This season didn’t go like most seasons. The Cardinals were terrible. I stopped writing here very much, with nothing after the blog anniversary. However, some things must go on and that includes the Exit Interview series! Now in its 12th year, it’s our look back at each player that made an appearance in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals. We’re approaching it a little different this season, a little more literary and a little less statistical, but hopefully you enjoy it just the same. As always, I am grateful that cardinalsgifs has agreed to use his talent for the header image!
Player: Ivan Herrera
Stats: 13 G, 44 PA, 6 R, 2 2B, 4 RBI, .297/.409/.351, 0.3 bWAR
Statcast: 7.7% barrel, 23.1% sweet spot, 109.8 max exit velocity, .349 wOBA, .342 xwOBA, 25.0% K, 11.4% BB
Being a Cardinals catching prospect has been a little bit like Westley in the Pit of Despair–you aren’t going anywhere and years of your life are being taken off. Carson Kelly had to be traded to Arizona to get a chance and it’s fair to wonder if his development was stunted waiting for a chance of semi-regular playing time behind Yadier Molina. Andrew Knizner put up some fine numbers at Springfield and Memphis before stalling out behind the legend. Herrera got caught in the Molina backlog as well and then, when there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel, the Cardinals went out and signed Willson Contreras.
Unlike the others, though, Herrera might have a chance to break through. His second run through Memphis saw him put up a .951 OPS while he was still three years younger than the rest of the league. The reports of his fielding are quite good, much better than the two backstops in front of him. The extra time cooking may have paid dividends for him that it didn’t for Kelly and Knizner, in part because he wasn’t expected to be the backup that sat on the bench for weeks at a time but played regularly for the AAA Redbirds.
Contreras’s signing, though, keeps him in this awkward position. We’ll get to Knizner later in the series but he had a season that was perfectly cromulent for a backup catcher and has the respect of the clubhouse. Contreras, obviously, isn’t going anywhere. We saw the Cards carry three catchers this past year but that was a disaster. Granted, Herrera is a far sight better than Tres Barrera, but Contreras isn’t going to regularly DH with all the other options on the team. How much playing time could Herrera really get?
St. Louis did get a bit of a reprieve when Herrera was given a fourth option year, meaning that they don’t have to necessarily make that decision before spring training. They could send Herrera back down to Memphis for a third season (and he’d still be young for the level) and see if baseball finds a way to solve the dilemma for them. The club has done a lot of can kicking, though, and it’s gotten them into the situation they are in. Herrera is the best trade chip out of the three and if the right deal comes along they could prioritize the short-term over the long-term, since stifling Herrera in Memphis might not be great for his long-term anyway.
What’s in store for 2024: For all that, it’s still most likely that Herrera comes to camp wearing the birds on the bat. If the club wants to limit Contreras behind the plate, he might get a chance to unseat Knizner. If he won’t get the playing time in the bigs, though, he’ll probably spend more time on Beale Street.