Playing the Roster Lottery

All teams compete with pretty much the same roster configuration, no matter which level of professional baseball is in the discussion. A 25-man roster typically has 12-14 pitchers to go with two catchers and then a mix of fielders to make the math work. With the final 2015 visit to American League parks, the Cardinals get the added bonus of the Designated Hitter that can help keep most of the regulars healthy. The issue at hand isn’t whether or not Stephen Piscotty belongs on the roster, as the bat will stick with opportunity.

Now the questions about playing time in St. Louis for the top prospect will begin but as Daniel pointed out earlier today, a bigger clock is the priority. The Cards do not have another day off until August 3rd, setting up the yearly roller coaster to again have a possible impact on the active clubhouse. Where as some teams look for a change to bring a spark, that’s not normally how the Birds on the Bat view the trade deadline.

When you are leading the sport with basically a 23-man roster, however, and 22 on days when the long reliever is off-limits news that Ty Kelly will most likely never get to St. Louis become a side note. More changes will have to be made to the 40-man in the very near future as Jordan Walden should be back before July 31st, but that also isn’t the concern. Where the fun starts is looking at how the Cardinals will accommodate the trio of Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia as well as Walden on the active lineup.

Mike Matheny and company are geared for October pretty much with every move, and that makes playing with a short bench all the more frustrating especially after 18 innings of fun. Never mind that Tony Cruz was MIA Sunday or that he was drafted as a 3B, because the back-up catcher under the Arch is largely an afterthought. It also needs to be mentioned that there are currently five catchers residing on the 40-man but having a third backstop on the St. Louis roster hardly would make a difference.

The lack of confidence in Greg Garcia would maybe be a bigger story on a different club, especially as Pete Kozma continues to anchor the bench with his .381 OPS. But with all that in consideration and more injured players closer to contributing, let’s turn to how the roster should look when the calendar turns to August. The dog days are compromised slightly more than usual  given that two All-Star hurlers may have an unknown innings cap getting closer with each start. Only the Cardinals’ front office knows exactly when Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez will be given breaks, but the innings crunch is a real thing.

Instead of looking at all the players who are locks to maintain their spots, it really comes down to three or four spots left up for grabs. Obviously a trade would shake things up, but that unknown is a post for another day. As it stands now, Garcia or Gonzales would slide into the fifth spot in the rotation, most likely pushing Cooney back to Memphis. There could be a modified six-man rotation as well, but off days as well as pushing back the young arms will open up plenty of opportunity for innings. That all but assures Socolovich is the odd-man out as the last guy remaining in the bullpen.

Where things get less obvious is what to do when Walden comes back, on both roster fronts. If Piscotty has taken over first base in a time share of sorts, that makes Dan Johnson an easy DFA candidate plus keeps hard-throwing Tui on the active roster. If he hasn’t been used regularly, though, a stint in Memphis would make sense before rosters expand in September. The Johnson spot could then be used for an incoming option from the left-side if a deal is struck this month or next.

One under-the-radar name in the system to keep an eye on is Jeremy Hazelbaker, who offers speed as well as left-handed pop off the bench. Sporting a cool 1.433 OPS over 15 games with Memphis, Hazelbaker provides good insurance if Mo can flip an outfielder relatively soon. Unless the wheels fall off the bullpen or an injury ‘creeps’ up, the St. Louis postseason chances will be determined by pitching. It appears to be coming right down to the wire again and oh man, what I wouldn’t give to be able to listen in on the war room ten days from now.

No matter what does or doesn’t happen between now and then, it will be fascinating to see if the Cardinals can keep playing short and winning or if anyone can find Cruz!

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