Pick your cliché. “You can never have too much depth.” “Baseball has a way of working things out.” However you want to say it, it means that the team you show up to camp with isn’t likely to be the same team you go north with. Between injuries and poor performance, that spot where you have three people for two slots always seems to be decided one way or another by circumstances beyond management’s control.
The Cards got another taste of that yesterday with the news that Harrison Bader‘s forearm strain is severe enough that he’ll start the season on the injured list. Between that and finding out that Justin Williams will indeed be granted a fourth year option, a roster that was staring down some very uncomfortable choices was now able to throw on that old comfy sweatshirt and pants and just chill a bit. Williams likely was going to make the team even without Bader’s injury had his option decision not come through. He still probably will, especially since Lane Thomas hasn’t had the greatest of outcomes lately and is also optionable, but having that option in their back pocket is a good thing, especially if Williams is scuffling a bit when Bader is ready to return (or if Thomas catches fire after the minor league season starts on May 4).
Mike Shildt has said they plan on the 13-13 split for roster construction, so the hitters right now probably look like this:
Catcher (2): Andrew Knizner, Yadier Molina
Infield (7): Nolan Arenado, Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschimdt, John Nogowski, Edmundo Sosa
Outfield (4): Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill, Austin Dean, Justin Williams
I’m thinking that the Cards would rather Thomas play regularly and so would choose Dean instead, figuring he was less wasted on the bench. Dean has also had a slightly better spring than Thomas, but it’s very slight and as we know, spring training numbers really mean nothing (until they do). There’s also the battle between Jose Rondon (hey, spelled it right for once) and Sosa. Viva El Birdos has a piece up on that, Bernie Mikalsz wrote about it yesterday as well. While Rondon is having the better spring, he’s also got more of an MLB track record that indicates this is not quite what we should expect from him. Given the fact that they can put him in the minors (he signed a minor league contract) and can’t with Sosa, I feel like that’s the way this is going to shake out. If you want to look at the human side of it, Sosa just became a father right after camp started. It’d be a bit heartless to cut him right after that!
Bader is going to get an injection of platelet-rich plasma, a treatment that has a less-than-spotless track record. (Allen will go into this more on this week’s Meet Me at Musial, I expect.) At best, it’s looking like four to six weeks. Given that he couldn’t even do any minor league rehab games until May 4, it would seem likely we’re looking at a few days after that before his return if everything goes perfectly. Baseball doesn’t necessarily tend to do that, unless you are Albert Pujols or Yadier Molina recovering from a season-ending injury in two weeks. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for Williams and Thomas (if he goes north or Williams falters) to make their case. If everyone is clicking when Bader returns, he might find himself on the bench for a little bit. Of course, if they aren’t, there’s going to be some pressure put on him when he does return to get up to speed quickly.
Apparently Kwang Hyun Kim will be ready for the start of the season, though he’s not going to be able to go deep into games for a bit as he builds up the strength he wasn’t able to accumulate while dealing with his back trouble. There’s also the concern he only threw three innings (well, credited with three, I’m pretty sure one of those was cut short in those early spring training rules) and gave up 10 hits and eight runs. Some of that can definitely be tied to the back, but it would have been nice to see him get a chance to mitigate those early results and let people breathe a little easier. I know he’s not starting tonight, but perhaps he can get into one of the few games remaining before the season begins.
Assuming his health, the 13 pitchers may look like this:
Starters (5): Jack Flaherty, John Gant, Kim, Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright
Bullpen (8): Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Jordan Hicks, Andrew Miller, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Alex Reyes, Tyler Webb, Kodi Whitley
I think Whitley gets the nod over Genesis Cabrera and Jake Woodford because those two are going to be the starting rotation depth at Memphis. Given the whole premise of this article, obviously some of that depth is going to be needed. Ponce is an option, of course, but he’s out of options and so will have to try to stay available from the major league pen.
Miles Mikolas (who also had a PRP injection at some point in all of this) is expected to “seriously ramp up” while at the alternate site in April. No matter how much work he does across the river with the rest of the depth pool, I can’t imagine it would be the equivalent of facing competitive batters. In my mind, he’s going to have to make at least a couple of starts at the minor league level before coming to St. Louis, which would put him at mid-May at the earliest. The Cardinals are going to have to hope that their depth is enough to get by. We’ll see if it is!