Filling out the Cardinals roster out of camp

How might the St. Louis Cardinals use the final open spot on their 40-man roster?

With the recent decision by the St. Louis Cardinals to place injured pitcher Chris Carpenter onto the 60-day disabled list, a spot was opened up on its 40-man roster. With a 25-man opening day roster that is pretty well defined already, there seems to be no apparent immediate use for that roster spot.

(To clarify, a player cannot be placed on the 25-man active roster unless he is first on the 40-man. Those 40-man players not on the 25-man to open the season are typically optioned out to the minor leagues.)

The current clarity could become muddied during March, however. Here, we will look into one of four ways that roster spot could be filled if the Cardinals need it – trade, free agent signing, waiver claim or non-roster invitee.

A trade

A pre-season trade is unlikely, but not impossible. For example, the club has an identified risk in the middle infield. If the Cardinals gave up minor leaguers in return for a major leaguer, they could need the roster spot immediately.

One of the Cardinals' most-famous, but not only, spring trades was the March 23, 2000 acquisition of Jim Edmonds from the then-Anaheim Angels.

A signing

The hope of some is that a free agent - specifically pitcher Kyle Lohse - would be signed. While that particular player returning is still very unlikely, another injury to the rotation could create a need that might be filled by a free agent signing.

A waiver claim

Sometimes as spring training ends, a club will have a good, younger player who is out of minor league options. If that player did not make his team's 25-man roster, before being able to send him to the minors, his club would have to pass him through waivers. That would open him up to be claimed by another organization that has room for him.

An NRI makes the team

A player already in house could always create his own promotion through strong play in spring training camp. Though there are already 40-man players seemingly ready to step into any potential opening, there are also 17 non-roster players in major league camp. It would take a series of events to open the door for any of them, but their chances are non-zero.

Wong is among the NRIs
For any of the non-roster invitees (NRIs) to make the 25-man opening day roster means they must also be added to the 40-man.

While it is futile to try to name possible trade, free agent or waiver claim targets at this point, we can handicap the chances of the various NRIs to come north with St. Louis.

Of course, a new injury could change these odds in an instant, but as things are, the table below reflects my view of the players' chances of making the team out of camp based on their own merits – without significant "help" from others.

As Mike Matheny points out, every one of the 57 players has a chance to make the team or they would not be in camp in the first place. However, some have significantly better chances than others. In this case, it is a relative statement, as none of the NRIs has even a 25 percent chance of opening the season in the majors, in my opinion.

The NRIs in the table below are listed alphabetically within position grouping. I assign each NRI a chance of making the team from 20 percent down to one percent or less. If you prefer, simply look at the levels as tiers, rather than percentages.

NRIs (17) 20% 10% 5% 2% <1%
Pitchers (6)       Browning (L)  
      Gast (L)    
        Lyons (L)  
        Maness  
          Martinez
      Wacha    
           
Catchers (6)         Ehrlich
    Johnson      
          Montero
        Perez  
        Stanley  
      Towles    
           
Infielders (3)       G Garcia  
          Rodriguez
    Wong      
           
Outfielders (2) Christian        
    Taveras      

Lefty Gast
The pitchers

Starting with the pitchers, there would need to be an avalanche of injuries or an epidemic of bad pitching for any of these guys to make the team. There are simply too many proven hurlers ahead of them. That does not mean some of them do not have considerable potential, but the timing is not yet right.

Among them, Michael Wacha is working on shortening his future time to the bigs while John Gast is in the best position to try to make a move ahead of 40-man player Sam Freeman and become the first left-hander called upon when an opening occurs in St. Louis.

Another lefty, Tyler Lyons, could use more Memphis seasoning while Barret Browning was removed from the 40-man last fall. That doesn't mean the left-hander could not earn his way back on, but these others are poised to pass him by.

The reigning organizational Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Seth Maness, has yet to pitch above Memphis. Same for Carlos Martinez, whose tiny chance of making the team has almost certainly been snuffed out by his visa problem.

The catchers

Of the two major league veterans brought in to compete with Tony Cruz behind Yadier Molina, Rob Johnson seems to be in the lead, as measured by early-camp playing time, at least. J.R. Towles appears next in the pecking order. I still put Cruz' chances of keeping his job at 80 percent.

I gave Audry Perez and Cody Stanley two percent odds each since they have played at a higher level than short-season players Jesus Montero and Adam Ehrlich. The honest reality is that none of the four of them have a legitimate chance right now.

The infielders

Hopefully, my earlier dissertation on service time has made it clear why the Cardinals have a high level of motivation to wait to start the service time clock on Kolten Wong. Even so, if the second baseman plays really well in Florida and Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma all play very badly, there is a chance. I called it 10 percent now, but it could increase dramatically during the season.

Greg Garcia is in his first camp and will need more time to become a serious competitor. Starlin Rodriguez should be looking forward to his first action at Double-A.

Christian has a shot
The outfielders

Among this group of NRIs, I give my highest score, 20 percent, to Justin Christian. The MLB veteran has a decent bat and good speed, though batting left-handed is a disadvantage given his best shot is to back up Jon Jay, also a lefty.

Still, Christian's chances are not great. In the three-way battle for the reserve centerfield spot, I would give incumbent Shane Robinson a 50 percent chance to win the job back with 40-man player Adron Chambers at 20 percent.

That leaves Oscar Taveras. The 20-year-old may have the highest ceiling of the 17 NRIs, but he should and almost certainly will open the season at Memphis. Plus, unlike Wong, he has the additional handicap of having no open starting job for which to compete. Further, see the Wong discussion above regarding service time.

All told, giving Oscar 10 percent in the reserve outfielder derby is more a nod to his tremendous talent and potential than it is a realistic opportunity for him to make the team coming out of camp.

In summary

So there you have it. As of now, I do not see any non-roster invitees making the team out of spring training camp. The other potential methods of using that remaining 40-man roster spot also seem like long shots at this point. However, as already noted, seemingly logical assumptions can go out the window at a moment's notice.

As we get further into the season, prospects like Wacha, Wong and Taveras will further demonstrate their readiness. When roster needs eventually open up in St. Louis, that one 40-man roster spot will probably not be enough.



To see the Cardinals entire 40-man roster and 17 non-roster spring training invitees, check out the Roster Matrix at The Cardinal Nation blog.



As I know the topics of rosters, options, service time, arbitration and the like can be confusing, feel free to post questions and join in the discussion at The Cardinal Nation's insiders message board. This forum is exclusively for subscribers, so please take advantage.



Link to related articles
"Cards organization has all the options in ‘13"
"Will the man keep Miller, Taveras and Wong down?"



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

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