As part of the process of attempting to better the team, Major League clubs choose to say goodbye to lesser performers on the roster. Often, this means that scrappy, long-time fan-favorites - who don’t have a starting job or the numbers to justify a return even in a bench role - are let go.
The St. Louis Cardinals are in the midst of this kind of transition currently, having cut loose outfielder Shane Robinson and infielder Daniel Descalso in the past two weeks. They join free agent reliever Jason Motte as home-grown Cardinals now out of work.
Reserve catcher Tony Cruz may be next in line, though the 28-year-old could survive another season.
This off-season, the Cardinals have looked into upgrading the position, but have not made headway. Based on comments made by general manager John Mozeliak from the Winter Meetings in San Diego, it seems that none of the veteran catchers contacted by the club as potential additions for 2015 were keen about spending a season as Yadier Molina’s Maytag repairman.
Each of the Cardinals player situations cited – Motte, Robinson, Descalso and Cruz - are slightly different, though ultimately driven by a common rub – a mismatch between results received and expected future salary.
In the case of Motte, a post-Tommy John drop in velocity erased his primary edge as a late-inning reliever. Plus, with six years of MLB service time, testing free agency is his earned right.
Being out of options and seemingly pushed off the projected roster by the acquisition of Jason Heyward looked bad enough for Robinson, but the reality was even worse. Becoming arbitration-eligible for the first time meant a big salary increase for 2015 would be certain, even if not justified. Instead, the 30-year-old was released. He has since signed a minor league deal with Minnesota.
Descalso actually survived one year of arbitration eligibility. For 2014, the infielder and the Cardinals settled on a one-year deal for $1.29 million. After a disappointing season at the plate by Descalso, the club took a different course this off-season. The Cardinals decided to cut ties before having to give him another raise for 2015, even though there are no clear better options currently on the roster.
In my estimation, Cruz is today where Descalso was 12 months ago. Though they were apparently willing to pay a veteran’s salary to an A.J. Pierzynski-like player to sit on the 2015 bench, the Cardinals now are faced with giving Cruz his first-year arbitration raise, instead. His 2015 salary will likely end up being a modest increase from roughly $500,000 to $700,000 or $800,000, less than Descalso received in 2014.
However, another year of a .200 batting average and .530 OPS like the Cardinals received from Cruz in 2014 could lead to a change next fall. As Cruz’ service time alone would likely push his 2016 salary over $1 million, a similar fate prior to year two of arbitration-eligibility as occurred for Descalso this week could be ahead for Cruz.
If that happens, the Cardinals would have options. Minor league veteran Ed Easley was added to the 40-man roster this fall, replacing Audry Perez. In my opinion though, the catcher to watch is another recent 40-man addition, Cody Stanley. A solid year at Triple-A in 2015 could lead to Stanley taking Cruz’ job no later than 2016, while drawing an MLB-minimum salary.
When Cruz eventually departs, a segment of the fan base will feel remorse, but it is a natural part of a never-ending cycle to find the best-fitting 25 players.
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