Cardinals: Sorting Through the 40-Man Roster

This week, the 2019 season will reach it’s official end as the Astros and Nationals close out the World Series. I’m ready, as the 2019-20 offseason begins one day later.

The offseason moves in stages, with various deadlines, GM Meetings, the Winter Meetings, (locally) the Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up, and so on.

The first phase of the offseason, though, is the sorting of the 40-man roster.

The obvious place to start is by presenting the 40-man roster, as it stands today.

John Brebbia Jack Flaherty Matt Carpenter Randy Arozarena Joe Hudson Jordan Hicks
Genesis Cabrera Austin Gomber Paul DeJong Harrison Bader Andrew Knizner Brett Cecil
Junior Fernandez Dakota Hudson Tommy Edman Dexter Fowler Yadier Molina Lane Thomas
Giovanny Gallegos Carlos Martinez Paul Goldschmidt Adolis Garcia Matt Wieters Tony Cingrani
John Gant Miles Mikolas Yairo Munoz Jose Martinez
Ryan Helsley Daniel Ponce de Leon Rangel Ravelo Tyler O'Neill
Dominic Leone Alex Reyes Edmundo Sosa Marcell Ozuna
Mike Mayers Michael Wacha Ramon Urias Justin Williams
Andrew Miller Adam Wainwright Kolten Wong
Tyler Webb

Free Agents / Injured List

A couple major roster happenings occur 1 day after the conclusion of the World Series, eligible players become free agents and injured players on the 60-Day IL must be placed back on the 40-man roster.

For the Cardinals, they do not face an immediate numbers crunch and will gain an open roster spot in the short-term.

Leaving Roster as FA Returning from IL
Michael Wacha Jordan Hicks
Matt Wieters Brett Cecil
Adam Wainwright Lane Thomas
Marcell Ozuna

Note: The Cardinals also have Tony Cingrani (acquired in the Gyorko trade) who is both a free agent and currently on the 60-day IL, so he has no bearing on the roster.

Analyzing this portion of the roster churn, we’ll start with the injured players returning to the roster. Both Hicks and Thomas are obviously player that you want around.

Brett Cecil…well the Cardinals will be — mercifully — reaching the final year of his 4-year contract. Because they have stashed him away for this long, I’m confident that they will roster him through the winter and see what Spring Training holds. If he is healthy and effective, then they may get some on-field value out of the money that they are paying him. If he is still lost, then the end of Spring Training 2020 will be the end of the Brett Cecil era in St. Louis.

On to the free agents.

Following the World Series the Cardinals have 5 days of exclusive negotiation with their own free agents. They also have these 5 days to tender a qualifying offer to any of those free agents.

I would say, with near certainty, that Michael Wacha and Matt Wieters will both be signing elsewhere this winter. Adam Wainwright controls his own fate. If he desires to keep pitching, the Cardinals will accommodate him — and his 2018 performance is worthy of being brought back.

For the sake of this exercise, we’ll say Wainwright comes back and puts the 40-man at capacity at the end of the 5-day exclusive window.

Then there is Marcell Ozuna. The Cardinals will very likely give him a Qualifying Offer, which either nets them a 1-year deal with him or earns them a draft pick when he signs elsewhere. Marcell has 10 days to determine whether or not he accepts the QO or declines and moves into free agency with draft pick attached to him.

I’m of the mind that Ozuna might very well take the Qualifying Offer, as 1) he has not been shy about his desire to stay, 2) he fired Scott Boras — famous for long hold outs — in favor of Yadier Molina’s representatives, 3) the money is not likely to be much different between the QO and year-1 of any free agent contract, 4) taking the QO sheds him of the draft pick penalty when re-entering free agency a year later. We have seen how much that draft pick can hurt the free agency of any player, especially an non-elite type, like Ozuna. For the sake of this exercise, we’ll say he takes the offer (or just returns on a new contract) and thus forces someone off the roster.

Saying that Waino and Ozuna are coming back is not a prediction, but mostly conservative accounting. I could go without names and simply say that, conservatively, we should estimate that 2 of the 4 free agents will return and thus we have a situation where 2 players leave the roster and 3 injured players return. With names or with cold numbers, that leaves the team needing to make a cut.

The easiest decision is to release backup catcher Joe Hudson from the 40-man. Sorry Joe, they’ll probably offer you a minor league deal sometime soon.

The roster is now at an even 40 players, and we have reached mid-November.

Rule 5 Protection, Non-Tender, and Cuts

The next deadline is that any minor league players that are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft have to be added to the 40-Man roster (protected) by the time of the GM Meetings on November 19th.

Essentially, Rule 5 eligibility is based on a players age when they were drafted or signed internationally. This year, in general, players drafted out of college in 2016 or out of high school in 2015 will become eligible. International players signed in 2015 (if 18 or under at the time) will be eligible.

Here is the rough list of players that are eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft:

Jake Woodford, RHP
Elehuris Montero, 3B
Alvaro Seijas, RHP
Connor Jones, RHP
Max Schrock, 2B
Julio Rodriguez, C
Johan Oviedo, RHP
Angel Rondon, RHP
Conner Capel, OF (drafted out of High School in 2016, but was 19 at time of draft)
Leandro Cedeno, OF
Brady Whalen, 1B

There are others in the system that are eligible, but these are the most notable names, based on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 and Kyle Reis’ Dirty 35.

Of these, I highlight 6 that I think the Cardinals will choose to protect, which is a pretty hefty number.

First is Jake Woodford, who is the highest rated starting pitcher in the system yet to reach the majors.

Next is Elehuris Montero, only a year removed from being the Midwest League MVP during his age 19/20 season. He was injured for a large portion of 2019 and didn’t find the success. But his bat is worth protecting.

Angel Rondon had a very good season and is likely in the Memphis rotation next season.

Alvaro Seijas is ticket for Springfield after a strong turn at Peoria and Palm Beach. You wouldn’t think that you have to protect a pitcher that spent last year at Single-A, but the Cardinals have had those types stolen before and are unlikely to chance it.

Finally, is Connor Jones. The numbers aren’t great for Jones, but he has progressed all the way to AAA and his proximity to the majors likely gets him protected on the 40-man as he can come to Spring Training as a middle relief option.

That leaves Brady Whalen, Conner Capel, Leandro Cedeno, and Julio Rodriguez as players I just don’t see other teams giving a 25-man roster spot to.

Max Schrock and Johan Oviedo are the guys the Cardinals might lose. They elected not to protect Schrock after a bad 2018 and he survived. They will likely leave him exposed again (the Patrick Wisdom treatment) despite a bounceback year. This has everything to do with Tommy Edman bypassing him and other infielders on the 40-man having more versatility. Oviedo was invested heavily in as an international signing and although his numbers haven’t been great, his raw ability is the kind that a rebuilding team might try to swipe.

So we need to clear five roster spots. Four of those are pitchers.

Arbitration Eligible

As we look for players that are at risk of being cut, one place to start is with players eligible for arbitration that could be non-tendered. This season, the Cardinals have just 2 such players: John Gant and Dominic Leone.

Gant has probably earned another round, whereas Leone has not and likely becomes a casualty of the roster crunch. He has shown flashes over the last two years, but not enough consistency to pay upwards of $1M for in 2020.

That’s 1 spot.


Staying in the bullpen, the next player that would seem to be on the chopping block is Mike Mayers. Mayers has never really been a standout and the 97-98mph fastball that he showed in 2018 was non-existent in 2019, as he averaged a hair under 95mph. Almost everyone throws 95 these days. He was waived once in 2018 and would likely clear waivers again and stay in the organization. His lack of options hurts him, and he shouldn’t be clogging a roster spot.

That’s 2.

The next player I see as an obvious cut is Edmundo Sosa. He sits no better than 4th on the depth chart for 2B or SS and will go into 2020 with no minor league options. I’m not going to overthink this one.

That’s 3.

Things get trickier from here.

If the Cardinals need to clear 3 more roster spots via cuts, they would come from the pool of Rangel Ravelo, Ramon Urias, Adolis Garcia, and Justin Williams. All retain minor league options. All have something in their favor. Ravelo gained traction as a pinch hitter, Urias is the only non-MLB infield depth, Garcia launched 32 HR’s at Memphis, and Williams hit .296 with a .372 OBP between AA & AAA last year, while being the only LH hitting OF besides Fowler on the 40-man.

It’s hard to see 3 of those players being cut. Rather than make a decision, I’ll just say that 1 of the 4 gets cut and 1 more gets traded for a low-level minor leaguer.

That brings us to 5 open spots for the Rule 5 eligible players.

Wrapping Up

This is long and boring enough, so I’ll bring it to a close.

Depending on the decisions of the team, Adam Wainwright, and Marcell Ozuna, this may not be as complicated as I laid out. But this is all conservative estimation.

The Cardinals really need to explore a few low-end trades to clean up the OF and relief pitching ranks, as they could potentially have 9 OF’s and 17 pitchers that aren’t projected to be in the MLB starting rotation (so 22 pitchers overall). That can be thinned, and will need to be if they intend to acquire anyone from outside the organization this winter. Who that outside player is would likely determine who the collateral roster casualty is.

And I haven’t even mentioned Dylan Carlson, who comes in to Spring Training after a Texas League MVP campaign and continued success at AAA to finish the year. He is not eligible for the Rule 5 and therefore can be left off of the 40-man roster until the time comes to promote him to the majors, which would be the end of Spring Training at the earliest.

The Cardinals have a bit of a messy 40-man with a lot of redundancy that needs to be cleaned up. Over the next three weeks, we’ll see how they choose to do so.

Thanks for reading.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference and BrooksBaseball for stats, and MLB Pipeline and Birds on the Black for prospect rankings and signing/draft years.

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