Figuring Out How To Fill a COVID-Depleted Roster

The outbreak may be finally contained.  The ramifications are just now starting to take shape.

The Cardinals announced that, after sending all the positive COVID-19 cases home, no positives were shown out of the latest round of testing.  If the same thing happens tomorrow–and I would expect it would, given the time from possible infection–the Cardinals can leave Milwaukee after spending almost a week in the same hotel room and come home to St. Louis.  That may be the easy part, however.

Announced as infected are the starting catcher, the starting shortstop, one of the few backups at shortstop, the pinch-hitter/DH type, and two bullpen arms.  There was an unconfirmed report a few days ago that stated that one of the starting pitchers was also infected, which if true would be the unnamed seventh player that we know has tested positive.  The other six cases, of course, are staff members and given who is infected, I could easily imagine one of those to be the pitching coach, though that is complete speculation on my part.

As you know, Tara Wellman is my go-to source for Instagram sleuthing.  She noted today that it seemed that Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Tyler O’Neill, and Lane Thomas were still in Milwaukee, which would indicate that they are all healthy.  That was borne out by the press release sent out just a while ago.  So, if nothing else, the outfield seems to be taken care of, at least with major league starters.

That would seem to bode poorly for a Dylan Carlson callup.  With so many other areas of need right now, is it a good idea to add someone that has a lot of healthy bodies in front of him?  It’s one thing to plug in a talented rookie when the lineup is strong.  Right now, it’s decimated.  You could say they need his bat more now and that’s possibly true, but that’s putting a ton of pressure on a guy as well.

Let’s just work through this bit by bit.

Catcher–The only way Yadier Molina wasn’t catching 60 games this year, it felt like, was if something like this happened.  It delays his march to 2,000 hits and, more importantly, takes away one of the biggest assets the Cardinals have, his knowledge of the game and how to approach hitters.  I would expect, in part for the reasons we said above about Carlson, that Matt Wieters will get most of the starts over Andrew Knizner.  Assuming Molina is just out a week, which is the minimum he could be out and for anything else the minimum is a given (though the virus may have other ideas), there is only one day game after a night game.  I don’t know that Wieters plays all of those games, but he probably gets at least five of the seven starts.

Shortstop–The dropoff after Paul DeJong was always a pretty nasty one and you could make the case that, after Molina, DeJong was the most indispensable part of the team because of the hole he would leave.  If this was a normal injury situation, you’d probably see Edmundo Sosa slide in to cover most of the starts.  Unfortunately, Sosa also contracted the virus, leaving the team scrambling for other options.  The most likely scenario is Tommy Edman sliding over with either Matt Carpenter becoming the third baseman (which might be a way Carlson gets called up, if someone like Fowler is going to take the DH spot) or Max Schrock, who is already on the taxi squad–actually he IS the taxi squad, since Jake Woodford had already been activated–could be added in and take that spot.  I expect Schrock will fill one of the roster spots, but I don’t think the Cards would want to run him out there on a regular basis, even if it is just seven games or so.  I feel more comfortable that the team will take the defensive hit and put Carpenter out there for most of them.

The intriguing idea is adding Elehuris Montero to the roster for the week and giving him a little run.  He’s already on the 40-man, so you don’t have to do too much there.  The club could test him out for a few days and option him back without really causing a lot of service time issues.  Also, if he is ready to come off the IL (and I don’t know that he is), Brad Miller could work his way into this conversation.

Bench–From a game standpoint, the loss of Rangel Ravelo isn’t really that vital.  He has two at bats on the season, when he was the DH in the final game against the Pirates.  There are plenty of different folks that can get added in for this.

Assuming they are going to do a one-for-one substitution (which I don’t know that they will, but let’s assume it for now), the Cardinals will need to add four hitters to the roster, at least temporarily.  Schrock seems obvious.  I’d like to see Montero.  They won’t add another catcher, because there is no reason to bring up Ivan Herrera.  They might include Justin Williams.  I don’t think there’s another hitter on the 40-man and, in fact, they’d have to add Schrock, though they definitely have room as COVID-19 cases don’t count toward the 40 and they can make room for him when everyone returns if they need to.  So maybe they only add three hitters and fill the roster with pitchers.  So let’s look at that.

Starting pitching–Early on, when it looked like the Milwaukee series might be just delayed a game, the expected rotation of Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, and Dakota Hudson was still planned.  That means, at the least, they weren’t part of the original positive tests.  It would seem they are probably still good–the last social media sightings of the first two were before the last batch of positives were sent home, but all indications are that’s still good.  The only possible is Carlos Martinez, who was named by a reporter but if he has tested positive has not allowed that information to be released.  If he is infected–and that’s just an if–the Cards might only need to cover one start and they could do that with Austin Gomber or Jake Woodford (or, more likely, a combination of both).

Relief pitchingKodi Whitley and Junior Fernandez do leave a bit of a hole in the bullpen, but at least they aren’t considered the lynchpin of a good staff.  Whitley has looked very good in the early outings and I hate that he’s had this setback, while Fernandez has shown flashes of being solid.  So you hate to lose them, but you don’t have to try to find someone for the eighth or ninth.  If Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes are fully recovered from their own bouts with the coronavirus, they could easily come up and fill in, plus give that depth if needed for a Gomber/Woodford start.

If they only add three hitters, that means they can promote three pitchers.  I’ll say Cabrera, Reyes, and maybe, since he’s on the 40-man, Alvaro Seijas gets the call to give another arm that can cover innings.

For the fact that there were 13 cases on the team, the Cardinals really aren’t necessarily going to be knocked down as much as you would think, especially if, since many of the players are asymptomatic, they might return in about a week.  It’s not going to be fun going up against the Cubs this weekend, a Cubs team that is feeling themselves after starting 8-2 and opening a gap on the NL Central.  Not being at full strength against those guy, coupled with no games played in a week, doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.  However, most of the players that would be on the field in a regular game will be there for these games as well.

You do what you have to do in a pandemic.  Hopefully that means rising to the occasion and bringing those Chicago guys down a couple of pegs!

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