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Transaction Catch-Up, 2022 Cardinal Roster Analysis and Spring Training Home Stretch Preview

MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals at Miami Marlins Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

Hello Cardinal fans. It’s been a long time since I posted, and I have mad respect for the VEB writers who have weathered the storm for us all during the lockout. I have been extraordinarily busy with work, and I regret that I wasn’t able to provide you with a timely 40-man roster analysis and my traditional transaction analysis in real time. In this article, I will do my best to remedy that. I’ll start with a complete transaction log of everything that happened between the Cards’ wild card loss to the Dodgers last October up until now. I’ll give you the updated 40-man roster with options remaining, and break down the final job battles that will take place before opening day.

TRANSACTIONS

*The Cardinals started the off-season with a full 40-man roster and five players on the 60-day IL.

10/8/21: Outrighted RHP Seth Elledge to AAA Memphis.

Elledge was DFAd when the club decided to add Juan Yepez to the 40-man and active rosters for the wild card game. He was rated by Baseball America as having the best slider in the minor league system, but just couldn’t throw enough strikes. He has since been released by the Memphis.

10/14/21: LHP Tyler Webb elected free agency in lieu of an outright assignment.

10/22/21: Claimed Ljay Newsome on outright assignment waivers from the Seattle Mariners, and he was transferred from the Mariners’ 60-day IL to the Cardinals’ 60-day IL. 40-man roster still full.

I covered this move, as well as the rules surrounding potential outright assignments of injured players here.

10/25/21: Designated RHP Justin Miller for assignment. Activated RHP Jordan Hicks from the 60-day IL. 40-man roster still full.

You can check out my explanation of the unusual timing of this move here.

10/27/21: RHP Justin Miller elected free agency in lieu of an outright assignment.

11/3/21: RHP Luis Garcia, RHP J.A. Happ, LHP Kwang Hyun Kim, LHP Wade LeBlanc, LHP Jon Lester, LHP T.J. McFarland and LHP Andrew Miller declared automatic Article XX-B free agents. 40-man roster at 33.

11/4/21: Declined the option on 3B Matt Carpenter, paying him a $2 million buyout and making him a free agent. Declined the option on RHP Carlos Martinez, paying him a $500,000 buyout and making him a free agent. 40-man roster at 32.

Martinez was on the 60-day IL at the time, which explains why the 40-man roster was only trimmed by one player after this set of moves.

11/5/21: Outrighted IF Max Moroff and OF Justin Williams to AAA Memphis. Noted the loss of OF Austin Dean to the San Francisco Giants on an outright assignment waiver claim. 40-man roster at 30.

Like with the prior set of moves, Moroff was on the 60-day IL at the time, which is why the 40-man was reduced by only two.

11/7/21: Activated RHP Junior Fernandez, RHP Ryan Helsley and RHP Ljay Newsome from the 60-day IL. 40-man roster at 33.

Also, the following players were declared Rule 9 minor league free agents: LHP Fabian Blanco, OF Leandro Cedeno, LHP Diego Cordero, RHP Salvador Justo, IF Max Moroff, C Dennis Ortega, LHP Ian Oxnevad, OF Nick Plummer, RHP Ramon Santos, LHP Jacob Schlesener and OF Justin Williams.

11/8/21: Re-signed LHP T.J. McFarland to a 1-year, $2.5 million major league contract. 40-man roster at 34.

11/17/21: Signed RHP James Naile, LHP Kyle Ryan and IF Anderson Tejeda to minor league deals and invited them to spring training.

11/18/21: Outrighted RHP Tjay Newsome to AAA Memphis. 40-man roster at 33.

11/19/21: Selected the contracts of IF Brendan Donovan, RHP Freddy Pacheco and RHP Jake Walsh from AAA Memphis. 40-man roster at 36.

11/29/21: Signed LHP Steven Matz to a 4-year, $44 million major league contract. 40-man roster at 37.

11/30/21: Non-tendered IF Jose Rondon. 40-man roster at 36.

12/8/21: Selected OF Ben Deluzio from the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, RHP Carlos Guarate from the San Diego Padres organization, OF Jonah Davis from the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and LHP Nelfri Contreras from the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, all in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Lost IF Moises Castillo to the Chicago White Sox organization in the same draft.

1/27/22: Signed RHP Aaron Brooks to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training.

3/11/22: Signed RHP Drew VerHagen to a 2-year, $5.5 million major league contract. 40-man roster at 37.

3/13/22: Signed RHP Nick Wittgren to a 1-year, $1.2 million major league contract. 40-man roster at 38. Invited 59 players to spring training, which includes the 38 players on the 40-man roster and 21 Non-Roster Invitees.

3/15/22: Signed RHP Zach McAllister to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training. 60 players in camp (38 40-man roster players + 22 NRIs).

3/17/22: Signed OF Corey Dickerson to a 1-year, $5 million major league contract. 40-man roster at 39. 61 players in camp (39 40-man roster players + 22 NRIs).

3/18/22: Re-assigned C Aaron Antonini to minor league camp. 60 players in camp (39 40-man roster players + 21 NRIs).

3/21/22: Claimed LHP Packy Naughton on outright assignment waivers from the Los Angeles Angels. 40-man roster now full. 61 players in camp (40 40-man roster players + 21 NRIs).

3/22/22: Agreed to a 1-year, $5 million dollar contact with RHP Jack Flaherty, a 1-year, $2.41 million dollar contract with RHP Giovanny Gallegos, a 1-year, $937,500 contract with RHP Jordan Hicks, a 1-year, $1.05 million contract with RHP Dakota Hudson, and a 1-year, $2.85 million contract with RHP Alex Reyes, avoiding arbitration with each player. Renewed the contract of OF Dylan Carlson for $703,000.

The Cardinals will now have two arbitration cases. Tyler O’Neill filed for $4.15 million, with the club offering $3.4 million. Harrison Bader filed for $4.8 million, with the club offering $3.8 million. The Cards have adopted a “file and trial” policy in recent years. The arbitrator will be forced to pick one figure or the other, and the hearing will awkwardly take place in April, during the season. It is unclear what salary Carlson rejected, but he is now making just $3,000 more than the league minimum. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement raised the minimum salary from $570,500 to $700,000. Carlson made $577,100 last season. Tommy Edman missed this season’s Super Two cutoff of 2 years and 116 days of service time by two days.

Optioned LHP Brandon Waddell to AAA Memphis. Re-assigned RHP Trent Baker, 1B Luken Baker, SS Delvin Perez, 3B Jordan Walker and C Pedro Pages to minor league camp. 55 players in camp (39 40-man roster players + 16 NRIs).

3/25/22: Signed UT Cory Spangenberg to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training. Selected the contract of RHP Aaron Brooks from AAA Memphis. To make room on the 40-man roster, placed RHP Alex Reyes on the 60-day IL. Optioned LHP Packy Naughton, RHP Johan Quezada, RHP Angel Rondon and RHP T.J. Zeuch to AAA Memphis. Re-assigned LHP Zack Thompson to minor league camp. 50 players in camp (35 40-man roster players + 15 NRIs).

3/26/22: Signed RHP Blake Parker to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training. 51 players in camp (35 40-man roster players + 16 NRIs).

3/28/22: Optioned RHP Junior Fernandez, RHP Johan Oviedo and RHP Freddy Pacheco to AAA Memphis. Signed DH Albert Pujols to a 1-year, $2.5 million major league contract. To make room on the 40-man roster, designated RHP Johan Quezada for assignment. 40-man roster still full. 49 players in camp (33 40-man roster players + 16 NRIs).

3/30/22: Outrighted RHP Johan Quezada to AA Springfield. Re-assigned RHP James Naile, RHP Zach McAllister, LHP Kyle Ryan, C Clint Coulter, IF Nolan Gorman, IF Kramer Robertson, IF Anderson Tejeda, OF Alec Burleson and OF Conner Capel to minor league camp. 40 players in camp (33 40-man roster players + 7 NRIs).

3/31/22: Optioned C Ali Sanchez, C Ivan Herrera and 1B Juan Yepez to AAA Memphis. Re-assigned RHP Jacob Bosiokovic to minor league camp. 36 players in camp (30 40-man roster players + 6 NRIs).

*Thanks to Brian Walton of the Cardinal Nation for making sure that my numbers were right. I was always one player off, until I saw that he was the only outlet (the Cardinal sources included) that reported that Aaron Antonini was re-assigned on March 18th.

40-MAN ROSTER (40)

*For pitchers, I’ve included the handedness of the player in parentheses. Also included for all players in parentheses is the number of minor league options remaining. If there is no number, that means the player is out of options. If “N/A” is in parentheses, that indicates that the player still technically has minor league options remaining, but because he has at least 5 years of MLB service time, he may not be sent to the minors without his consent.

PITCHERS (23)

Aaron Brooks (R), Genesis Cabrera (L, 2), Junior Fernandez (R, 1), Jack Flaherty (R, 3), Giovanny Gallegos (R, 1), Ryan Helsley (R, 2), Jordan Hicks (R, 3), Dakota Hudson (R, 3), Steven Matz (L, N/A), T.J. McFarland (L), Miles Mikolas (R), Packy Naughton (L, 2), Johan Oviedo (R, 2), Freddy Pacheco (R, 3), Angel Rondon (R, 2), Drew VerHagen (R), Brandon Waddell (L, 1), Adam Wainwright (R, N/A), Jake Walsh (R, 3), Kodi Whitley (R, 2), Nick Wittgren (R, N/A), Jake Woodford (R, 2), T.J. Zeuch (R, 1)

CATCHERS (4)

Ivan Herrera (2), Andrew Knizner (1), Yadier Molina, Ali Sanchez (1)

INFIELDERS (8)

Nolan Arenado (N/A), Paul DeJong (3), Brendan Donovan (3), Tommy Edman (3), Paul Goldschmidt (N/A), Albert Pujols (N/A), Edmundo Sosa, Juan Yepez (3)

OUTFIELDERS (5)

Harrison Bader (1), Dylan Carlson (3), Corey Dickerson (N/A), Lars Nootbaar (3), Tyler O’Neill (1)

60-DAY IL (1)

Alex Reyes (R, 2)

NOTES

*Ivan Herrera and Angel Rondon will be eligible for fourth minor league options in 2024 if their minor league options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons are both burned. You can check out my article from last year here that explains why this is true.

HOME STRETCH AND FINAL JOBS

How the Cards’ opening day roster will shake out has largely been determined to this point, due to the Albert Pujols signing, injuries and the roster rules. I don’t have much to say about the Pujols deal that hasn’t already been said, other than to note that I’m not a big fan of the move, if for no other reason than I think there’s a serious risk that Oliver Marmol will overuse him. I’m much more worried about that than I am about Juan Yepez being blocked. There’s a big difference between playing every day in Memphis and being the short-side of a platoon at DH combined with pinch-hitting late in games. There isn’t much pinch-hitting to be done with the DH rule anyway, and to the extent the club would decide to use one, I think a veteran is much better suited for the job of coming in cold off the bench. I would have preferred someone who is better at all phases of the game in his career than Pujols has proven to be in the last several years, I don’t buy the lefty-mashing small sample 2021 and I wouldn’t make a roster choice for sentimental reasons. With that said, It’s understandable if some people are bummed for Yepez, but unless you were prepared to hand him the full-time DH job against both lefties and righties (I wasn’t), it’s probably better for his overall development if he goes down to Memphis and continues to work on his defense.

Commissioner Rob Manfred announced on February 10th that both leagues will have the DH. Next, it has finally been confirmed that from opening day on April 7th through the games of May 1st, the active roster limit will be increased from 26 to 28 players. In addition, the rule that was supposed to go into effect for the 2020 season to limit the roster to 13 pitchers will not operate until May 2nd. That raises the question of how many pitchers the club will carry, and the answer to that question will control the size of the bench.

I would expect most clubs would stockpile as much pitching as they could for the first month of the season. Not only are there no limits, but but the new option and injured list rules for pitchers (15 required days on option and injured list, as opposed to 10 days for position players) don’t apply to position players. More importantly, there was a 99-day lockout when the players couldn’t talk to their pitching coaches and medical staffs. When you combine that with the truncated spring schedule, where a pitcher might get 4 starts total and about 10 total innings of work, you can expect starters to be taken out of the game earlier than might be expected to start the season. I think you’ll find that most clubs will roster 15 pitchers, which, with the DH, would leave room for only a 4-man bench.

Will that work for the Cardinals? Maybe not. Alex Reyes has already been placed on the 60-day IL. There are only 30 40-man roster players left in camp, 16 of which are pitchers. One of those is Jack Flaherty, who will open the season on the 10-day IL. Scratch him off the list, and you’re at 15 pitchers already. But going with that lot would mean taking Jake Walsh north. He was just added to the 40-man in November, and only has 4 games pitched at the AAA level. I’m not sure the Cards are prepared to put him in the major league pen right now. There are four non-roster pitchers remaining in camp. One is Matthew Liberatore, who will start the season in the AAA rotation again. Another is Andrew Pallante, who only has 2 games pitched a the AAA level. Connor Thomas pitched 122 innings last season, mostly as a starter for Memphis, but did pitch 8 games in relief and could be used for long-relief protection. The only other pitcher that hasn’t been re-assigned is newly-signed Blake Parker. He’s got more than 6 years of major league service, but the Cards just signed him on March 26th, and he has yet to pitch in a spring game. He’s probably not ready for prime time.

The answer to the “15 or 14 pitcher” question basically sorts everything else out. Flaherty’s injury left open the 5th starter’s job. Drew VerHagen is the only candidate for that job that has actually started games this spring, and even if he didn’t win the 5th starter job, he would still be on the roster because he’s out of options. Aaron Brooks, also out of options, was just added to the 40-man after signing a minor league deal and was told he has made the squad. Nick Wittgren is yet another pitcher the Cards just signed who is out of options. If the Cards decide to take Walsh or Thomas, there will be 15 pitchers, if not there will be 14.

The bench is basically set. Andrew Knizner is the backup catcher, Edmundo Sosa, who is also out of options, is the backup at all the non-first base infield positions. Corey Dickerson and Albert Pujols, neither of whom were signed to be or can be optioned look to round out the 3rd bench spot as a platoon for the lion’s share of the DH opportunities (unless Marmol just uses Albert all the time). If there are only 4 bench spots, I would give the nod to Lars Nootbaar because he’s the only legit option for backup outfield defense and served in a backup role last season.

Remember that I mentioned that there are 30 40-man roster players left in camp? Flaherty to the IL will be one move, which leaves just one additional 40-man player move for the club to make. If the club both options Walsh and decides not to add either Thomas or Parker, that leaves just one more bench job, and the two candidates for that spot are Brendan Donovan and newly-acquired non-roster invitee Corey Spangenberg. Both players essentially play the same positions: 2nd base, 3rd base and left field. Neither plays any of them particularly well. Spangenberg has the edge on speed and defense. Donovan, who rocketed through three levels of the minor leagues last season, has shown stellar on-base and contact skills in his minor league career. This is a tough one. Neither player has much pop. One might think that Donovan would be more likely at this stage to get on base or at least put the ball in play, but Spangenberg has actual experience with major league pitching. Donovan’s minor league on-base stats look sexy, but does anyone think he’s going to put up similar numbers while simply pinch-hitting instead of playing a lot? I’d find a 15th pitcher, and wouldn’t choose either one. Sosa can play all three infield positions, and Nootbaar can at least stand in center field and not spike himself. One of either O’Neill or Carlson could shift over and play center if, for some reason, Marmol felt like he had to pinch hit for Bader. You don’t need to pinch hit for the pitcher or make double switches, so I don’t see the need for the 5th bench spot. I’d give Donovan regular time in AAA and help him find a defensive home.

Either way, the Cards have a choice to make tomorrow about Blake Parker. If the club doesn’t either release him tomorrow by noon central time, and doesn’t put him on the opening day roster (or at least add him to the 40-man and put him on the injured list,) then Parker will be owed a $100,000 retention bonus and will have an automatic right to opt out of his minor league deal on June 1st if he hasn’t been added to the big league club by then.