With the Cards engaging in a flurry of moves in recent days, it’s time to get you caught up on the Cards’ transactions and discuss the shape of the roster.
4/22/22: Placed RHP Drew VerHagen on the 10-day IL (right hip impingement). Recalled LHP Packy Naughton from AAA Memphis.
4/25/22: Optioned OF Lars Nootbaar to AAA Memphis. Recalled IF Brendan Donovan from AAA Memphis.
4/28/22: Placed LHP Genesis Cabrera on the MLB Suspended List.
4/29/22: Activated LHP Genesis Cabrera from the MLB Suspended List.
4/30/22: Placed 3B Nolan Arenado on the MLB Suspended List.
5/1/22: Activated 3B Nolan Arenado from the MLB Suspended List.
5/2/22: Designated RHP Aaron Brooks for assignment. Optioned LHP Packy Naughton to AAA Memphis. 40-man roster at 39.
5/3/22: Placed LHP Steven Matz on the Bereavement/Family Medical Emergency List. Placed IF Edmundo Sosa on the COVID-19 Related IL. Recalled LHP Packy Naughton and 1B Juan Yepez from AAA Memphis. 40-man roster at 38.
5/5/22: Outrighted RHP Aaron Brooks to AAA Memphis.
5/6/22: Placed RHP Adam Wainwright on the COVID-19 Related IL. Activated LHP Steven Matz from the Bereavement/Family Medical Emergency List. 40-man roster at 37.
Let’s talk about the more unusual transactions first. Genesis Cabrera and Nolan Arenado were both suspended as a result of the bench-clearing brawl with the New York Mets on April 27th. Cabrera was suspended for one game for yanking Pete Alonso down from behind with the back of his collar during the scrum. Arenado was suspended for one game (reduced from two games on appeal) for supposedly instigating the brawl by repeatedly yelling “Do it again!” to Mets’ pitcher Yoan Lopez after a high-and-tight fastball. When a player is placed on the MLB Suspended List for that type of on-field incident, he is not paid, but he counts against the club’s 40-man and active rosters and he earns MLB service time. The detriment to the team is that the club may not make a roster move to replace the suspended player, instead having to play short a man for that particular game. Cabrera opted not to appeal, instead serving his suspension the very next day because he pitched two innings in the brawl game. Arenado appealed his suspension, and served it a couple of days later after the suspension was reduced from two games to one. The Cards played with a 27-man roster for the games on April 28th and April 30th.
The Bereavement/Family Medical Emergency List is available on application to the Commissioner’s office if an immediate family member of a player or the player’s spouse has either died or has suffered a “serious or severe illness.” “Immediate family” is described in the applicable rule as applying to a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, child or grandchild. In this case, Matz’s grandfather passed away. A player placed on that list has to remain away from the team for at least three consecutive days but no more than seven consecutive days.
Just in case someone might have thought COVID is no longer a thing, the Cards’ clubhouse has been hit with the COVID-19 virus again. The club initially announced on May 3rd that one player and four club employees (three medical officials and one clubhouse attendant) tested positive for the virus. That player turned out to be Edmundo Sosa. The club conducted contact tracing, did more tests, and announced last night that Adam Wainwright also tested positive. Both Sosa and Wainwright were placed on the COVID-19 Related IL, which has no minimum or maximum stay, and a placement on that list removes the player from the 40-man roster. Having tested positive, both players have to be symptom free without a fever for 24 hours, and also must have two negative tests 24 hours apart before they can return to the club. The same protocols are in place that existed when the COVID-19 Related IL was created in 2020. Right now it looks like the damage is limited. There have been no new positive tests. Wainwright had been vaccinated and tweeted that he was symptom free. The rotation might not be affected at all. Matz was activated from the Bereavement/Family Medical Emergency List as the corresponding roster move to Wainwright’s COVID-19 Related IL placement. He’s starting today’s game. The Cards have a day off on Monday, May 9th, which would put Wainwright’s next start on Tuesday the 10th, and he hopes to be ready by then. It remains to be seen how Sosa is affected. Even if the virus turns out to have a worse impact, there is a rule in place that was adopted last year that could alleviate the roster concerns. Clubs may now add non-40-man roster players to replace players that are on the COVID-19 Related IL and then remove them from the 40-man roster without exposing them to waivers. The Cubs did that last year and the Reds have had to do it this year already.
Drew VerHagen was considered the presumptive fifth starter for practically the entire spring training. He was the only fifth starter candidate that actually started a spring game. After it was announced that Jordan Hicks would be the 5th starter, VerHagen and his five-pitch mix were sent to the bullpen. He pitched three games for the Cards before going on the shelf with a hip issue that it turned out had been bothering him for a good while. Oli Marmol never put VerHagen in with a lead, and it looked like his last outing on April 21st was going to be an multi-inning piggyback of Jordan Hicks before it got cut short. Three outings and 4.2 total innings pitched isn’t enough to give a fair assessment of his performance, but it is worthy of note that he didn’t get barreled at all and didn’t get hit especially hard. He did walk four to only four strikeouts, but one of the walks was unintentional. The Cards signed VerHagen to a 2-year deal in the offseason, so you will almost certainly see a lot of him once he recovers. He started a rehab assignment with AAA Memphis on May 3rd.
When VerHagen went down, the Cards had several choices for pitcher recalls. T.J. Zeuch and Johan Oviedo were then and are now in the AAA Memphis starting rotation. Freddy Pacheco was assigned to the AA bullpen to start the year. The reach choice, then, came down to Angel Rondon, Jake Walsh, Junior Fernandez or Packy Naughton. Walsh, a fresh 40-man roster add this past November, had Tommy John surgery in August 2019, and also missed about three months of the 2021 season due to injury, which limited him to 22 total innings pitched. Walsh had allowed no earned runs and only 2 hits over 22 batters faced and 6 innings pitched, but was being used as the Memphis closer after Jacob Bosiokovich went on the injured list. Rondon was a starter in his two most recent minor league seasons, but has been used in relief ever since September of 2021. Both he and Junior Fernandez, who had 12 strikeouts against only 2 walks, had pitched well enough to get a look at the time. My guess is that the club went with Packy Naughton because he had significant major league experience as part of the Los Angeles Angels starting rotation in 2021 and could provide long relief protection. At the time, Naughton also had only 2 walks allowed against 12 strikeouts, but had been BABIPd around the yard to the tune of .407 with 12 hits in only 10 innings pitched.
On May 2nd, the Cards had to trim two players from the roster to get from 28 to 26 players. The 13-pitcher limit that was originally scheduled to operate beginning in the 2020 season was supposed to be implemented at that time, but MLB and the union agreed to further suspend that rule until May 30th. Although the club was authorized to have 14 pitchers on the roster, it still went down to 13 pitchers to avoid having a three-man bench. As it turns out, the club has still had a 9-man bullpen, because the very next day after the roster trim, Naughton was recalled when Matz went on the Bereavement List and has stayed through Wainwright’s COVID-19 Related IL placement. Naughton, whom it can be fairly said is the last man in the 9-man pen, has been on the roster for 14 games but has only been used twice, one time finishing a game in which the Cards had a 10-0 lead.
Aaron Brooks signed a minor league deal with the Cards in the offseason that called for him to make $1.4 million in the majors if he made the roster. After impressing in spring and being added to the 40-man roster, the Cards designated him for assignment as the other required May 2nd roster trim. Although he had not pitched well in his last few games with the club, I was surprised that the club gave up on him that quickly instead of just optioning Andre Pallante or Jake Woodford. Small sample size sometimes matters and sometimes doesn’t. Oli Marmol was candid about the move, stating that it wouldn’t send a fair message to the other pitchers to get optioned when they clearly outperformed another player and he wanted to make it clear that actual performance on the field matters. To be fair, by the numbers, Brooks was probably the worst reliever the Cards had at the time of the move. He pitched fine in his first two outings, then after six days of rest, gave up two homers against the Marlins on sliders in his April 21st outing. Brooks gave up four hits and another homer in his last outing on April 28th, which was on only one day of rest. His 5-pitch mix wasn’t fooling anyone, his sinker got destroyed, and he was in the bottom 1% in the game in barrel percentage allowed and other expected stats. I’m not saying the move was wrong, but I expected the club to stick with Brooks a little longer.
On the position player side of things, the Cards opened the season with what was supposed to be a DH platoon with Albert Pujols and lefty Corey Dickerson, with Andrew Knizner, Edmundo Sosa and Lars Nootbaar rounding out the bench. Nootbaar was on the roster for the first 14 games and got one start in each of the three outfield positions along with one start at DH. In 19 trips to the plate, he had two singles, three walks and struck out nine times. He pinch-hit once and pinch-ran twice. The club optioned Nootbaar on April 25th in favor of Brendan Donovan, with the official explanation that Nootbaar needed to get more regular plate appearances. I understood the reasoning, but didn’t agree with the move. This was nothing against Donovan, as he posted a .385 OBP with his 12.3% walk rate equal to his strikeout rate at that point in the AAA season. I simply thought it was a bad idea to have Dickerson as the only backup outfielder, and I felt that Donovan was redundant with Edmundo Sosa on the roster, especially since Donovan is not a credible defensive option at short. And I though that it was just as, if not more important for Donovan to get regular work in AAA, especially defensively.
Since Donovan’s recall, he’s been on the roster for 12 games, and has received one start in the field at each of first, second and third base. He has also pinch-hit twice and pinch-run twice. In 13 trips to the plate, he has two singles, no walks, two strikeouts and has been hit once. Now that Sosa is on the COVID-19 Related IL, he’s the only legit non-first base backup infielder on the roster.
The last position player to mention is Juan Yepez, who slugged .651 with 9 homers in 93 AAA Memphis plate appearances before his recall. The Cards have done the right thing with him and played him while he’s here. He was added as the corresponding roster move after Sosa went on the COVID-19 Related IL. The club played short on May 3rd, because his plane didn’t arrive until after that game was over. Since that time, he has been in the starting lineup for every game. Yepez started in right on May 4th to give the struggling Dylan Carlson a rest, and tonight will mark his 3rd straight appearance as the DH against right-handed pitching. According to the Cardinal Player Development Twitter page, Yepez is the first major league player to hit doubles in his first two career MLB plate appearances since Corey Dickerson did it in 2013. He’s also the third player in franchise history to have two extra-base hits in his debut. In 11 trips to the plate, Yepez already has 3 doubles (although two were bloop jobs), 2 singles, no walks and 3 strikeouts. This is just one of those situations where the Cards for better or worse, have decided to do something, even if it means riding the proverbial hot hand. Although it’s still a small sample size, Dickerson has only slapped a handful of singles in 52 trips to the plate, and there’s no point in having Yepez up here if the Cards are just going to sit him.
The Cards’ bench is in an odd place. They have no backup centerfielder or backup shortstop. Dickerson is the only credible backup outfield option. Knizner aside, they don’t have anyone who should even be thought about as a defensive replacement. The Cards’ bench was really structured that way from the start. Pinch-hitting is limited in the DH game to begin with, and other than bringing in Pujols against a lefty in a Dickerson DH start, who would you want to bring in to pinch-hit and for whom?
The most interesting issue going forward is not only whether Yepez will stick long term, but what will happen at shortstop. How will Edmundo Sosa be affected by COVID? And how much longer will the club stick with Paul DeJong at short? Will the club really move Edman to short and pull the trigger on Nolan Gorman, weakening the defense at two positions? The last question alone is reason enough to stay tuned with the Cards over the next several weeks.
Cabrera (L), Gallegos (R), Helsley (R), McFarland (L), Naughton (L), Pallante (R), Whitley (R), Wittgren (R), Woodford (R)
Knizner, Donovan, Dickerson, Yepez/Pujols