There are a handful of games before September roster expansions, and now is a good time to get you caught up on the Cards’ transactions over the past 10 days or so.
8/20/22: Placed C Yadier Molina on the Restricted List. Recalled C Ivan Herrera from AAA Memphis. 40-man roster at 38.
8/22/22: Optioned C Ivan Herrera to AAA Memphis. Activated C Yadier Molina from the Restricted List. Transferred RHP Ryan Helsley from the Paternity Leave List to the Restricted List. 40-man roster still at 38.
8/23/22: Added LHP Matthew Liberatore as the 27th man for the doubleheader and returned him to AAA Memphis after Game 2.
8/26/22: Optioned LHP Packy Naughton to AAA Memphis. Placed 3B Nolan Arenado on the Paternity Leave List. Activated RHP Ryan Helsley from the Restricted List. Recalled DH/OF Juan Yepez from AAA Memphis. 40-man roster at 39.
8/27/22: Optioned LHP Genesis Cabrera and DH/OF Juan Yepez to AAA Memphis. Recalled LHP Zack Thompson from AAA Memphis. Activated 3B Nolan Arenado from the Paternity Leave List.
First, let’s talk about the specialized moves. Molina was placed on the Restricted List because he wanted to return home to Puerto Rico to be with the basketball team he owned that was playing for a title. He received what was described as permission from the front office in advance, although it’s hard to imagine Mozeliak refusing the request. The media reported that the team itself was surprised, but Molina has the life position with the club that no one would criticize him in public. Ivan Herrera was recalled for the two games Molina missed, but did not appear in either contest. Helsley was placed on the Restricted List because he was not ready to return to the team after the birth of his child. A player must be activated from the Paternity Leave List after 72 hours. Placement on the Bereavement/Family Medical Emergency List is an option, but only if there is some sort of complication with the pregnancy involving either the mother or the child, and we’re thankful that that was not the case. The Restricted List was the only legal place for Helsley to go, and he missed seven games. Placement on the Restricted List removes the player from both the 40-man and active rosters, and the player is not required to be paid while on the list. Molina was not definitely not paid, but the club might have chosen to pay Helsley. Arenado’s wife also gave birth, but his situation is more unusual. He asked for the day off to be with his wife, but was not placed on the Paternity Leave List until a day later. So he missed two games, but spent only one day on the Paternity Leave List. The Cards played a man short on August 25th, which was the first game that Arenado missed. Juan Yepez was recalled for one game, replaced Paul Goldschmidt for the top of the 9th at first base, and filed out in the bottom half.
Instead of having Liberatore start on regular rest, Oli Marmol, much to the delight of many I’m sure, elected to have Jake Woodford to make the necessary spot start for the 2nd game of the August 23rd doubleheader against the Cubs. Liberatore, who was added as the 27th man, came into the game in the bottom of the 7th with one out and the Cards ahead 7-1, and finished the game. He went 2.2 IP, walked none, struck out three, allowed three hits and two earned runs and threw a wild pitch. Liberatore had been down long enough for the Cards to make another roster move to return to 26 players, but he was returned to AAA Memphis immediately after Game 2 of the doubleheader.
The Cards decided to option Packy Naughton when Helsley was activated from the Restricted List. Naughton had been on the active roster since June 24th. Since that time, he’s pitched in 14 games, but only 4 in the month of August. His peripherals were respectable (25.4% strikeout rate compared to a 7.9% walk rate), and he only allowed one homer in 14.2 IP. He made lefties look silly (.156/.191/.267 slash line allowed), but overall this season, he has struggled to get right-handers out, allowing a .362/.397/.551 slash line against. He would certainly not have been in danger of being optioned if the three-batter minimum rule wasn’t a thing, but Marmol no longer felt comfortable using him in situations where he might have to face a righty. Naughton has done much better with the bases empty and merited a look at the long relief job, but that job has now apparently gone to Jake Woodford, and Naughton has been destroyed by batters who have seen him more than once in a game.
Genesis Cabrera has also been optioned for the first time since the 2020 season, and even in that season, he didn’t stay down long enough to burn the option. Historically, control was Cabrera’s problem. Cabrera actually cut his walk rate this season, but his strikeout rate went in the tank (down to 16.5% from 26% last season). He’s also had trouble with the long ball this year, as his HR/FB regressed from a lucky 4.5% last season to a more unlucky 16.7%. He struggled particularly hard in his last two outings, and Marmol finally had enough after his August 26th outing, where he allowed hits to 5 out of the 10 batters he faced in just one inning pitched. Cabrera’s velocity is down a tick or so on all of his pitches, opposing hitters have slugged the hell out of his four-seamer and changeup this year, and he’s not getting the whiffs on any of his pitches to the degree that we were accustomed to seeing in the past.
As the dust settled, the club opted to keep JoJo Romero on the squad, and he hasn’t allowed any baserunners over the three games and 4 IP since his August 19th recall. He’s also struck out 5 out of the 12 batters he has faced so far. He’s heavily relied on his sinker and changeup and ditched the four-seamer, which had featured prominently in the past. Romero struggled mightily in earlier MLB stints, but Marmol and company can be forgiven for riding the hot hand, as they’re running out of left-handed options. Zack Thompson was recalled to the club to take Cabrera’s place, and I have no idea what their plans are for him. Thompson started the season in AAA Memphis as a starter, and in many respects pitched better as a starter in AAA than Matthew Liberatore did. The Cards tried him for one start in mid-June, which did not go very well, but have also used him in both short and long relief. He did a fine job in both roles for the big club, even when pitching on short rest. Thompson initially struggled in Memphis after his August 4th option in a short relief role, but has settled down in the last two weeks. In his last five games, he’s allowed just one hit out of 19 batters faced in 5 IP, to go along with 3 walks and 5 strikeouts. Memphis gave him at least one day of rest in between his appearances in that stretch.
Matthew Liberatore is the only other healthy lefty on the 40-man roster, and the club prefers to keep him stretched out as a starter. Cabrera and Naughton have to stay on option for 15 days barring an injury, so this is the pitching setup you’re going to see for a while. Jeff Jones from the Belleville News-Democrat reported that Jack Flaherty is set to rejoin the rotation on September 5th. There is a 40-man spot open for him. The club is required to expand rosters to 28 players on September 1st, but as I understand things, pitchers optioned before that date still have to spend 15 days on option. Assuming the club adds one pitcher and position player on September 1st, I’m not sure who the extra pitcher will be for the four days before Flaherty joins the rotation. There’s also a shot that Steven Matz could join the club at some point in September, but if he does, it will be as a reliever.
There’s also something interesting going on with the position player lineup in the last week or so. When Paul DeJong was recalled on July 30th from his exile to AAA Memphis, he started out hot and played every day at short. That shifted Tommy Edman to second base and limited Nolan Gorman to the long side of a platoon at DH with Albert Pujols. Fangraphs gives him credit for a 110 wrC+ in that stretch, which he earned through his power (5 homers, .444 SLG and .247 ISO in 94 trips to the plate). But he’s still hitting .198 with a .298 OBP in that span, and has cooled off. He’s been on the bench for the last few games, as Marmol has moved Edman back to short, played Gorman at second and slotted Brendan Donovan as the DH against right-handed pitching. Joining DeJong on the bench has been Dylan Carlson, as the outfield has lately featured Corey Dickerson in left, Tyler O’Neill in center and Lars Nootbaar in right. Carlson has has struggled to the tune of a .213/.290/.347 line against right-handed pitching this season, which is worse, but not not too far off from his career line against righties (.228/.306/.384). Since both DeJong and Carlson have been given a “breather,” the Cards have not faced a left-handed pitcher, so it remains to be seen how the club will line up against a portsider. My listing of the bench below is just my estimation, with the players to the left of the slash, my guess as to who starts against lefties.
Gallegos, Helsley, Hicks, Pallante, Romero (L), Stratton, Thompson (L), Woodford
Knizner, DeJong/Gorman, Carlson/Dickerson, Pujols/Donovan