ST. LOUIS • With a few keystrokes last week the Cardinals tightened their 40-man roster by removing two catchers, Michael Ohlman and Alberto Rosario, and reliever Mitch Harris.
The moves are just beginning.
Difficult decisions are ahead. In the coming weeks, the Cardinals will have to move three players off the 60-day disabled list, bid farewell to as many as four free agents, and then it gets really tricky: protecting prospects. The list of minor-league players who must be protected to avoid the Rule 5 draft in December has some familiar names – including a former player of the year for the organization – and there’s not much room for them.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak has said a few times that his club is not used to having this much time in October to explore moves and make decisions. He advertised that first on his docket for the month would be organizing and reviewing and finalizing manager Mike Matheny’s coaching staff. This seemed like a good chance to take a moment and catch everybody up on the moves made – and, more importantly, the moves ahead.
After the coaches, the 40-man gets really intriguing.
Decisions on Matheny’s coaching staff could be finalized at some point this week. The Cardinals have indicated there will be some changes.
Assistant hitting coach Derrick May will not be back with the organization, Mozeliak confirmed Monday morning. The team will be looking to fill the assistant hitting coach role, though no other moves have been announced at this time. Jose Oquendo’s decision to remain in Florida as an instructor started the movement for the coaching staff. Oquendo’s spot as third-base coach was manned by Chris Maloney this past season. As part of their standard season-ending evaluations, the Cardinals had discussions with all the coaches, including pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and others, about the 2017 staff.
As far as the timing for the completion/announcement of the staff, keep in mind how Major League Baseball frowns on teams making announcements during the postseason when there are games being played. Although the American League teams are playing, Monday is an off day in the National League championship series as the Cubs and Dodgers head west.
At the moment, the Cardinals have 38 active players on their 40-man roster and four players – Jordan Walden, Seth Maness, Tyler Lyons, and Lance Lynn – on the 60-day disabled list. Walden will become a free agent when the Cardinals decline his option for 2017. Lynn will go on the 40-man roster when disabled lists vanish at the end of the season, as will Lyons. Maness is entering a second year of arbitration eligibility and the Cardinals could decide to avoid that process by non-tendering him a contract. That decision would come later.
Free agents Jerome Williams, Matt Holliday, and Brandon Moss would clear three more spots off the 40-man roster. That still doesn’t leave much room.
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Here is why it matters.
The Cardinals lost eight players in last year’s Rule 5 draft, including pitching prospect Luis Perdomo. The Colorado Rockies selected Perdomo with the fourth pick in the major-league portion of the draft and then shipped Perdomo to San Diego, where he spent the season and is now controlled by the Padres. There were members of the Cardinals’ front office that believed that Perdomo would not be able to leap from Class A to the majors, though the Padres saw it this year – a rebuilding year for them – as a chance to invest in an arm that could be valuable down the road. They accepted the bumps for the future.
And Perdomo rewarded that gamble. The righthander with the power stuff went 9-10 with a 5.71 ERA in 146 2/3 innings for the Padres. He started as a reliever and finished actually making 20 starts for the team.
The other seven players were selected in the minor-league portions of the draft, and those players are easier to control for the selecting team. Mozeliak said that while Perdomo was a surprise, his front office expected to have some forced “churn” in the minor-league portions of the draft. This year could be similar.
The Cardinals have dozens and dozens of players who are now eligible for the Rule 5 draft (not unusual), and in the midst of that group is some of their standout, young prospects.
Here are a few names to know or recognizable names you do know who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft if not added to the 40-man roster before November’s deadline:
2B Eliezer Alvarez, SS Allen Cordoba, RHP Silfredo Garcia, SS Juan Herrera, LHP Corey Littrell, RHP Chris Perry, LHP Ryan Sherriff, OF Magneuris Sierra, SS Edmundo Sosa, INF Breyvic Valera, 1B Luke Voit, OF/1B David Washington, RHP Rowan Wick, 2B Jacob Wilson, and 3B Patrick Wisdom.
Some of these players, like Jacob Wilson, have been passed over for protection before. Others are coming up for the first time. That includes several of the top prospects on that list. Mags Sierra is two seasons removed from becoming the first teenager ever to win the Cardinals’ organization player of the year award, and he asserted his place as a top prospect with his turn in Low-A Peoria this past season. The lefthanded-hitting, lefthanded-throwing center fielder hit .307/.335/.395 in 122 games for the Chiefs. He stole 31 bases and had 29 doubles.
He may be the highest ranked of the prospects above, but he didn’t have the most impressive season. That belongs to one of the middle infielders (Alvarez! see below) the Cardinals are developing.
Edmundo Sosa, Eliezer Alvarez, Allen Cordoba, and Juan Herrera reflect a stronger group of middle infielders than the Cardinals have had in recent years. The trouble is all of them now must be protected on the 40-man or they will be eligible for that Rule 5 draft.
There’s some strategy here.
They can be protected easily from the minor-league portion of the draft, and if the Cardinals do not put them on the 40-man they are making the same bet that they did with Perdomo: The infielder won’t be able to complete a full season on a major-league active roster and will be returned at some point, possibly as early as spring training. Not one of these infielders is a surefire big-leaguer. Like Sierra and Perdomo before them two of the infielders had strong years at Peoria:
Alvarez (age 22) -- .323/.404/.476, 36 2B, 59 RBI, 36 SB
Sosa (age 20) -- .268/.307/.336, 13 2B, 30 RBI, 5 SB
Herrera, 23, was the most advanced of the group, appearing in 46 games this past season at Class AA Springfield. The Cardinals acquired the gifted fielder from Cleveland back in 2013. He was blocked by a guy you may recognize, uber-talent Francisco Lindor, and the Indians wanted a lefty reliever. They got Marc Rzepczynski from the Cardinals at the trade deadline, and the Cardinals got infield prospect who, at that point, stood out from their current group.
Cordoba, 20, could be the most compelling of the group. At 20, he played this past season for the Appy League champions, Johnson City Cardinals. He went six-for-15 in the first round of the playoffs, and that punctuated a brilliant season that followed an MVP seasons in the 2015 Gulf Coast League. Cordoba hit .362/.427/.495 with a .922 OPS in 50 games for the JC-Cards. He did not hit a home run, but had more walks (21) and more stolen bases (22) than strikeouts (19).
Although the Panamanian infielder joined the Cardinals in June 2015, he’s eligible for the Rule 5 so early because he’s on his second contract.
A handful of the other players mentioned are in the Arizona Fall League. Lefty Corey Littrell, the Cardinals’ remaining spoil of the Craig/Lackey deal with Boston, has thrown four innings for a 0.00 ERA on the Glendale team in the AFL. He’s made two relief appearances and struck out one while allowing an unearned run. Rowan Wick, the repurposed catcher now speeding along as a reliever, has thrown two innings in the AFL and allowed two runs and four walks. Ryan Sherriff, a lefty who suddenly has more prominence with the injury to Zach Duke (elbow surgery), has thrown 1 2/3 innings and struck out three while allowing two runs on four hits and a walk.
(Aside: outfielder Harrison Bader, who does not need to be added to the 40-man roster this winter, is batting .462/.500/.769 through his first three games and 13 at-bats in the AFL. He is six-for-13 with a homer and four strikeouts.)
It’s not unusual for the Cardinals – or other teams, for that matter – to send a player to the Arizona Fall League to determine what to do with them on the 40-man roster. The invitation-only AFL can be a good barometer for future success and give a team a chance to determine if that player is worth protecting. It also can be a showcase for players the team wants other clubs to see for possible trades. Atlanta was encouraged by Tyrell Jenkins’ turn in the Arizona Fall League, and the Cardinals were able to include him in the deal for Jason Heyward two years ago.
There are many moves ahead.
And we didn’t even get into the opening(s) needed to pursue free agents.
I imagine we’ll tackle that later this afternoon. The Chat is Back. After a week away to recharge – hope you don’t mind – the Chat to be Named Later will return to StlToday.com this afternoon at 1 p.m. St. Louis time. All are welcome, even if there’s no way I can get to all the questions. I will try, news permitting.