota Hudson thought to be out for the year and Kwang Hyun Kim and Miles Mikolas opening the season on the injured list. But he lost his rotation job after his second start on April 11th. In that game, he lasted only 1.1 IP, threw only 51 pitches, but allowed seven earned runs and hits to six out of the fourteen batters he faced. Two of the hits were homers, and he allowed three walks. After that game, he said his arm was dead, and he was used sparingly until going on the IL on April 30th. Upon his activation, he had an okay stretch where Mike Shildt used him in short relief, but he was lost for another two months in late June with the same shoulder problem. When Ponce returned from that stint, he had more control problems, walking four out the nine batters he faced on September 1st.

It all came to a head on September 14th, when Ponce walked three out of the four batters he faced, then was seen arguing with Yadier Molina in the dugout after the inning. At the time, I didn’t make much of the incident, but after GM Michael Girsch told the media that “actions have consequences,” maybe there was more to it than we thought. As it stood, though, Ponce was rarely used, and was mostly ineffective when he was as of late. If he was pitching like a stud, the dustup would surely have been forgiven.

After clearing waivers and being outrighted to AAA Memphis, the organization released him the next day. Ponce was out of options and did not have enough service time to elect free agency in lieu of an outright assignment to the minor leagues. He would have been declared an automatic Rule 9 minor league free agent on the 5th day after the conclusion of the World Series, and was an obvious candidate to either be outrighted after the regular season or non-tendered in December anyhow. My read on the situation is that the club just released him to avoid having him suffer the indignity of having to stay on the Memphis roster for rougly 10 games, where he might have sulked. And the club might have wanted to prioritize looking at other Memphis pitchers over that club’s final stretch of games.

In the final analysis, Ponce was an easy player to root for after he got hit in the head with a vicious line drive in the minor leagues several years ago, and mounted a comeback to make the majors in 2018. He showed flashes of being a solid pitcher with his fastball working up in the zone presenting a difficult angle for hitters. In the end, the control and command of his fastball and the development of his secondary pitches never came around, and this has to be considered a sad ending to the young man’s tenure with the Cardinals.

OTHER MOVES

This season, clubs are entitled to add a 29th man for doubleheaders. That addition for the Cards yesterday was none other than Dakota Hudson, who had been out of major league action since having Tommy John surgery on September 28th, 2020. Initially thought to be out of action for the whole year, he progressed rapidly, and made his first minor league rehab appearance on August 28th. He pitched five minor league games over three levels, and although his peripherals weren’t too encouraging over 18.2 IP, (13.9% K rate, 11.1% BB rate), he held batters to a .188 AVG. This was undoubtedly helped by a .222 BABIP allowed. I have a feeling that the Cards would not have made this move if they had a long man they could trust.

Between the games of the doubleheader, the club optioned Brandon Waddell to activate Jack Flaherty from the IL. Waddell has pitched in four major league and 8 minor league games since being claimed on waivers on June 6th. He caught the COVID-19 virus and has spent two stints on that particular injured list. He didn’t pitch at all after he was the roster move to replace Ponce. Flaherty has missed about 3.5 months of this season due to strains to his oblique and shoulder. He didn’t complete a minor league rehab assignment after this latest IL stint, which lasted about 30 days.

Immediately after the doubleheader, the Cards were required to go down to 28 players. Although Dakota Hudson was designated as the 29th man, the club was permitted to make another roster move to go down to 28. Apparently knowing Justin Miller was injured, the club decided to make a paperwork transaction, optioning Jake Woodford. Jake didn’t spend a day on option because the option took place after a game in which he was eligible to play. The club couldn’t just put Miller on the IL to go down to 28 players because he pitched that day, and you can’t put a player on the IL on the same day he played. Then today, the club just placed Miller on the IL, and recalled Woodford in a paperwork move. Woodford could be recalled without spending 10 days on option because of the placement of Miller on the IL.

I had thought Miller might have been a potential DFA candidate, because assuming Woodford has a solid hold on either a rotation or long relief job, the only other real choice to accommodate the additions of both Flaherty and Hudson was to option Kodi Whitley, who has been pitching well as of late. As a pitcher who is both out of options and eligible for arbitration, Miller is a classic non-tender candidate anyhow. The NL Wild Card Game is October 6th. Thus, assuming Miller is healthy from his second stint on the IL with a right elbow strain, he could be brought back for that game. The more likely outcome is that he would be left off of the postseason roster.

My assumption is that both Flaherty and Hudson will be used out of the bullpen going forward, although anything can happen in the playoffs.

BULLPEN

Cabrera (L), Flaherty (R), Garcia (R), Gallegos (R), Hudson (R), Kim (L), McFarland (L), A. Miller (L), Reyes (R), Whitley (R)