Did the Cardinals Err in Losing Andrew Brown?

The St. Louis Cardinals lost a very useful player on waivers recently, Memphis outfielder Andrew Brown. It could have been averted.

This is the time of year when the minor league operations arms of Major League clubs are first focused on protecting their top eligible prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. A secondary mission is to remain vigilant regarding players under control elsewhere that might already or soon be available for the plucking.

Older, potentially less-promising players are on the other end of the action, as they may find themselves pruned from 40-man rosters to make room for the next wave of prospects.

Such was the case in October when the St. Louis Cardinals dropped outfielder-first baseman Andrew Brown from their 40-man. They may not have expected him to be claimed by the Colorado Rockies via outright waivers.

The hope of many organizations is that by waiting until the last minute to remove players, they are less likely to be claimed by another. After all, the top priority for any club is to first protect its own. October 12, when Brown was lost, was not the last minute. I will come back to the significance of that date shortly.

As the 30 organizations approached the November 18 deadline to add players to their 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection purposes, the following transaction was almost lost amid a sea of similar moves across the game.

"The Colorado Rockies outrighted first baseman-outfielder Andrew Brown to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox."

It was one of 14 successful outrights that Friday alone, while four others were also claimed. An even 100 players were added to 40-man rosters across MLB that day, including three Cardinals pitchers.

Brown cleared waivers in November, when in October, he did not. He did not play any baseball in between, so what was the difference? He was the same player at the same point in his career.

The answer is 40-man roster management.

The Rockies gambled that they could have the best of both worlds by claiming Brown and waiting until the last minute to outright him. It worked. As a result, the Cardinals lost a very productive player in a thin area for them, right-handed power hitter.

At 27 years of age, Brown is not a future Major League star, but he has value. Brown provided significant production to a Memphis Redbirds club that even with him ranked 15th of 16 Pacific Coast League clubs in most offensive categories in 2011.

With Memphis in 2011, Brown batted third, fourth, fifth and sixth for manager Chris Maloney. He hit .284, with 12 doubles, 20 home runs and 73 RBI in 428 plate appearances. The right-handed hitter was named a mid-season Pacific Coast League All-Star, the only Redbird so honored, and had a brief 11-game cup of coffee with St. Louis. Brown had been selected in the 18th round of the 2007 draft from the University of Nebraska.

The July deadline trade of Alex Castellanos to the Dodgers for Rafael Furcal took away the only logical 2012 successor to Brown seemingly ready to emerge from Double-A Springfield. (One of those 100 MLB roster additions on November 18 was Castellanos being added to Los Angeles' 40-man.)

How and why did St. Louis move ahead on Brown early?

When the Cardinals activated pitcher Lance Lynn off the 60-day disabled list to join their active roster for the National League Championship Series, a corresponding roster move had to be made. The decision was to place Brown on outright waivers, removing him from the 40-man roster, at which point the Rockies snapped him up.

Don't get me wrong. The restoration of Lynn to the roster was a smart complimentary move that contributed to the final World Championship push. My contention is that it could have been accomplished without losing Brown, however.

For example, I believe the release of unused veteran Corey Patterson would have been a wiser move, both for the short and long term. Patterson was ineffective with St. Louis (.157 BA in 56 plate appearances), was not on any of the playoff rosters and was days away from free agency, anyway. It was clear the 32-year-old had no future with the organization.

Further, when there was an injury to an outfielder in the post-season, it was rookie Adron Chambers who received the nod, not Patterson. In a dire emergency had another reserve flychaser been required, Shane Robinson could have been called to perform back up duty.

This would not have precluded the Cardinals from later outrighting Brown had they wanted to free up his 40-man roster spot prior to the Rule 5 deadline. Their odds of success of passing him through waivers unclaimed would have been far greater had he been among the 100 comparable moves across MLB on November 18 rather than standing alone on October 12.

Some observers believe that the Cardinals will have to go out into the minor league free agent market to acquire a veteran power bat to augment the players projected to make up the 2012 Memphis Redbirds outfield.

If they had just kept Brown over a few days of an inactive Patterson, that might not be necessary.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column during the season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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