Cardinals Activate Carlos Martinez, Option Out Dylan Carlson

photo: Carlos Martinez via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

St. Louis Cardinals announcement

Brian Walton’s take

The big news in St. Louis Cardinals land on Tuesday is “Carlos and Carlson.”

Though the Martinez move will have the most immediate impact on the team, the Carlson transaction is drawing the most fan attention.

After playing almost every day since his August 15 arrival, Carlson’s situation changed in September. Sabermetric measures suggest significant bad luck at the plate, but his modest results have been declining. As a result, his playing time diminished.

Dylan Carlson

Specifically, the 21-year old only started two of seven games this month, going 0-for-6 and extending his current stretch to 1-for-19 (.053) with no walks.  That was coming off his career-best six-game hitting streak.

Bad luck or not, in any other year, a prospect with a slash line of .162/.215/.243/.458 in his first 79 MLB plate appearances would be sent down to the minor leagues for more seasoning. His OPS+ of 25 is on a scale on which 100 is league-average. Further, Carlson’s strikeout rate of 29.1% is only exceeded among team regulars by another struggler, veteran Matt Carpenter at 29.4%.

But 2020 is not like any other year, with no Triple-A baseball.

For the system’s top prospect, this is a two-edged sword. Back in Springfield, Carlson will not see the MLB-quality breaking pitches against which he needs to improve and perhaps in the situations as presented, with experienced big-league pitchers working him backward at times (throwing breaking balls in traditional fastball counts and vice-versa).

In his Tuesday pre-game remarks, Shildt noted that it would not be human to not get frustrated if not making left turns consistently (passing first base following a base hit), observing that Carlson “started to expand (the zone) a bit.” He also said that the league adjusted to him, pitching him “like a 15-year all-star”. The result was at-bats that were not as consistent as the player and his coaches would have liked.

Mike Shildt via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The manager feels both were factors, while stating at least twice that he is not worried about Carlson, and that he “will be just fine.” Shildt highlighted his many attributes demonstrated, including switch-hitting, his ability to run, play good defense in all three outfield positions and making good and accurate throws.

But here and now, the clock is ticking. The Cardinals have 25 games remaining in 20 days and seem committed to playing those who are delivering better results. This does not change Carlson’s bright future.

Shildt reminded writers that Carlson’s situation is “not a silo,” noting that other outfielders have been taking better at-bats recently (hence their increased playing time). Even though Dexter Fowler is out indefinitely, the more experienced, yet not firm MLB starters in Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas are getting an extended trial.

President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak has stated repeatedly the team’s desire to use 2020 to sort out which of the current outfielders are going to step up and become MLB starters. Carlson was not originally a part of that mix – until the team’s rash of COVID-19 cases thinned the outfield. Once up, however, he was given a fair chance with daily playing time.

This past week, Mozeliak went further, noting that the club needs to use the final three weeks to make an assessment as to whether they need to go “external” (trade or free agency) in the off-season to improve the outfield, the team’s weakest-performing position grouping in 2020.

No matter what, Carlson will be part of the Cardinals outfield plans in 2021. But right now, as the 2020 season reaches its deciding point, they have decided the time is not right.

Roster implications

Though Ponce de Leon is the 29th man on Tuesday, he could remain after the double-header because his 10-day option period has expired. It may depend on how much other pitchers are needed to get through the 14 innings on Tuesday, as well as his own performance, of course.

Daniel Ponce de Leon

Meisinger is immediately off the 40-man roster. His next move will be decided in the next seven days – whether traded, claimed off waivers by another organization, outrighted to the minor leagues or released. I would not be surprised if he clears waivers and is outrighted, remaining a Cardinal.

However, because the 26-year old has been outrighted previously, he could instead choose immediate free agency. Given the short time remaining in the season to secure another job, this seems a less likely path for Meisinger to take, but the choice will also be available to him this fall.

Ryan Meisinger

The 40-man roster is now down to 43. Three remaining COVID IL players are still working their way back and have yet to return to the active roster – Kodi Whitley, Austin Dean and Dexter Fowler (the latter who did not test positive). Accordingly, three current 40-man players will need to follow Meisinger off the roster if/when the COVID trio are ready to be activated.

Wednesday update

Related article for members of The Cardinal Nation

I go much deeper into Martinez’ ups and downs in 2020 and why his time to return to the rotation is now.

The Next Turn in Carlos Martinez’ Winding 2020 Road is Just Ahead

Full roster detail at The Cardinal Nation

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Detailed team rosters for the entire system can be accessed via the red menu column at the top left (see “ROSTERS/PLAYERS/MOVES”).

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