Preparing The Deck

I have been meaning to sit down and see what the roster of the Cardinals is shaping up to look like.  Who is in, who is questionable, how many spots are available.  Thankfully, if you wait long enough, someone comes around to do the work for you.  This time (and many times) it was Derrick Goold, who tweeted out his decorative first look at the 26-man roster.

Of course, this isn’t extensive.  As Ben Cerutti quickly noted, Kodi Whitley is not on this list.  I would guess it was because he has options, though Jordan Hicks is on here and he still has three options so I am at a bit of a loss.  That’s a good place to start, though, the pitching staff.

I would not be surprised if there was soon announced a temporary expansion of rosters, up to 28 through April, but let’s assume that it’ll be 26 and we’ll have the even split.  Barring injury, the starting rotation is set with Adam Wainwright, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Steven Matz, and Miles Mikolas, probably not in that order though you can almost bet that Wainwright is getting the opener now that it is at home.  That’s not completely because of the sentimentality of him starting what is scheduled to be his final season, of course, but that plays a large role.  Unless, I guess, Oli Marmol is a significantly different manager than some that have come before and I don’t see that, at least in this regard.

So you have those five pitchers.  Then you have the new guys, Drew VerHagen and Nick Wittgren, who just signed major league contracts and are out of options, so they’ll be there.  Giovanny Gallegos is obviously not going anywhere.  That brings us quickly to eight.  T.J. McFarland is returning, so there’s nine, and while Genesis Cabrera does have two more option years, he’s not going to start the year in the minors.  If an option was going to be used, it’d be after a month or two of struggling performance.  So that’s 10 of the 13.

Derrick lists Ryan Helsley and Alex Reyes in the group already solidly in place.  However, he did so before Reyes reported shoulder issues as camp opened up.  Even if it turns out to be nothing, it is enough of something to put him behind schedule in a shortened spring.  If he doesn’t start the year on the injured list, if only to help him build up stamina, I’d be very surprised.  Besides helping him, it allows the team to kick certain hard roster decisions down the road, which is something that is pretty standard for the club, not making a cut until they absolutely have to do so.  I also think that optioning Reyes to Memphis, where he could work on building up to a starter’s workload, is probably the best thing for all parties.  Until we see an improved command from him, it’s hard to trust him in any bullpen situation.  It’s worth seeing if he can at least temper his control issues with a starter’s approach.

As for Helsley, I do think he’s probably in there assuming he’s healthy and by all reports he is.  After a rough start to 2021, he found his footing but also dealt with injury and hasn’t been on a major league mound since August.  I look forward to seeing what he brings to the table and perhaps what he’s learned during this rehab time.

Assuming no Reyes but a Helsley, we’re at 11.  Derrick then has Jordan Hicks, Junior Fernandez, Jake Woodford, and Brandon Waddell, otherwise known as Patron Pitcher TNG, for the last spots.  As noted, though, that doesn’t include Whitley, who was dominant down the stretch last season, not giving up a run after his recall at the end of August.  He does have options, of course, but sending him down would seem to not give you the best possible bullpen.  Again, though, optioning him allows for decisions to be put off, so it could happen.  I still think he’s in there though.

I don’t think there’s any way Hicks starts in St. Louis this year.  He has thrown a total of 10 major league innings since he left the mound in June of 2019 against the Angels.  None of those 10 came after the first week of May last season.  If the Cardinals want to build him up as a starter, this would be a good time to option him to Springfield and let him spend some time there figuring out the process.  Even if they don’t, though, it would seem reasonable to let him pitch as a reliever in Memphis to get some game reps before throwing him back into a major league roster.

I had read that Junior Fernandez was out of options, though Roster Resource still lists him and Waddell both with one.  That’s going to be a key thing because if he’s out, it’s a battle between him and Woodford to find out who makes the team and who (likely) gets traded.  If he’s still got one, that changes the equation.  It could be that the club keeps both these guys and sends Whitley down, but I expect we’ll see some sort of trade in spring to give them another opportunity and if I was to guess, they’ll trade Fernandez.  Woodford is valuable to them as a seventh or eighth starter and a long relief option that’s important as they continue to indicate they are going to be more flexible with pitching.

That doesn’t include folks like Johan Oviedo, who will probably make another trip to Memphis to head up their starting rotation, or anyone that could make a splash in spring.  I expect the splashes to be limited, though, as the fewer number of games gives less opportunity for someone to stand out like Jordan Hicks in 2019.  The Cards have talked about wanting flexibility but right now their roster isn’t giving them a lot of it as only Helsley and Whitley would seem to be guys that could go up and down (though only five times, per the new CBA).

The Cardinals also added Zach McAllister to the mix yesterday, though he comes in on a minor league contract and it would be a surprise to see him push his way into the big leagues.  That said, having these sort of arms at Memphis can only help when bumps and problems arise.

We’ve run on long enough so we’ll come back to the hitters tomorrow, though there may be even less question about what’s going on there!

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