Making 40-man roster room for Carp and ???

When Chris Carpenter is ready to pitch, who will be removed from the roster to make room? Brian Walton breaks down that and other mid-September possibilities.

It has been a big week of hopes for the St. Louis Cardinals, and especially their suddenly-leaky rotation. The potential return of Chris Carpenter has heightened fan anticipation as the club staggers, but remains in a tight wild card race.

My interest is piqued as well. This is at least my third Carpenter-related article this week. (The others were related to his potential piggy-back starting arrangement and my thinking-out-loud, but not valid idea of a Springfield rehab start, both posted at The Cardinal Nation blog.)

This time around, I will discuss the roster options that may be facing St. Louis at the time Carpenter is activated, perhaps as soon as the Los Angeles Dodgers series next weekend. For him to be activated from the 60-day disabled list, another player must be removed from the 40-man roster.

The easy move was precluded when the last available spot on the 40-man roster was filled with the addition of Shelby Miller on Tuesday.

The alternatives now available for the Cardinals are to either outright a player or move one to the 60-day disabled list.

Starting with the latter, Rafael Furcal is the only player currently on the 15-day disabled list who would be a candidate. Moving the shortstop to the 60-day would officially end his season.

While Furcal is not expected to be able to return anyway, they said the same thing about Carpenter before. It seems unlikely the organization would want to close off the possibility of Furcal coming back - no matter how slight – until they know more about his playing condition. Furcal underwent an injection earlier this week in an attempt to return sooner and avoid elbow surgery.

Candidates for outrighting would seem to be the 40-man players currently at Memphis who were not recalled to St. Louis in September. That list of players numbers eight, but we will remove one from consideration immediately. First baseman Matt Adams is out for the rest of the season due to injury or he would be in St. Louis now.

The seven viable candidates are made up of six pitchers and one position players.

I had expected catcher Steven Hill to get the call to return to the majors in September instead of Bryan Anderson. I made that determination based on the view that the third catcher's bat is more important than his glove, along with the fact that Hill can play corner infield and outfield as well as catch. However, Anderson is out of options so the Cardinals will soon need to make a final decision on his future.

Hill has already been outrighted once, so could declare free agency on his second outright. Instead, with Anderson not likely to be back at Triple-A in 2013, the Cardinals may prefer to keep Hill's bat around. As we saw this season, Memphis suffered from a lack of proven hitting.

The potential pitchers include one starter and five relievers.

Brandon Dickson has been an anchor of the Redbirds roster for three consecutive seasons. Yet he hasn't impressed in his major league trials, including as recently as last month. Even more telling is that the right-hander was passed by for a September promotion.

With Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly all ahead of him, it is difficult to forecast a major league future as a starter with the Cardinals for Dickson. While he has been an above-average Triple-A starter, he turns 28 in November.

Left-hander John Gaub was claimed off waivers in June with the Cardinals becoming his fourth organization this season alone. The 27-year-old did not pitch well with Memphis (6.68 ERA in 32 1/3 innings).

Despite a clear need for left-handed relief help in St. Louis for much of the summer, Gaub was not given a shot. His roster spot seems most tenuous.

Fellow lefty Barret Browning, a minor league Rule 5 addition last December, did perform well for the Redbirds (1.73 ERA) before and after making his MLB debut at the end of June.

With St. Louis, he did not allow a baserunner in his first four outings, pitched ok over the next 13 appearances before yielding six earned runs in his five final appearances, totaling five innings, for an overall St. Louis ERA of 5.12. That latter stretch is almost surely why Browning is currently at home.

Though a brighter left-handed prospect, Sam Freeman, returned from the disabled list and was called up in September instead, I could see the Cardinals keeping Browning around over Gaub.

Eduardo Sanchez still has great stuff that he cannot seem to regularly harness. There is no way the Cardinals would let him walk. Same with Maikel Cleto. I thought both had a chance of getting the call this September, but their inconsistency closed that door.

Two years ago, I would have felt the same way about Adam Reifer as I do about Sanchez and Cleto now. Reifer's 2011 season was wrecked by a knee injury and while the right-hander led Memphis in appearances this season, he was not his old self. A 4.90 ERA and a significantly decreased strikeout rate were the results.

Unlike Dickson, Cleto, Sanchez, Victor Marte and even the since-waived Chuckie Fick, Reifer has never reached St. Louis. Perhaps the Cards will wait and see what Reifer brings to spring camp in 2013. On the other hand, he has been passed by so many others and the Cardinals seem to have an abundance of young hard-throwing right-handed relief alternatives.

So, there you have it.

In conclusion, here is my most likely list of roster actions to clear room for Carpenter. I considered all factors, including their age, contribution, opportunity and replace-ability.

1) Outright Gaub
2) Outright Reifer
3) Outright Dickson
4) Outright Hill
5) Outright Browning
6) Move Furcal to the 60-day DL

Oh yes, for those hoping that prized prospect Oscar Taveras would be elevated from Springfield this September once the Texas League playoffs conclude, remember that a second spot would need to be cleared on the 40-man roster for the talented outfielder.

Or perhaps it would be the first move - if Springfield is eliminated before Carpenter is ready. Bringing the Texas League Player of the Year up to try to help jump start a lagging offense certainly seems an intriguing scenario.

Here is hoping the Cardinals are willing to risk losing a John Gaub, Adam Reifer or Brandon Dickson in the name of doing whatever is reasonably possible to salvage the 2012 season.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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