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Expanded Rosters Are Ending Soon. Who is Going Down?

Rosters will have to drop from 28 to 26 this week. Who gets the axe?

Pittsburgh Pirates v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Morning Cardinals fans!

I’m out in the wilderness of Arcadia Valley. I have limited internet on my phone and no TV. The Cardinals are playing/not playing tonight (Friday) and are winning/losing. I have no idea. Blissful country wilderness ignorance!

Despite my retreating from civilization, I’m posting an article anyway because I’m just that dedicated to bringing you Cardinals coverage! And because there’s a little quirk of the rosters that’s taking place soon and we need to talk about it.

As baseball exited the lockout and prepared for a shortened Spring Training, MLB and the Players’ Association agreed to expand rosters for the first month of the season from 26 to 28. They also agreed to waive the 13-man limit on pitchers for the active roster.

That agreement expires in just a few days. My extremely limited internet tells me that’s happening on May 2. (If that’s wrong, I apologize. I’m basically functioning on dialup here and memory and my memory is just as bad as dialup internet.)

This past week MLB and the Players’ Association revised their original agreement. Because of ongoing concern for pitcher health, both parties agreed to waive the limit on pitchers for another month. Come Monday, rosters will contract by two players but teams can still carry more than 13 pitchers if they so choose.

My source for this information is our sister site, True Blue LA. You can find the link here.

That means the Cardinals have to cut two players from their roster over the next few days. I thought it might be a good time for us to discuss who that’s likely to be. I’m going to make two suggestions – both pitchers. One that I think is very obvious and a second that will surprise some of you.

The Obvious Cut: Packy Naughton

Some of you right now are saying to yourself, “who in the world is Packy Naughton?” Well, my lousy internet is keeping me from doing the deep dive on his transaction history, but if memory serves, the Cards snagged him up on a minor league deal late in the offseason. I’m pretty sure he came over from the Angels and had a little bit of major league time last season, with unimpressive results. He is on the 40-man roster and is a useful little relief piece.

He’s currently on the active roster in place of Drew VerHagen who hit the injured list a week or so ago. I don’t have any update on VerHagen’s status as of now, but it’s an obvious move just to send Packy back to AAA since he’s the low man on the Cardinals’ bullpen totem. Packy (I prefer calling him “Packy” instead of “Naughton” if that’s ok? He has an awesome name and we should use it) has appeared in one game for the Cardinals as of Friday and did a pretty good job in 1.1 innings. It’s another cup o’ coffee for the kid and probably not the last one this season. Sending him down now will mean the Cardinals will have to make another roster move when VerHagen returns but this gets them through this CBA-imposed deadline easy enough. Mo and Girsch can deal with the VerHagen situation when they have to. (Aaron Brooks is on notice.)

The Not-So-Obvious Cut: Andre Pallante

What? WHAT?! J.P.!! You want to send PALLANTE down? WHAT?

Yes. I do.

Pallante has been excellent for the Cardinals. He’s looked great. He’s earned the trust of the MLB coaching staff. He’s been effective, despite not showing strikeout stuff.

He also only has 5 minor league innings above AA. And he was on a starter’s schedule before expanded rosters and a talented arm gave him the chance to get added to the 40-man roster and get a little taste of MLB batters.

It’s been a success. It’s the kind of experience he can benefit from when he returns to AAA as a starting pitcher.

To me, that’s the kicker. In the recent past, the Cardinals have aggressively moved some of their most intriguing Minor League starters into the Major League bullpen before they have a chance to fully develop as starters.

Jordan Hicks is the obvious example here, who was a rapidly rising starter prospect before he was pulled from the developmental process with just 5 starts at the A+ level to take the fireman role in Mike Matheny’s bullpen.

Genesis Cabrera only received 18 AAA starts in Memphis before the Cardinals promoted him to the bullpen. His ERA/FIP wasn’t pretty in the bandbox Pacific Coast League, but his K to BB ratio as a 22-year-old promised the good things we’ve seen out of the pen. His stuff is dynamic, and maybe it always tracked better for a bullpen role, but it would have been nice for the club to give him a chance to fully fail as a starter before pigeonholing him as a relief arm.

Ryan Helsley was a starter throughout the minors. He got just 12 starts at AAA before a combination of injuries and need in the major league bullpen got him a call-up. His incredible arm talent is showing up this season at age 27 and it’s easy to wonder what he would have looked like if the club had given him a longer look as a starter.

Each of these moves is defensible. It’s the sum of them that points to the trend: the Cardinals have a history of falling in love early with their dynamic arms and finding a spot for them. That spot, more often than not, has been in the bullpen. That’s great if you also have dynamic arms in the rotation but the Cardinals just don’t have that. Yes, they’ve got effective control arms and sinker ballers in the rotation, but their “stuff” is with the relief core.

Maybe that’s how they want it, but I’ve always thought it should probably be the other way around.

Circle back to Pallante. The kid has a bright future. And he could play a role in this year’s bullpen. Or the club could send him back to Memphis, let him get 25 starts, and see what happens.

Worst case scenario? He can’t maintain his newfound velocity going 5-6 innings and he winds up back where he is right now in 4 months. Best case scenario? He can maintain his newfound velocity going 5-6 innings and he comes back in 4 months challenging for a mid-to-back-end spot in the rotation.

Let’s at least eliminate that best-case scenario as a possibility before settling Pallante in as just another middle reliever.

Other options: Aaron Brooks. Jake Woodford. Brendan Donovan.

Brooks hasn’t been very effective and I’m not sure he’s looked like a major leaguer. If the Cards decide to keep Pallante up a little longer, then he’s the right choice to go down now. If they send Pallante down, then it almost certainly has to be Brooks heading to AAA to stay somewhat stretched out when VerHagen returns.

Woodford, meanwhile, has been pretty good. His role, though, is swing-starter and long-man and he needs innings to remain sharp. He can’t do that pitching three times in three weeks. I could see the club sending him down to get innings so he’s ready to come up in case of an injury to a starter. I just don’t think it’s likely or necessary yet.

The Cardinals don’t have to cut two pitchers. It’s possible that they’ll send Donovan down and only cut Packy. It does limit them offensively but with the DH it’s been hard for them to get consistent work for their bench. Plus, they still want to protect their arms and the best way to do that is with extra pitchers. Donovan could draw the short straw until the 13/13 roster alignment rule kicks in at the end of May. But by then, the club will probably have to take a hard look at Gorman, Edman, and the situation at SS. (That’s another article for another day.)

Ok! That’s it from the woods! Ha, even when I’m trying to be brief, I still end up with 1400 words. I’m sure this is rife with typos, missed facts, and structural issues. Heck, I’m not even sure it will post while on this internet connection!

But it’s Saturday. And I’m relaxing. Enjoy the read and catch the comments for everything I might have gotten wrong.