Cards 40-man roster players at potential risk

One man's assessment of how the St. Louis Cardinals may decide to trim their roster later this fall.

Despite their 40-man roster currently being full, the St. Louis Cardinals need not be in a hurry to make any adjustments. In addition to the 40, four players currently on the 60-day disabled list do not count against the total – Chris Carpenter, Jason Motte, Jaime Garcia and Rafael Furcal.

After the World Series, the 60-day DL goes away for the winter, but the total will drop as several Cardinals are granted free agency, including the aforementioned Carpenter and Furcal.

The organization will be looking to add several prospects to the 40-man to protect them from December's Rule 5 draft. My projections related to this will be the subject of a later article.

For example, last fall, the Cardinals added pitchers Jorge Rondon, Michael Blazek, Keith Butler, Eric Fornataro, and Kevin Siegrist to the 40-man. Three of the five went on to pitch in St. Louis this season.

The bottom line is that there will be many puts and takes affecting the 40-man in the upcoming months. Along with free agency reducing the number of players, there is the potential of others being removed from the 40-man.

These decisions will not be made lightly or done in a vacuum. After all, every player on the 40-man was put there for a reason – the expectation he could produce as a major leaguer. The organization will almost certainly sit down and carefully plan out its moves for the off-season – both in terms of potential additions and subtractions.

Outrighting a player – removing him from the 40-man - has its risks. He could be taken by another organization off waivers or in some cases, depending on his service time and prior outrights, the player could declare free agency.

Because of all the variables, it is impossible to guess the number of roster spots the Cardinals will choose to free up this fall. Instead, the focus of this article is to prioritize those who may be most likely to be removed. Based on how many roster spots might be needed, one could draw the line wherever appropriate.

I want to be clear that what follows is my personal opinion and is not based on discussions with Cardinals organization officials.

The most logical and telling data point we have in this exercise is the organization's behavior in September, when rosters expand from 25 to a theoretical maximum of 40.

Specifically, the Cardinals chose to call up seven players, including a first-timer on the 40-man, catcher Audry Perez. The other six are pitchers Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons, infielders Ryan Jackson and Brock Peterson and outfielder Adron Chambers. In addition, relievers Fernando Salas (August 27) and Sam Freeman (August 29) were recalled from Memphis in the days just before rosters expanded.

Since the regular season is still underway, those nine are immediately safe. Of them, Peterson and Chambers would be most at-risk later this fall, in my opinion. More on the two below.

Now, let's add into the mix the five 40-man players that did not get a September call to St. Louis. Four are pitchers with just one a position player. By definition, all might appear to be on the bubble, though in some cases, the Cardinals may have simply decided to draw the line on the extra players they have traveling with the big-league club in September.

Here is how I score the seven in terms of risk of being removed from the 40-man.

High risk Pos Added Age
Victor Marte RHR April 2012 33 in Nov.
       
Moderate risk      
Jermaine Curtis 2B/3B April 2013 26
Brock Peterson 1B July 2013 30 in Nov.
Jorge Rondon  RHR November 2012 25
       
Some risk      
Adron Chambers OF November 2010 27 in Oct.
Keith Butler RHR November 2012 24
Eric Fornataro RHP November 2012 25

High risk

Turning 33 years of age later this fall, right-hander Victor Marte joined the Cardinals organization in April 2011 via trade from Kansas City. He moved onto the 40-man one day into the 2012 campaign when reliever Scott Linebrink was injured. Though Marte was placed on Memphis' disabled list during the final week of this season, I don't think he would have been recalled, anyway.

On one hand, Marte has been a good solider in his three years with Memphis – earning the all-time Redbirds lead for games saved. On the other hand, his reliability suffered this season and he has never proven he belongs in the majors. Further, the Cardinals used Marte's final option year in 2013. If removed from the 40-man, Marte could declare free agency. My guess is that is what will occur.

Moderate risk

Infielder Jermaine Curtis stands out on this list as the only 40-man position player not recalled in September. Though the 26-year-old was just added to the roster in April, he had little time to do anything with the Cardinals and posted a good-but-not-great season with Memphis. The organization could decide to wait or use his spot on teammate Greg Garcia instead, for example.

Peterson's 11-year struggle to reach the majors was a feel-good story this summer. Yet the soon-to-be 30-year-old journeyman has yet to make an impact in the majors and has just two weeks to show enough to compete for a spot the post-season roster. Peterson had a great 2013 for Memphis and could contribute there again, but it is difficult to foresee an MLB future ahead.

Rondon was added to the 40-man last fall to avert minor league free agency. The 25-year-old seems to have done little this season to change his reputation as having an upper 90's fastball with questionable control. Rondon has yet to make his major league debut and there was nothing in his 2013 results to indicate it was warranted. Specifically, his 42/37 strikeout to walk count in 67 2/3 Memphis innings indicates more progress must be seen. His stay on the 40-man will depend on the organization's view of remaining runway ahead.

Some risk

I actually think Chambers' roster spot is at considerable risk prior to next season, but the 26-year-old is listed as "some risk" here simply because of timing. By the end of 2014 spring training, Chambers' lack of remaining options will force a firm decision on his future. With a projected glut of outfield options both at St. Louis (especially if Carlos Beltran returns and Oscar Taveras sticks) and at Memphis next year (Stephen Piscotty, James Ramsey, Mike O'Neill, Tommy Pham), there is a chance the Cardinals could decide Chambers' fate earlier. His current placement indicates my guess that the Cardinals will not move any quicker than they have to, however. After all, a spring injury or two could alter priorities.

Butler had several trials with St. Louis during 2013, but did not receive a return call in September. My guess is that the 24-year-old would be next on the list if a pitching injury occurs. Remembering that Butler spent most of the first two months in Springfield and has just one year on the 40-man, I don't think his spot is immediately at risk. Still, the fact Butler is home right now indicates his standing in the ever-crowded reliever pecking order.

Like Rondon, Fornataro has yet to make his major league debut. Unlike Rondon, Fornataro's 2013 season was constricted by injury, including an oblique strain. By the end of the season, the 25-year-old stepped into the Redbirds rotation as an emergency starter and performed credibly. The hard-thrower's removal from the 40-man after just one bad-luck year at Triple-A would be surprising, but not unthinkable. Still, I would have felt better about Fornataro's immediate future had he been assigned to the 2013 Arizona Fall League.



Remember that to see the entire Cardinals system – including the 40-man roster - in one graphical view, check out the Roster Matrix, kept updated at The Cardinal Nation Blog.



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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