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On Jordan Hicks and JoJo Romero

Why Hicks couldn’t go to the minors and why Romero may have been called up

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t really have a good idea for a full post, but I have two separate, loosely connected ideas for a post. Both are sort of thematically connected, relating to service time and getting sent to the minors. Which is weird, because I had these two thoughts completely separately and didn’t try to force a connection. So here are two bullpen thoughts for this Thursday.

Jordan Hicks

There are three camps when it comes to Jordan Hicks’ place on the MLB roster. I could not tell you how big the camps are, just that they exist. The first believes Hicks should stay on the roster and work out his issues. Fairly straightforward. The second camp wants to DFA him and doesn’t really care if the Cardinals lose him. Also straightforward. The third camp either believes Jordan Hicks can be sent down (he can’t) or believes Hicks should graciously accept a minor league demotion.

I want to address that third camp. The people who believe he can be sent down, well that’s easy enough to address. Here are the basics. When a player first gets added to the 40 man roster, it’s either because the team wants to avoid them being picked in the Rule 5 draft or because they’ve added to them to the MLB roster. Hicks is in the latter camp. Once a player is on the 40 man roster, the team has three option years - three years they can send that player down to the minors. That is, until they reach 5 years of MLB service.

We saw this play out with Paul DeJong last season. He got sent down when he got sent down specifically because he was nearing his 5 years of service. He hadn’t quite reached it yet and if they had waited a little bit longer, they couldn’t have sent him down. Well, sort of. There is really one avenue to sending a player down: the player agrees to be sent down. You can either ask nicely, but nobody will accept a demotion willingly, or DFA them, no team claims him, and then they may say “okay I’ll go the minors.” But players with more than three years service time can choose to become a free agent instead.

Although, that part is irrelevant in the case of Jordan Hicks. He would be claimed by some team if he were DFA’d. His salary is not high, some team is going to be enticed by his stuff, and they’ll give him a shot. Plenty of bad bullpens looking for upside, and plenty of bad teams looking for a player they can trade at the trading deadline and it’s a very tiny gamble. If the Cardinals gamble on TJ McFarland, who had much lower odds of being anything, some team is going to gamble on Jordan Hicks.

So that leaves the group, however small, that thinks Hicks should accept a minor league assignment. This idea that a player should go to the minors for the good of the team is, uh, not based in reality. Any player in Hick’s position who would say “okay go ahead and send me to the minors” would be an idiot, plain and simple.

“Well I would do it”

No you wouldn’t. You really, really, really wouldn’t. At some point in this process, you would consult with your agent, who would stress how much you should not accept a minor league assignment. Well, that’s assuming you make it that far. More likely than not, you won’t need to consult your agent to know not to accept a minor league assignment.

First, once you do, the Cardinals are under zero obligation to call you up at any point this year. You could be in AAA the entire season. The Cardinals are typically good about this, so I doubt that would be the case (see: DeJong), but you don’t know how long you’ll be in the minors. Players don’t want to spend any time in the minors.

Oh yeah and then there’s the fact that if he spends 21 days in the minors, he delays free agency a year. Which is a big, big deal for his earnings potential. MLB players have a finite amount of time in their career and especially so for a hard throwing reliever who has had injury problems. Who knows how long he can pitch and how long he can make money? His 2023 salary is $1.8 million and if he accepts a minor league assignment, and his team control extends a year, I don’t think he’d make a lot more than that next year.

Hicks has two things going for him that automatically will get him more than $1.8 million and potentially much more: his age and his fastball/slider combo. He will be 27 entering the free agent market. I am actually very curious what he’ll get. But by delaying that a year, his age becomes slightly less appealing and that’s another year he can get hurt.

‘But if he continues being this bad, he will be lucky to sign an MLB deal”

Well first off, he won’t be this bad, and also do you think Jordan Hicks thinks he will be this bad? No, he thinks he’ll pitch better and start pitching towards his next contract. In his position, you would think the same. You would have faith in yourself, because it has taken you far. You are going to improve and you are going to get an MLB free agent contract.

And you could dare the Cardinals to DFA you because you know another team is claiming you if they do. Regardless, you are going to pitch MLB innings this year and work towards that future contract. Hell, maybe some team will claim you who will give you save opportunities or even a chance to start, which Hicks still wants to do.

Anyway, I saw that a few places and it bothered me so much that I had to write about it.

JoJo for Andre

So before the season, I noticed the peculiar situation of the left-handed relievers on the 40 man roster. They had Zack Thompson, who once they announced was in the bullpen, was clearly going to make the team. They also had Genesis Cabrera, Packy Naughton, Anthony Misiewicz, and JoJo Romero. Misiewicz needed to be let go so that the Cardinals could add Jordan Walker to the roster, but he was not why it was peculiar to me.

Aside from Thompson, who as I said, was clearly going to make the team, the rest of the lefties had one minor league option. They could be sent down this year and that was it. The reason I found this interesting was because in my mind, all three lefties were likely to be optioned at some point. So they would enter next season, with three lefty fringey reliever options with zero MLB options plus Thompson. In one offseason, their left-handed reliever depth would be completely evaporated.

The Cardinals have a lot of interesting bullpen arms outside of the 40 man, but none of them are left-handed. Ryan Loutos, Kyle Leahy, Andre Granillo, Kodi Whitley, Logan Sawyer - all right-handed. They have interesting SP prospects who are left-handed, but I’m not sure they will be moved to the bullpen as early as next season. So I thought this was going to be a problem.

But well, technically none of the three lefties have burned an option yet. The timing of when JoJo Romero was called up for Pallante seems deliberate or at least extremely convenient. Yeah they did need fresh arms. But also, if Romero was in the minors for one more day, his option would be burned. The rule states:

“Once an optioned player has spent at least 20 days in the Minors in a given season, he loses one of his options”

If you want a specific example of this, go to Nolan Gorman’s Fangraphs page, and you will notice next to the MiLB options, it says 3. We all know Gorman was sent down and we all know that you only have three MiLB options. So how could he have been optioned to the minors and still have three? Well he was sent down with less than 20 days left in the season. Therefore, the Cardinals can still option him to the minors in three different years.

Romero spent 19 days in the minors, assuming the clock starts on Opening Day, which I’m pretty sure it does. This is good for Romero, who gets an MLB paycheck for all 19 days he was in the minors. That’s why the option doesn’t vest. The idea behind this rule is that in order for a team to evade burning an option, the player gets the full year of credit in the majors. Seems like a fair trade-off. Genesis Cabrera got called up earlier so he obviously hasn’t burned an option either.

I don’t think the Cardinals can play this tricky game all year. I don’t even think they intend to. But they perhaps saw an opportunity and it just so happened to fit with the MLB situation as well, and why not delay burning an option if you can. You never know how a season will go and they very well may somehow avoid burning an option on all three. Packy Naughton is still on the injured list and will surely need rehab appearances, and who knows what the bullpen situation will look like when he’s ready to come back. (You can also rehab for up to 30 days as a pitcher for what it’s worth, all counting as MLB time)

That’s it for today.