ST. LOUIS — When baseball halted spring training and delayed the start of the regular season a week ago, the Cardinals were in the process making cuts from their spring training roster. The uncertainty of the next 12 hours, let alone 24 or 48 hours put a pause on the transactions until the Cardinals received direction from Major League Baseball.
Some of the planned moves went through Thursday.
As Major League Baseball formalized a stimulus package for minor-league players — one the Cardinals had already announced they would do — the Cardinals optioned four players from a major-league camp that isn't happening. The team sent shortstop Edmundo Sosa, outfielders Austin Dean and Justin Williams, and pitcher Jacob Woodford to the Class AAA Memphis roster.
For Sosa, this is the last year he can be optioned to the minors. A year from now he has to make the team or be placed on waivers, available to the other 29 teams.
Contacted about the timing of the moves, John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, referenced how this past Friday was the team's original cut date and the moves were made "to be organized for any unknowns." Since baseball shuttered spring training, more than 20 players have been optioned by teams, and Milwaukee had four players optioned Wednesday. Cleveland the Cardinals were two teams who made rosters moves Thursday.
On Tuesday, the Cardinals announced that they would pay the per diems for all minor-league players to them as a cash infusion during the coronavirus global pandemic, a time of potential financial hardship for seasonal employees like minor-leaguers.
Major League Baseball followed Thursday afternoon with details on that plan, which will be followed by all 30 member clubs. Minor-league players who are not already receiving assistance from teams will receive, in one lump payment, their per diems through the end of minor-league spring training, on April 9th. Major-league and minor-league players are not paid salaries during spring training and most of the meals are covered and prepared by the team, but minor-league players do receive $25 per day for food and expenses, and that is at last the money they'll receive.
Baseball America reported that the total allowances paid minor-league baseball players will be $400 a week, or $57.11 a day. That's the base defined by Major League Baseball, and teams are allowed to add to that.
This covers all players who are on a minor-league standard player contract, with a few exceptions outlined by MLB.
An official release from MLB suggested, like the Cardinals did on Thursday, that the initial payment of per diems was the start of support for minor-league players. Like major-league players, they won't be paid as a result of the delayed season. How the 30 clubs and the commissioner handle compensation for players on the 40-man roster is still be negotiated with the union.
The commissioner's office is working with owners "to identify ways to blunt the wide-ranging impact of the national emergency," a release stated.
The Cardinals' moves Thursday give some hint of what they planned to do with the roster headed toward next week's originally scheduled opening day. Edmundo Sosa, a gifted fielder, had made his case to be on the big-league bench as a backup to Paul DeJong at shortstop, and Sosa had made considerably strides offensively over the winter. In 16 spring games, he hit .231/.279/.436 with two homers and proved deft at third, shortstop, and second, as expected.
Sosa had to overcome Tommy Edman and free-agent addition Brad Miller for the job, and with Miller's return from a sore back and Edman's assertive spring and reliable play at shortstop the Cardinals had their answer. Sosa is likely set to be the starter at shortstop in Memphis and DeJong's de facto backup during a longterm absence.
While most players get three option years, Sosa qualified for a fourth one, and this is it. He can be brought back and forth from the minors as much as the Cardinals see fit during the season, whenever it begins.
Dean, 26, was acquired by the Cardinals from Miami this offseason, and he was advertised as a possible replacement for Jose Martinez's role off the bench. In 18 games, Dean was one of the most active players for the Cardinals this spring in terms of at-bats and appearances. He hit .250/.368/.563 and had two homers to go with his 38 plate appearances. Outfielder Justin Williams, one of the few lefthanded hitters the Cardinals have on the outfield depth chart, hit .143/.226/.393 with two homers in 16 games. The Cardinals urged Williams to be more assertive with his play in the outfield, where his athleticism should be an asset.
Pitcher Jacob Woodford, added to the 40-man roster this past fall to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, got six innings of work in spring and struck out five while allowing a 4.50 ERA on six hits and two walks. Woodford will be part of Memphis' starting rotation. He was already having his innings pinched by the competition for the major-league roster going on all around him.
The Cardinals' transactions only covered players on the 40-man roster. Prospects Dylan Carlson, Zack Thompson, Nolan Gorman, and Matthew Liberatore all technically remain on the major-league roster for spring training because they are non-roster invites and do not have to be optioned off the roster to return to the minors. They only have to be assigned.
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