photo: Kodi Whitley (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
This is an extremely odd situation to be in – in so many ways.
Major leaguers disbursed to their homes two weeks ago. Yet as the result of decisions made in the interim, the 2020 Opening Day roster for the St. Louis Cardinals appears to be written in dark pencil.
I can assert this with a reasonable probability – despite the fact we still have no idea when players will return to camp and how long they will be given to ramp back up.
My quiet confidence is based on two recent decisions:
- In two different sets of transactions, the Cardinals optioned out every 40-man roster player who appeared to have only an outside shot to make the team out of camp.
- There is an apparent agreement between owners and the union to run the first month of the season with 29 active players, up from the new normal 26. This is mostly being done to accommodate pitchers, especially starters, who will almost certainly not be ready to assume a full workload for some time after play begins.
When #MLB is able to start their season, teams are expected to expand their rosters from 26 players to 29 players the first month they begin playing games.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 27, 2020
I am not saying the Cardinals WILL do the following, but I am asserting it COULD very easily be done.
A starting five and a long five
What if the Cardinals designated a tandem partner for every one of their five starters – a second starter scheduled and ready to take over when the opener throws his allotted number of pitches?
Not only do the numbers work out, more importantly, the remaining pitchers in camp perfectly fit the model. (This assumes those who suffered relatively minor injuries in the spring will be recovered and ready to go – Miles Mikolas, Andrew Miller and Brett Cecil.)
The team had a dozen starting pitching candidates in the original spring camp stretched out. To get them all work, they were often scheduled to pitch in spring training games in tandem. It would seem easier for them to pick back up where they left off on March 12.
10 of the stretched out starters, all already on the 40-man, still remain in camp. I am not suggesting the following would be the exact pairings, but that detail is not important right now. Just stay with the concept.
|Comments||Starting five||“Long five”||Comments|
|Flaherty||Kim (L)||long man/tandem?|
|C Martinez||Gant||long man/tandem?|
|is forearm problem past?||Mikolas||Helsley||long man/tandem?|
|Wainwright||Ponce de Leon||long man/tandem?|
|Hudson||Gomber (L)||long man/tandem?|
With Mikolas assumed ready to go, Byung-Hyun Kim would move to “long five” status, joining Ryan Helsley, John Gant, Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon. In my assessment, the latter two would be clear beneficiaries of the expanded 29-man roster. The initial three almost certainly would have been among the regular 26 in a general bullpen role, anyway.
Impact of a condensed schedule
We do not know when double-headers will first appear on the reworked schedule, but one might guess that they would not be heavily deployed early on. By the time more regular twin bills would need to be covered, the starting five should be stretched out enough to enable the long men to make spot starts.
But even if double-headers are prevalent from the beginning, and none of the “long five” are available, Genesis Cabrera and Jake Woodford – presumably stretched out in the Memphis rotation and already on the 40-man – would be a just short phone call away.
Another option not considered fully here would be an official six-man rotation. My guess is that the Cardinals would not go there unless the schedule is packed with extra games from Opening Day on. If they did go this route, Kim would be the expected no. 6.
But no matter. The takeaway from this should be that the Cardinals have enough starters to cover the expected pitching workload, no matter how packed the retooled game schedule turns out to be.
Not many teams are as well positioned.
The short six
Now, what about the traditional relievers? Doing the math, with 10 of the 16 pitchers (of the 29 total spots) being taken by the starters/long men, it leaves six other bullpen members, called here the “Short Six”.
Identities of five seem clear, with one very prominent opening.
|A Miller (L)||is nerve problem past?|
|Cecil (L)||is his hamstring healed?|
|NRIs to be sent down|
|Kruczynski (L)||R Ramirez|
|(L) left-handed pitcher|
|bold = 40-man roster|
To fill that sixth spot, either a 40-man reliever would need to be recalled from Memphis or the Cardinals could deploy their last remaining open 40-man spot to promote a non-roster invitee. If the latter occurs, the player selected would almost certainly be right-handed prospect Kodi Whitley.
While technically 10 non-roster pitchers still remain in camp, Whitley is head and shoulders above the other nine in terms of major league readiness.
Of the four 40-man hurlers sent down in the last two waves, right-hander Junior Fernandez might be the most likely to return if the team does not go with Whitley as their 16th and final pitcher.
There is not really a lot to say. The hitting part of the roster appears set.
The assumption is that position players can and will be prepared to go whenever the new Opening Day is designated to be. As such, the count of hitters may remain the same, 13, whether the overall roster is 29 or 26. (That is of course made up of eight position player starters and five reserves.)
Not at all coincidentally, following the two waves of recent cuts, the Cardinals have exactly 13 40-man position players remaining in camp. I see that being pretty much end of discussion.
|Starting eight||Reserve five|
|NRIs to be sent down including…||extra catchers|
|E Mendoza||D Ortega|
|bold = 40-man roster|
Just as with pitchers, there are 10 NRI position players remaining in camp, including five extra catchers.
Another scenario could have the team going with “just” 15 pitchers. In that case, Whitley might not be added to the 40-man and 29-man active roster just yet.
Perhaps the one-month addition would instead be a recall of the third catcher, Andrew Knizner. The Cardinal Nation’s no. 5 prospect is already on the 40-man.
Having said that, the Cardinals already have two bullpen catchers in Jamie Pogue and Kleininger Teran, so I don’t think the third catcher would be a necessity just because of two extra pitchers.
Would they instead want another bat?
Could this open the door for Dylan Carlson perhaps? The outfielder is clearly the other non-roster invitee still remaining in camp (along with Whitley) who appeared to have a decent shot at making the team.
Considering everything, I still don’t expect it. The primary criteria for the organization’s top prospect to join St. Louis remains the same – a starting outfield job for him to assume – one that is apparently not yet available.
Here, we are talking about something else – the last spot on the bench for just a month. Not a good fit for Carlson, it seems.
The numbers – Supply and demand
Often in an article like this, I start with a data table and then use the remainder of the article to explain it. This time, I decided to go in reverse sequence.
|On March 12||57||30||27|
|Optioned out since||8||4||4|
|Now “in camp”||49||26||23|
|– NRI with reasonable chance||2||1||1|
|# includes Hicks on IL|
|To open season||29||16||13|
|40-man in camp, active||28||15||13|
The upper table outlines how the camp assignments changed since spring training games were stopped.
As already noted, of the 49 players in camp – after taking out injured Jordan Hicks and the 20 NRIs – 28 players remain for 29 spots. If a non-roster player is added, I see it being a reliever (Whitley) over a hitter (Carlson).
These are my thoughts only and certainly do not reflect the position of the Cardinals, official or unofficial. The assumptions could change at a moment’s notice, such as following a re-injury or a new medical problem arising when Camp 2.0 begins. Also, as I touched on before, there is no reason a 40-man player already optioned out could not be recalled instead.
Yet, the current status of the roster here on March 28 seems too clear and clean to be coincidental.
We shall see how this plays out – eventually. Hopefully, conditions will allow that to be sooner, rather than later, but at this juncture, who knows?
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