2014 Cardinals Post-Season Roster Tradeoffs

Brian Walton’s view of what the St. Louis Cardinals might do in choosing their 25-man playoff roster. Will Michael Wacha claim a spot?

Once again, it is time for my annual St. Louis Cardinals post-season roster predictions – not necessarily what I would do, but what I think the organization may decide and why.

The process is a bit more challenging this year in one way – we are less than three days away from the end of the season and we don’t know yet if the Cards will be division winners or the wild card. They could even end up having to play a game 163 to settle the National League Central plus a wild card game, or just the first, or just the second, or neither.

For purposes of this article, we are going to assume a National League Division Series roster. From past experience, if a wild card game is required in between, the Cards might go with 10 pitchers and 15 position players for that contest only, as they did in 2012. That is because most of the rotation would not be available/needed for a single game.

To set the NLDS roster, let’s get the key questions on the table before addressing each one:

1) 11 or 12 pitchers?
2) Is Wacha included?
3) If 12, who is the last pitcher?
4) Pierzynski or Cruz as reserve catcher?
5) Ellis or Kozma as a reserve infielder?

11 or 12 pitchers?

In both of Mike Matheny’s prior two Division Series, the Cardinals went with 12 pitchers. However, in 2011, Tony La Russa took just 11. I would suggest the default is 12, but circumstances could change that. More on this coming.

Is Wacha included?

It appears that Michael Wacha’s Friday night outing in Arizona is going to answer that question. I think the spot is his to win or lose. Specifically, my take is that if the right-hander proves he can throw multiple innings successfully, he will be on the roster. That is based on his 2013 post-season success.

Whether Wacha would start in the playoffs in addition to or instead of John Lackey remains to be seen. Another potential factor is whether the Cards need to use starters on Monday to settle the division and/or on Wednesday for the wild card game.

If 12, who is the last pitcher?

This may be the toughest decision. I have already assumed Wacha is among the first 11. To get to 12, there are six contenders. They are right-handers Jason Motte and Justin Masterson and lefties Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons, Nick Greenwood and Marco Gonzales.

In an ideal world of good health and productivity, Motte, Siegrist and Masterson would all belong. In the real world, however, none of them are currently pitching well enough to warrant inclusion. It would be especially painful to leave off the veteran free agent-to-be Motte and such a solid 2013 contributor in Siegrist, but I think that could happen.

I don’t consider Greenwood and Lyons to be proven enough to be given the assignment. That leaves Gonzales, who has not only pitched well since his return to the majors, but can throw multiple innings if needed. A risk is that he is a rookie.

I do not consider Gonzales or even the 12th pitching spot a slam dunk at all, and it may be related to the question of…

Pierzynski or Cruz as reserve catcher?

This is another tough call. When the Cardinals had to choose between the two back-up catchers at the time Yadier Molina returned in late August, they had an out because Cruz had minor league options remaining. That is not an available avenue this time.

Pierzynski has the benefit of his veteran status and hitting from the left side is an advantage for the bench. However, Cruz is a long-standing member of the team and it would be a difficult decision to leave him off.

The answer could be to carry both, and go with 11 pitchers. Cruz has some corner infield experience that could also come into play if needed.

Ellis or Kozma as a reserve infielder?

I think this one is pretty easy. Mark Ellis has not performed well and his August disabled list stint seemed to indicate his current standing. Since coming back up to St. Louis when rosters expanded, Pete Kozma has done a credible job.

The Washington Nationals have to hope Kozma, their playoff nemesis, would not be active if the Cards play them. I joke, but in all seriousness, Kozma has tasted some post-season success, so his inclusion would not seem a stretch at all. After all, he is the only true shortstop behind Jhonny Peralta.

What about a reserve for Adams?

This is one question I did not address initially, but it warrants an explanation.

As much as the Cardinals might like the luxury of Xavier Scruggs’ right-handed bat on the bench, especially given left-handed-hitting Matt Adams’ recent struggles, there seems no room on a 25-man roster for another first-base only player. Given that Molina and Daniel Descalso have played the position recently, that need is lessened, plus Cruz and Matt Carpenter have also appeared there in the past.

I would like to see this need addressed in the future by having one of the outfielders be prepared to fill in defensively for Adams as needed, but for now, the Cardinals will have to get by with what they have.

The details

Here is my view in tabular form. Stay tuned to see how it all turns out.

Hitters (13)     Pitchers (12)  
Catchers (2) Molina    Starters (5) Wainwright
  Pierzynski     Miller
Infielders (6) Adams     Lackey
  M Carpenter     Wacha
  Kozma   Relievers (7) Freeman (L)
  Peralta     Choate (L)
  Wong     Rosenthal
Outfielders (5) Holliday     Maness
  Jay     Martinez
  Taveras     Gonzales (L)
  Bourjos   Excluded  Lyons (L)
        Siegrist (L)
Excluded Cruz     Greenwood (L)
  Ellis     Motte
  Scruggs     Masterson

Postmortem: On Thursday, October 2, the Cardinals announced their 25-man NLDS roster. The above prediction was accurate on 24 of 25 players, with Cruz over Pierzynski the only miss.

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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