Finding The Team In The Clay

Sometimes you’ll hear sculptors talk about looking at a block of wood or marble or clay and try to “free the sculpture within.”  They insist it’s not what they want, necessarily, but what is inside the material.  Which, personally, sounds like a lot of artsy mumbo-jumbo to me, but whatever.

It seems now that the Cardinals are getting a much clearer sense of what the team looks like in the clay of the spring roster.  Players are getting demoted to minor league camp or moved off the 40-man roster while major decisions are finally being made.  Only 35 players remain in major league camp, so the outlines of the 2014 Cardinals are getting clearly defined.

The most stark line of delineation may have come Sunday when Joe Kelly not only took a no-hitter into the sixth (settle down, it was the Astros) but also was named the fifth starter by Mike Matheny, ending the competition Kelly and Carlos Martinez had going.  Kelly had a good spring, though probably not to the level Martinez had, but other factors played into the decision as well, most notably the idea the mindtrust had more confidence in Martinez being a reliever than Kelly.

Which is a very interesting factor, when you think about it.  Now, don’t take this as disagreeing with the decision that was made, because as you know I’ve argued for Kelly over Martinez given Martinez’s lack of inning history.  However, if you know that you are more confident with Martinez in the pen than Kelly, why wait this long to make the decision?  What could Martinez have done to actually win the spot?

I mean, I guess if Kelly had fallen completely on his face, maybe they’d have revisited this idea, but after a few starts, that was pretty clearly not going to happen.  As Martinez threw better outing after better outing, it makes it harder to make this call, doesn’t it?

Now, to be fair, even Matheny has said that Martinez may well not finish the year in the bullpen and probably will be a starter at some time.  It could be quite reasonable for him to go to Memphis when Jason Motte is ready to take over that eighth inning spot to start getting him ready to be a starter.  Then again, someone may have stumbled in the rotation or John Mozeliak could pull a trigger on a trade.  Lots of different ways to get Martinez into the rotation and I hope that it happens at some point.  Having him in the bullpen seems to be a bit of a waste of his talent, no matter how dominant he might make the eighth.

That’s the other side of the equation.  If Martinez starts being this lights-out setup man, can Jason Motte get that spot back?  Or does he wind up going to the seventh and you have this flamethrowing dragon at the end of games with Motte, Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal?  Imagine being a pinch-hitter against one of those guys!  There’s no doubt that is an intriguing option as well.

There were other moves being made that seem to foreshadow the club’s thinking in the bullpen.  Sam Freeman, who threw well in the spring though not always in control, was optioned down to Memphis and Angel Castro was outrighted off the 40-man roster.  That means there’s room on the 40-man now for Pat Neshek, who will most likely formally get the spot right before the season starts to hedge against any injury.  There’s still a spot in the bullpen with Keith Butler, Scott McGregor and Jorge Rondon competing, but that’s really kinda a moot point because the winner likely will be heading down I-55 whenever Motte gets his final clearance.  I feel like Rondon has the inside track unless they want to go with someone they know a little better in Butler.

There’s about as much mystery on the offensive side of things as the pitching side, as probably only one spot is up for grabs.  Up for grabs may be overstating it, because it seems pretty likely that Daniel Descalso will wind up with the last spot.  They’d have to make another 40-man move for Stephen Piscotty to get the nod, which means that Joey Butler probably would have been outrighted instead of just demoted to Memphis this weekend.  Randal Grichuk is on the 40-man, but he’s not going to jump Piscotty and Oscar Taveras.  Ed Easley is just hanging around to make sure Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz don’t get overworked.  Scott Moore and Xavier Scruggs are also not on the 40-man and it seems unlikely the club would go through hoops to get any of them on there.

That means it’s down to Descalso, Pete Kozma and Shane Robinson.  The Cards are already taking four outfielders, with the idea that Jon Jay could play pretty much any of the spots as a backup guy.  Would they want a fifth outfielder over a sixth infielder?  They’ve not had a chance to see Mark Ellis play anywhere but second yet, and while they figure he can handle it, they might prefer Dirty Dan given what they know of him.

Of course, Kozma has played some third this spring as well and they might figure that the glove is worth the nonexistent bat when he doesn’t have to start every day.  Then again, Descalso is getting paid about double what Kozma is, so if it comes to a tiebreaker, that could be a powerful one.

We also got a chance to see Aledmys Diaz play in a couple of big league games this weekend before he was optioned down to Springfield.  The kid handled himself fairly well in the small sample size, getting three hits and (as far as I know) not mishandling anything in the field.  Not sure how much he got hit to him, as nothing came his way the little I saw of him on the TV screen.  AA always seemed the most likely spot for him (well, after the initial hype when it surfaced the Cards were looking at him) and I hope to get a chance to see him in person later next month.

Oh, yeah, they played a game yesterday as well.  Besides Kelly running a no-hitter into the sixth, a triple dose of homers from Matt Adams, Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta helped seal the deal against the Astros.  Even though the competition might not have been to the highest level (and it’s strange to think that we’ll see the ‘Stros until next spring), it was good to see a productive afternoon out of a lineup that will likely be what we see a majority of the time this season in St. Louis.  The Cards also evened up their spring record, which was nice to see given the fact they were at one time 2-7-2.  They are starting to roll at the right time.

Very, very busy day here at the blog.  Here’s your schedule–bookmark it and keep coming back for all the excitement!

8 AM: The Arch Regional Semifinals kicks off today’s Favorite Living Cardinal tournament.
10 AM: The second of our Sweet 16 posts, this time the Ballpark Village Regional Semis.
11 AM: We start our week-long UCB March project with our American League predictions.
12 PM: The Champions Regional Semifinals take the stage.
1 PM: Our last week of Playing Pepper begins as the focus turns to the Tampa Bay Rays.
2 PM: Our last FLC matchups of the day, this time in the Diamond Region.

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