When the St. Louis Cardinals entered Spring Training, competition was not a much discussed theme. There was the potential for a battle at first base. The 25th man on the roster might have been up for grabs. With injuries, a spot in the rotation and bullpen could have been made available. With 12 days to go until Opening Day, the Cardinals have made another round of cuts, and absent an injury, the Opening Day roster is set.
The Cardinals started off Spring Training with more than 60 players in big league camp. There were a lot of pitchers and a lot of catchers, but those numbers have whittled down to just 40 players remaining, and some of the recent cuts involved players who had been fighting for a role on the big league club.
The first big cut happened a little over a week ago when Jayson Aquino, Corey Littrell, Trey Nielson, Daniel Poncedeleon, J.C. Sulbaran, Luke Weaver, Steve Bean, Luis Cruz, Alberto Rosario, and Charlie Tilson were all cut from big league camp. Aquino and TIlson are still on the 40-man roster, and Weaver remains one of the Cardinals' better pitching prospects.
A week passed, and the Cardinals made another big round of cuts on Sunday, sending out Dean Anna, Aledmys Diaz, Carson Kelly, Austin Gomber, Jeremy Hefner, Deck McGuire, Anthony Garcia, Jonathan Rodriguez, and Patrick Wisdom. Aledmys Diaz had been in a fight for the starting shortstop job after Jhonny Peralta's injury, but Ruben Tejada's signing put Diaz in a bind. He is good enough to be one of the best 25 players in the Cardinals organization, but his potential is good enough that he needs regular playing time. DIaz will get that playing time down in Memphis like the team originally planned, and should Tejada falter while Diaz plays well, expect the calls for a change to grow.
After making a start for the Cardinals against the Red Sox yesterday, Marco Gonzales was the latest cut. While he was potentially fighting for a spot in the bullpen, the numbers game was not in his favor. In addition, there is a greater need for him as a potential starter down the road so keeping his arm tested for starting makes more sense as the season begins. If any Cardinals starter goes down, Gonzales is likely to get the first crack at the rotation with Tyler Lyons likely in the bullpen, Tim Cooney still working his way back from an early-spring setback, and Alex Reyes still suspended and not likely ready for a role until later this season.
As it stands right now, below is the Spring Training roster with all of those who have been cut, or are injured, like Peralta and Lance Lynn, greyed out.
All who remain are still with the big league club fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster. With 38 players up there, that leaves 13 more cuts to make before April 3 and Opening Day against the Pirates. Most of the choices are fairly obvious. Any player in blue above is not on the 40-man roster, and thus faces an uphill climb. The Cardinals did add Ruben Tejada to take the number of players on the 40-man roster to a full 40, but if they felt they needed the room, they could place Lance Lynn or Jhonny Peralta on the 60-day disabled list. In any event, those six non-roster invitees were unlikely to make the club at this time.
The Cardinals are unlikely to carry more than two catchers, which means Mike Ohlman should be added to the list of those headed to the minors so long as Yadier Molina continues to progress towards Opening Day. With Diaz getting sent down, it has become fairly clear that Greg Garcia will get that final spot on the roster on the position player side.
On the pitching side, the rotation is hopefully set with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Mike Leake, Jaime Garcia, and Carlos Martinez. Each pitcher will have a few more outings before the season starts, and if all goes well, that would have to be one of the bigger success stories of Spring Training for the Cardinals. In the bullpen, one of the big surprises has to be the health of Jordan Walden. Something of an afterthought heading into camp, Walden is showing good health an the potential to contribute.
The downside of Walden's performance, if you want to call it a downside, is that it makes unlikely that Rule 5 pick Matt Bowman will make the club, and it also forces Sam Tuivailala back down to the minors. The Cardinals could work out a trade with the Mets, but otherwise, they must offer Bowman back to the Mets. As for Tuivailala, as well as Mitch Harris, Miguel Socolovich, and Dean Kiekhefer, they head likely head back to the minors waiting for the inevitable injury that will allow them to head to St. Louis. With Tyler Lyons out of options, he is almost assured a spot in the Cardinals bullpen when the season begins.
Changes could still occur, but right now, here is the projected Opening Day roster for the Cardinals.
Joe took a look at the projected Opening Day lineup yesterday with Matt Holliday at first base. The roster, with Tejada in for Peralta, is about what we expected, although the battle for time at first base is far from over.