Making Room for the Cards NRIs: Outrighting

We've looked at those non-roster prospects and veteran players that have the best chance of making the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals out of spring training. Now we will consider how the club might make room for them.

In parts two and three of our report on St. Louis Cardinals 2011 non-roster invitees (NRIs), we assessed the chances of veterans and prospects currently on the outside looking in to make the leap to the major leagues to start the season. Veteran Miguel Batista is the current poster child for this group, but a rookie like Lance Lynn could also impress.

With the Cardinals' 40-man roster currently full, if more than one of these NRIs make the team, room must be made. A player must be placed on the 60-day disabled list, released or removed from the 40-man roster as a result. The latter move could still keep the player in the organization.

Last Wednesday's announcement of Adam Wainwright's elbow injury almost assuredly means he will spend the entire 2011 season on the 60-day DL. Depending on who replaces him however, another player may need to be added to the 40-man to correspond.

There is a standard way to remove a player and a less-standard, higher-risk way. The normal route would be to outright a player to the minors. There is a major risk involved as the player must first pass through outright waivers without being claimed by another organization. These waivers are not revocable, so a club that places a player on outright waivers cannot pull him back if claimed.

If a player has never been outrighted in his career and has less than three years of MLB service time is outrighted and clears waivers, he must report to the minor leagues.

Recent outrighting history

Following the 2010 season alone, six Cardinals players were outrighted - outfielder Shane Robinson (October), pitcher Adam Ottavino, outfielders Nick Stavinoha and Daryl Jones and catchers Steven Hill and Matt Pagnozzi (all in November).

Earlier in the year, Rule 5 Ben Jukich, returned to Cincinnati in March, pitcher Tyler Norrick (June), reliever Josh Kinney (July) and Evan MacLane (September) suffered the same fate, making ten of the 40 roster spots cleared in this manner during 2010.

If a player has been outrighted previously or has more than three years of service time, then he has a choice to make. The player can declare free agency right then or at the end of the season. Even if he wants to remain with the organization, he must first clear waivers.

Kinney (minor league contract with the White Sox), MacLane (Japan) and Pagnozzi (minor league contract with Colorado) all left the system for 2011.

An even more unorthodox method is to cut the player free and re-sign him to a minor league contract. This was used with Rick Ankiel in the past as a way to get him to the minor leagues after all of his option years had been exhausted.

2011 outrighting candidates

While several veteran Cardinals were once outrighted long ago, Ryan Franklin, Brian Tallet and Trever Miller, none of the players that follow with realistic risk of being outrighted in 2011 have been outrighted previously.

Again, the reasons for needing 40-man spots could include a combination of a trade, the free-agent signing of an established major leaguer and/or a number of NRIs making the club out of spring training.

The real challenge here is that as noted above, the Cardinals did considerable 40-man roster pruning last November and as such have few candidates that would seem to warrant removal.

The three are listed below in the order of their probability of being sacked, in my opinion. All three are pitchers, with two having yet to throw a single pitch in a regular-season game as a member of the Cardinals organization.

I don't see any of them at high risk at this point, though that could change over the next four weeks. That would especially be the case if no one other than Wainwright is injured enough during spring camp to move onto the 60-day disabled list and a 40-man spot is needed to accommodate a second player, infielder Ramon Vazquez along with Batista, for example.

Bryan Augenstein

There is little first-hand information about Augenstein, claimed off waivers from Arizona on October 13. Scouting reports say he never hurts himself, with one of the best sinkers in Arizona's system and reportedly throws with exceptional accuracy. In 2010, the right-hander was rated by Baseball America as the Best Control Pitcher in the Diamondbacks' organization.

Augenstein, the FutureBacks Arizona Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008, did not have a good 2010. He went a combined 6-9 with a 6.49 ERA in 25 games (22 starts) mostly with Triple-A Reno, which apparently led to Arizona putting him through waivers.

If the 24-year-old doesn't show particularly well this spring and the Cardinals need the 40-man space, it could happen again. With Augenstein having been claimed off waivers in the first place, re-exposing him this spring is hardly out of the question. After all, like the next name on the list, Maikel Cleto, Augenstein is not originally from the system and for that reason, may be viewed as being more expendable than Cardinals-drafted players of comparable talent and experience.

Maikel Cleto

At first blush, it would seem surprising to see a player recently acquired in return for a starting position player, Brendan Ryan, be removed so quickly. Then again, this kind of thing has happened before. In another dump trade a few years back, a similarly-talented reliever, Luis Perdomo, was acquired in return for Anthony Reyes only to be left exposed in the Rule 5 Draft and was lost by the Cardinals.

Though Cleto holds a 40-man spot, the 21-year-old right-hander has yet to pitch above the A-Advanced level, which is a bit unusual. He is known for throwing hard but with a lack of control. It should be too early to give up on Cleto, but he might be the type to risk trying to slip through waivers if a roster spot is needed.

Still, if for no other reason, I see this as less likely than Augenstein because of the negative fan reaction likely if Cleto was claimed. That would mean the Cardinals would end up with nothing in return for having traded a popular major leaguer in Ryan.

Fernando Salas

Honestly, I would be surprised to see Salas dropped from the 40-man, but we are seriously running short of options. Last season, he was the "eighth" bullpen member, having made the trip between St. Louis and Memphis what I believe is a record six times and performing credibly when called upon.

Despite past results, Salas could end up once again being the odd man out due to a glut of competition. This includes the addition of Batista, several starting pitchers who could be moved to relief to secure a roster spot (P.J. Walters, Ian Snell, Raul Valdes) and/or a group of younger relievers with better stuff recently added to the 40-man coming up behind him (Adam Reifer, Eduardo Sanchez, Francisco Samuel).

It would seem almost certain that Salas will cede the Memphis closing job to one of the latter group in 2011. Perhaps due to those relievers' collective emergence, the Cardinals might be more inclined to take the chance of losing Salas if left with no better alternative.

If Salas would be dropped, I could see him clearing waivers only to be re-added later when his help would be needed in St. Louis.

Earlier related articles:
"Cardinals Veteran NRI Spring History: 2005-10"
"Handicapping the 2011 Cards NRIs: Veterans"
"Handicapping the 2011 Cards NRIs: Prospects"

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