2015 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 Adam Wainwright claim a spot?

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

The process is more challenging this year in a positive way – the Cardinals have a number of previously-injured players who have either been activated recently (Matt Belisle, Jon Jay, Randal Grichuk, Matt Holliday, Matt Adams) or are very close (Adam Wainwright). As a result of these additions as well as September minor league call-ups, there are 36 players currently eligible to play for St. Louis on any given day.

Of course, that group has to be trimmed to 25 for the opening day of the National League Division Series. Many of the decisions are easy, but a handful of challenges remain.

It is also worth remembering that rosters can be changed between series. For example, in 2014, the Cardinals dropped one pitcher (Sam Freeman) from the LDS roster, adding a third catcher, instead (A.J. Pierzynski).

The details

Rather than tell the story first, here is my view of the 25-man LDS roster in tabular form. Stay tuned below to read how and why I arrived here.

Hitters (13)     Pitchers (12)  
Catchers (2) Molina    Starters (4) Lackey
  Cruz     Lynn 
Infielders (6) Adams     J. Garcia
  Wong   Relievers (8) Rosenthal
  Kozma     Maness
  Peralta     Siegrist (L)
  Reynolds     Cishek
Outfielders (5) Holliday     Belisle
  Grichuk     Choate (L)
  Heyward     Lyons (L)
  Pham   Excluded  Wainwright
Excluded Moss     Villanueva
  G. Garcia      

Here are the key questions I considered, with details on each following:

1) Four starters or five?
2) 11 or 12 pitchers?
3) Will Wainwright be ready?
4) Choate, Lyons or both?
5) Will Molina be ready?
6) Garcia or Kozma as a reserve infielder?
7) Moss or Adams?
8) Is Pham for real?

Four starters or five?

Due to the travel days baked into the schedule, teams have found they can use their best four starting pitchers, rather than a five-man rotation as used during the regular season. I expect the Cardinals to do this, as well.

Even before his Friday shoulder injury, his relative youth and prior bullpen experience made Carlos Martinez a prime candidate to be shifted. Now, the bigger question is whether Martinez will be able to pitch in October at all.

For purposes of this exercise, I am going to project the immediate answer is “no”.

11 or 12 pitchers?

In all three of Mike Matheny’s prior Division Series, the Cardinals went with 12 pitchers (and 13 position players). Back in 2011, Tony La Russa took just 11 hurlers into the first round. I would suggest the default is 12, but circumstances could change that.

I see the eight pen spots being made up of three groups.

The top three are the dependables – closer Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness.

The next three are the veteran journeymen – Belisle, Steve Cishek and Jonathan Broxton.

The final two spots are those in play, in my estimation. Five candidates are Martinez - whom I have already ruled out - Adam Wainwright, Randy Choate, Tyler Lyons and Carlos Villanueva.

Will Wainwright be ready?

There is no dispute that Wainwright is the face of the Cardinals staff. The 34-year-old has been working tirelessly to beat the odds and come back early from his Achilles injury, a most admirable endeavor.

On the other hand, the right-hander has yet to pitch to live hitters, let alone get in a regular-season game, let alone the post-season. The difficult question is whether or not the team would be better in October with Wainwright in the dugout or on the active roster.

In my assessment, the Martinez injury, if ongoing, may have made the Wainwright roster decision easier.

Yet, when push comes to shove, I don’t think Wainwright will be fully ready for the LDS. My guess is that he will continue to pitch on the side with a revised goal to join the playoff roster in a later round.

Choate, Lyons or both?

The thought that the Cardinals will carry exactly two left-handed relievers on the roster is wrong. Just last year, they took three lefties into the NLDS, but surprisingly, the only lock this year, Siegrist, was not among them. The three left-handers in the 2014 LDS were Freeman, Randy Choate and Marco Gonzales.

This time, if Martinez or Wainwright could be ready, the last pen spot could come down to Choate or the long-man Lyons.

Normally, the former would be a shoo-in, but recently, the veteran has struggled mightily in his LOOGY role. In fact, in eight of his last 16 appearances, going back to August 9, Choate failed to secure even one out.

In three years of trying, Lyons has never stuck on the major league roster with a secure role for a long period of time, but as we saw on Friday night after Martinez was injured, the 27-year-old can quietly secure outs. With the regular fifth starter (Martinez) likely not on the LDS roster, who will be the long-man? That might be assumed to be Villanueva, but his lack of use in recent weeks (just two outings in the last 2 1/2 weeks) sends me the signal that the right-hander could be inactive for the post-season.

As they did in 2013 with another fading veteran pitcher nearing the end of the line, Jake Westbrook, I think if the Cardinals had to, they would make the tough decision to pass over the 40-year-old Choate and take Lyons instead.

On the other hand, my most likely scenario today is that if neither Martinez nor Wainwright can answer the bell and Villanueva is passed over, I could see both lefties chosen.

Will Molina be ready?

With all the focus on Wainwright, it is easy to forget that the Cardinals’ most important player, catcher Yadier Molina, is not assured of being ready to come back from his finger injury.

My expectation is that even if reserve Tony Cruz has to start a game or two, the Cardinals will open the LDS with Molina active. There is a much more considerable drop-off to Ed Easley than there was in 2014 with Pierzynski then available as the third catcher.

Garcia or Kozma as a reserve infielder?

Every year, the question is the same, with only the name of Pete Kozma’s post-season roster challenger different. In 2014, it was Mark Ellis. This time, it is Greg Garcia.

I think the latter has been too shaky at times to knock the better defender in Kozma off the roster. There will be others to pinch-hit if needed. Kozma should be available to play in October because of his glove.

Moss or Adams?

In my assessment, the reason Brandon Moss is a Cardinal was an interim need at first base. Matt Adams was injured and Mark Reynolds was too inconsistent to play every day. Even if both of those concerns remained, which they don’t, the emergence of Stephen Piscotty as a viable first base option makes Moss redundant.

Reynolds has quietly put together a strong season and is virtually a playoff lock, as is the recent arrival Piscotty. Adams is still working his way back into form, but I am assuming he will continue to show progress during the final week. On the other hand, Moss may not be able to do much more to state his case further, as at-bats could be scarce.

When all is said and done, I think Adams would be the man Mike Matheny would want to call on as a late-game left-handed pinch-hitter in October on the days Piscotty is starting at first.

Is Pham for real?

For at least the first half of the season, fan debate was focused on whether 2014-injured Peter Bourjos or 2015-injured Jon Jay was the team’s best choice in center field. So much has changed since.

First, Randal Grichuk showed his potent power bat and played a decent center before his elbow injury. Then, another center fielder, Tommy Pham, stepped up from Triple-A Memphis and provided a needed spark to St. Louis’ lineup when some thought the division was slipping away.

As a result, I see Grichuk and Pham as the LDS choices for center, with Jay – who, like Grichuk, does not yet seem 100 percent - and Bourjos not among the initial 25. Given Jay’s many contributions to the team over time, taking Pham over him would be one of the more difficult decisions, but appears justified.

Agree or disagree?

So, that’s it! Whether you agree or disagree, please stop by The Cardinal Nation’s insider forum to weigh in. I look forward to the discussion!

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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