The Cardinals signing of Brayan Pena as Yadier Molina's backup catcher is just one move in the offseason, and a relatively minor one at that. However, the move does have implications on the 40-man roster on the whole. Pena's acquisition comes just days before the Cardinals are due to tender contracts to their arbitration eligible players. Tony Cruz is one of those arbitration-eligible players. He remains on the roster for now, but he is likely to be non-tendered and granted free agency or traded in the next few days.
Last week, I took a look at all seven of the Cardinals arbitration eligible players. In addition to Cruz, Trevor Rosenthal, Steve Cishek, Brandon Moss, Peter Bourjos, Seth Maness, and Matt Adams are all eligible for arbitration. I discussed the no-brainer move of offering Rosenthal, Maness and Adams contracts, the very likely non-tender of the expensive Steve Cishek, and the questions surrounding Peter Bourjos and Brandon Moss. I paid very little attention to Tony Cruz, who is cheap and experienced with the Cardinals.
Tony Cruz's salary is also low, and the organization has kept with him as Yadier Molina's back up for years now. Unless the Cardinals make a surprising backup catcher sign in the next week, expect Cruz to be tendered a contract for next season.
Surprise? The Cardinals did make the move of acquiring a backup catcher. The Cardinals signed Brayan Pena to backup Yadier Molina, and will be paying him $5 million over the next two years to do so, eliminating Tony Cruz's role on the team. In discussing the move to bring Pena on, the implications for Cruz were discussed.
The Cardinals did not find anyone on the free agent market last season who was willing to take the reduced role of being Yadier Molina's backup, according to Derrick Goold. As a result, the team went with Tony Cruz again as the Cardinals primary backup to Yadier Molina. Mike Matheny and the rest of the Cardinals spoke well of Cruz's ability, but the proof is in the playing time. Molina was on pace to play more at 33 years of age than at any time in his career, and likely would have if not for another injury. Cruz was again given playing time at the end of the season, and then played Molina in the playoffs despite the latter's injured thumb that made it difficult to catch and impossible to hit.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming given the usage patterns over the past two seasons, but Cruz seemed to occupy a role that the Cardinals had a difficult time finding others to fulfill. It is not clear what kind of trade value Cruz has, but if John Mozeliak can find a team that is willing to tender Cruz a contract that would guarantee him around $1 million, Mozeliak will likely do so without hesitation despite a minimal return.
In free agency, Cruz might have to fight for a backup role somewhere and take a minor league contract, but if Mozeliak finds a trade partner, it would benefit Cruz. The 40-man roster matrix below includes Cruz as well as the rest of the arbitration-eligible candidates. The Cardinals are up to 37 players on the 40-man roster, but that could change significantly in the next few days. The arbitration-eligible players are in orange-colored boxes below as we have to wait to find out their status. On Wednesday, we will know whether they will be guaranteed 2016 contracts.