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The Genesis of Dennis and the Exodus of Genesis

*Ryan Tepera’s actual first name is Dennis, and I came up with this headline before I knew that, so that was a happy accident.

MLB: Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Some people seemed to be confused why Genesis Cabrera was designated for assignment. And I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised by the news. But truthfully this isn’t hard to explain. I’m not going to comment on potential off-the-field stuff, because while that may have been a factor, you don’t really need an off-the-field explanation. Genesis Cabrera isn’t very good. That’s enough.

Genesis Cabrera is a replacement level reliever. What this means is that you can find a reliever like him off the scrap heap, which the Cardinals did. He has been worth 0.2 fWAR in 189 career innings. He had one good season, but it’s not actually clear he was good that season. It was his best season in every way, but he benefited enormously from a very low HR/FB%, something I may be inclined to give him credit for, except that the rest of his career refutes he has a talent for this.

And I guess I will comment on off the field stuff because he was reportedly not happy with his usage. He wasn’t happy he wasn’t getting higher leverage opportunities. Well, you pitch like a replacement level reliever, you’re going to be used like one, sorry. He has good stuff and relievers are volatile, but at this point there’s a good history of his pitching value.

Most importantly perhaps, he’s out of options after this season. Replacement level relievers are useful when they are cheap and can be sent down. Cabrera’s still cheap, technically, but would probably get between $1-2 million in arbitration. Also ideally, they accept whatever role they’re given. If you’re pitching badly and you’re expecting high leverage opportunities, you’re usually not going to get your wish.

Second question you may be asking is why Ryan Tepera? Well I don’t know if you knew this, but Tepera was available because he was released by the Los Angeles Angels in the midst of his 2 year, $14 million deal. That is notable because he did something to earn that deal, something the Cardinals hope he can recapture. He had a 1.6 fWAR season, aided by home run luck admittedly for a guy with around an average HR/FB% for his career, as recently as two seasons ago, in 2021. He was also very good for the Cubs in the shortened 2020 season.

He was okay last year, not particularly good, but he did manage a 3.61 ERA, 17 holds, and 6 saves. If he can do the equivalent with the Cards, it will have been a great pickup. He’s been bad this year, but the sample size is enormously small. As commentator LawBird pointed out, Jordan Hicks had about the same sample size to begin this season, when he was bad. That’s the thing about relievers: two starts worth of innings for a starting pitcher is about a month for a reliever. You would not give up on a starter after two bad starts. Same should apply here.

Now, do I actually think Ryan Tepera will be good? No, no I do not. As I said, he wasn’t great last year and he’s 35. But I wouldn’t think Luis Garcia would be good or Pat Neshek or a million other examples. He’s a good bet to match the production of Genesis Cabrera, and given the Cardinals have both JoJo Romero and Zack Thompson, they don’t really need a third lefty. (And post-2023, they also have Packy Naughton)

Also, if people want the Cardinals to sell, someone has to pitch. This is what selling will look like. If the Cardinals trade Jordan Hicks and Chris Stratton and maybe Giovanny Gallegos, pitchers like Ryan Tepera are the replacement. Whatever return they would net is likely prospects, not MLB replacements for the bullpen. Expecting a starting pitcher to replace Jordan Montgomery is reasonable, but I don’t really think the Cardinals are hunting for bullpen arms.

Speaking of, I noticed while looking at Roster Resource, that the Cardinals signed Jacob Barnes. Drafted by the Brewers in 2011, he made his debut at 26-years-old five years later and had a brief period as an effective reliever. He had a dreadful 2019, somehow had a really high ERA with a 2.25 FIP in 2020, struck out 25% of batters but had a home run problem in 2021, and was bad last year. The Cardinals are his third organization this year, and there’s a halfway decent chance we’ll see him in August. Just a heads up.

Sort of a rambling post, but depending on how the Cardinals do against the Cubs, who they face eight times before the trading deadline, the Cardinals have a potentially awkward situation. They have publicly announced they are selling. Which is an easy thing to say when you are 11 games out and 13 games under .500.

But let’s say the Cardinals go 8-3 in their next 11 games. And let’s say the Brewers go 4-7 in their 11 games. Not as implausible as you might think. They face the Braves six times, the Phillies once, the Reds once, and then the Nationals right before the deadline. Suddenly, the Cardinals are just 5 games under .500 and six games back of the division. And oh yeah the Cardinals get to face the Brewers 7 times in their last 13 games.

Now it won’t be easy to go 8-3 so this is mostly a hypothetical. They also face the Diamondbacks for three games. There’s a magic number of wins the Cardinals could have - and a magic number that the Brewers could lose - where surely the Cardinals abandon selling. I don’t know if that number is 6 games back, but there’s a number where they don’t sell Jordan Montgomery.

So the Cardinals could make things really interesting for the front office - and really difficult - if they win too much. If they go .500 in this stretch, it’s not much of a decision. But if they win just enough to where you probably shouldn’t punt 2023, but don’t quite make up enough ground that not selling would be malpractice, well the Cardinals have a tough needle to thread where they still leave open the possibility this team could pull a 2011 - and selling would surely add to that narrative by the way! - but also take advantage of what teams offer in a buyer’s market.

This upcoming series is a very important one. The Cardinals could get a nail in the coffin - a series loss surely guarantees selling - or it could be the road to the Cardinals not selling. They will trade to be clear. When I say not selling, I mostly mean that Jordan Montgomery remains a Cardinal. That’s my barometer. Alec Burleson or Juan Yepez getting traded does not mean they are selling. Hell, trading Jordan Hicks doesn’t even mean they are selling. If you can get a fantastic return for two months of Jordan Hicks, you take it. But if they trade Montgomery, now that’s selling.

Sorry for the random thoughts, but I’m going out of town for the weekend and did not have time for anything too in-depth.