The Cardinals enter the offseason with a full 40-man roster. While the deadline to finalize the 40-man is still a month away, it’s the first important date on the offseason calendar, and 40-man decisions will have implications throughout the offseason.
The Cardinals ended the season with a full 40-man roster, but four players from the 2018 roster will file for free-agency: Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams, Bud Norris, and Tyson Ross. Wainwright has already agreed to terms with the club but has to officially file for free agency before the contract can be finalized due to MLB rules, which are explained here. The club may be interested in keeping Norris, but let’s assume they don’t. The club will have 37 players on their 40-man roster once Wainwright’s contract is finalized.
There are two types of players that will be added before the November deadline: players on the 60-day DL and players who are Rule-5 eligible (rules explained here). Let’s start with the 60-Day DL.
The 60-Day DL
Dexter Fowler, Luke Gregerson, Michael Wacha, and Alex Reyes finished the season on the 60-Day. All four would have been able to be activated had the Cardinals not resigned Wainwright, but they did. Fowler, Wacha, and Reyes will have to be added to the 40-man for obvious reasons. There are certainly some who would like to see Fowler given his outright release, but given his contract situation, that’s just not realistic.
Gregerson, however, only appeared in 17 games in 2018 and had a 7.11 ERA when he did pitch. He has one year and $5.5 million remaining on his contract. DeWitt won’t like paying him not to pitch, but the 40-man roster spot has more value than Gregerson would provide in 2019. The Cardinals should release him.
The Rule 5
Now we get into the meat of the matter, and that’s the players who are Rule 5 eligible. They are Max Schrock, Ryan Helsley, Lane Thomas, Chris Chinea, Genesis Cabrera, Ryan McCarvel, Wadye Ynfante, Dennis Ortega, Junior Fernandez, Bryan Dobzanksi, and Roel Ramirez.
That’s a lot of names, and the Cardinals won’t have to protect them all. Chinea, McCarvel, and Ynfante are in no danger of being selected in the Rule 5. You can cross them off the list.
The big three are Helsley, Thomas, and Cabrera. They have to be added to the 40-man because another team would almost certainly take a chance on them in December.
Schrock, Ortega, Fernandez, Dobzanksi, and Ramirez are somewhere in the middle.
Schrock was acquired in the Stephen Piscotty trade as a contact-first second baseman. He was remarkably consistent while in the Nationals’ and A’s systems but struggled to a .249/.296/.331 slash line with Memphis. On top of his dip in production, Schrock can only play second base and he’s an average defender at best. I don’t think he would get taken in the Rule 5 and if he did Tommy Edman would provide more versatile infield depth. There’s no need to protect Schrock.
Ortega was Rule 5 eligible last season but had yet to make it past State College, so he was in no danger of being taken. Ortega is a really good defensive catcher and his arm and eagerness to throw are reminiscent of a young Yadier Molina. No matter how exciting the progress he made at the plate last year, his 99 wRC+ was still below average for the Midwest League. I don’t think they’ll need to protect Ortega and if he was selected, I think there’s a good chance he’d be returned to the Cardinals at some point during the season.
It’s possible another team could take a flier on Fernandez, Dobzanski, or Ramirez and stash them in the bullpen for an entire season.
Ramirez was acquired in the Tommy Pham trade, and I wrote about him in July. At the time he was acquired, he was having a good season in the Rays organization, but struggled with Memphis (5.06 ERA, 4.48 FIP). I wouldn’t think the Cardinals would add him to the 40-man, but last year they protected Derian Gonzalez, so…
Fernandez was someone who most evaluators expected a huge breakout from in 2018. After being shut down for most of the second half two years ago, he only threw 30 2/3 innings a year ago. That doesn’t sound like someone at risk of being taken to me.
Surprisingly, Dobzanski might be the most likely to be taken. He’s coming off a great year, having notched a 2.89 ERA in Peoria and 1.13 ERA in Palm Beach across nearly 60 innings of relief. There’s been very little written about him; I couldn’t even find anything from the great Kyle Reis. My mind keeps going back to the Derian Gonzalez situation a year ago. Nobody thought he’d be protected last year, and he was. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Cardinals felt the need to protect an extra arm, and Dobzanksi is the most likely pitcher to be selected.
Now, the tough decisions
Adding Helsley, Thomas, Cabrera, and Dobzanski (or Fernandez or Ramirez, really) would put the Cardinals at 44 players on their 40-man. Obviously too many.
There are three easy removals: Matt Bowman, Derian Gonzalez, and Tyler Webb.
That’s still more than 40 players, and realistically the club would like to have a roster spot or two in order to make acquisitions during the offseason. There’s probably still two or three players that need to be removed.
Greg Garcia should be the first to go. Yairo Muñoz and Edmundo Sosa provide depth at shortstop and Muñoz is without question the superior hitter. Garcia is entering his first arbitration year in 2019, so the club can simply non-tender him.
At last, we’re working with a legal roster that protects the Cardinals top prospects from the Rule 5.
It’s not unusual for Mozeliak to make a trade with the purpose of freeing up a 40-man roster spot (think the Aledmys Diaz trade about a year ago). I would not at all be surprised to see something involving a pitcher (Conner Greene, Mike Mayes, Giovanny Gallegos, or Chasen Shreve look like candidates) or an outfielder like JAG or Justin Williams.
In conclusion, I think the Cardinals should…
Add Fowler, Wacha, and Reyes from the 60-Day DL.
Add Helsley, Thomas, Cabrera and one of Dobzanksi, Ramirez, or Fernandez.
DFA Bowman, Gonzalez, Webb, and Gregerson.
Non-tender Greg Garcia.
Trade one or two of Greene, Mayers, Gallegos, Shreve, JAG, or Williams.
That leaves 38 players on the Cardinals 40-man. The top prospects would be protected, and the club would have two roster spots to play with throughout the offseason. They should consider Bryce Harper for one of them.
Thanks for reading.