My love-hate project of roster forecasting across the St. Louis Cardinals system continues into a new spring. Making informed tradeoffs while addressing head-on the reality of 25-man rosters at every level of play is the most difficult challenge. In this annual series, I explain why I made the calls I did – and how they are impacted by and could affect other players.
Granted, it is early – very early. The final minor league players just trickled into camp last week. Plenty of things can happen over the next three-plus weeks. The greatest impact may come from injuries, the effects of which can then domino through multiple rosters. Spring trades, signings and releases may occur, as well.
In the roster-setting process that follows, I am not going to make any unnatural assumptions to potentially make the job easier. Yet the sheer numbers of players involved means some guys are bound to be left standing when the music stops. That will be much more the case as we work through the full-season minor league rosters, where there are many more players than active spots, especially pitchers.
To accommodate and denote these logjams, I created a roster category at each level called “Limbo,” a place where I list those I expect to open the season on the disabled list or who may not appear to have an obvious 25-man roster spot.
I want to be very clear right up front that this is one man’s educated guesses – nothing more. The rosters with which the Cardinals will actually break camp are going to be different from what follows in this series. If predicting the future with 100 percent accuracy was actually possible, I would be in Las Vegas right now – or more likely, on my own tropical isle.
So as long as you accept this work for what it is and not try to make it into something it isn’t, it should at least provide fodder for intelligent discussion - which you can do with other fans on The Cardinal Nation message board.
In this first of five installments, we will begin with St. Louis. Articles two through five, exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation, will go through a similar process for each of the Cardinals’ four full-season minor league affiliates – Triple-A Memphis, Double-A Springfield, A-Advanced Palm Beach and Class-A Peoria.
St. Louis Cardinals projected 2016 opening day roster, as of 3/11/16
|St. Louis (25+3)|
|Ja Garcia (L)||Siegrist (L)|
|Lynn (DL)||Bowman (R5)|
|G Garcia||A Diaz*||Piscotty|
|(X+Y) = Active + Limbo|
|Limbo = DL/rehab/demote/release candidate|
|Bold = 40-man roster member|
|NRI = non-roster invitee to MLB camp|
|STEP = STEP Camp|
|* promotion from year-end 2015|
|(L) = Left-handed pitcher|
|NRIs to make the team||0|
|Promotions from Triple-A||1||Diaz|
|Key 40-man players to AAA||3||Gonzales||Cooney||Tuivailala|
As has been the case traditionally, I assume a five-man rotation, seven-man bullpen and 13 position players.
Though this normal scheme could be altered for the first days of the season if Carlos Martinez is held back in Florida, it would be a temporary adjustment. One of the relievers could be the brief beneficiary, most likely Rule 5 pick Matt Bowman.
In terms of the names, there are not any surprises. In fact, every single member of the Cardinals projected 25-man roster has prior MLB experience – with the exception of one player. Due to Jhonny Peralta’s recent injury, the door has opened for a starting shortstop. Whether or not he earns the everyday nod, the roster spot appears to be Aledmys Diaz’ - unless he proves he cannot handle it. Any external option would likely not be added until the very final days of camp.
We will take the projected Opening Day roster by position group, starting at the upper left with the rotation.
After battles the last two springs for the final rotation spot (Joe Kelly-Carlos Martinez in 2014 and Martinez-Jaime Garcia-Marco Gonzales in 2015), there is no question about the starting five to open 2016.
The only question is how their innings and workload will be managed this spring and in the case of Martinez, whether he will be activated initially or held back until the schedule indicates the fifth starter is needed.
If the rotation is locked, the 2016 bullpen appears to be loaded.
Like many, I thought the return of veteran Jonathan Broxton (re-signed) and the addition of free agent Seung-hwan Oh may have signaled that Jordan Walden could not be counted upon due to his shoulder.
The early days of camp at least tell us that all hands could be on deck for the start of the season. That means these three plus the home-grown trio so heavily relied upon last year in Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness.
The seventh and final spot would ideally be filled by the second left-hander. As it turns out, Tyler Lyons is both left-handed and is out of minor league options. A further advantage is that his history is as a starter, so he could offer multiple innings if needed.
Losing out would be five pitchers with MLB experience – in lefties Tim Cooney and Marco Gonzales, both starters, and right-handers Miguel Socolovich, Mitch Harris and Sam Tuivailala, all relievers. In Memphis, Cooney and Gonzales should battle to become the first starter called up when needed.
Then there is the case of Bowman, mentioned above. If the right-hander does not make the team, he will be placed on waivers. His return to the Mets would only occur if he clears. Another option if it gets that far is for the two clubs to make a deal for Bowman to remain with the Cardinals.
Catching: Will Yadi be ready?
A few weeks ago, I would have forecasted that Yadier Molina would open the season on the disabled list after his second surgery, to reconstruct a ligament in his hand, was required last fall. Yet, Molina worked his way into his first game on March 9, albeit briefly and is slowly ramping up his workload. That push makes him a favorite to open the season on the active roster.
Still, we could see more of Brayan Pena in the early going. I think that could be money in the bank for October.
Infield: Gyorko or Diaz?
Peralta’s injury changed all of that. Now the questions abound.
Gyorko has the most proven bat, but is his defense at short good enough to enable him to be an everyday player?
What kind of player is Aledmys Diaz, really? Can a shortstop with just 14 games at Triple-A step in for two or three months until Peralta is back?
Garcia offers the ability to fill in at second and third and has shortstop experience, but does he have enough bat and glove to start?
Or will the Cardinals add a veteran shortstop from the outside and send Diaz to get more seasoning in Memphis?
However, in picking the 25-man roster, the decision is relatively easy. At this point, I am calling for both Garcia and Diaz to make the team. They would each have several months to jockey for position to avoid being the one to be returned to Memphis when Peralta is ready.
One other factor to consider. If Gyorko is anointed the regular replacement for Peralta, it may mean more opportunities for Kolten Wong to prove he can hit left-handers, rather than potentially falling into a pseudo-platoon at second with Gyorko.
At first base, either Matt Adams or Brandon Moss will start regularly, with the other coming off the bench as the club’s primary left-handed pinch-hitter. The jury is still out on the Matt Holliday playing first base experiment, but if successful, it could open up more at-bats for Tommy Pham. Speaking of...
Outfield: More of the same
The only question seems to be whether the Cardinals are comfortable going with four outfielders. I think the answer is “yes”. The presumed every-day starters Holliday, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty would be backed up by Pham, especially crucial as the center field reserve. All four bat right-handed. Don’t forget Moss could cover one of the corners any day Adams mans first base, allowing the Cardinals to fit an extra left-handed hitter into the lineup.
Before Peralta’s injury weakened the infield, I thought the outfield might offer the best chance for a non-roster player to make the team – specifically Carlos Peguero. As it currently stands, all 25 players on this projected Opening Day roster already have a 40-man roster spot.
In this proposed roster, assuming Gyorko is starting, the bench would consist of one of the lefty first basemen, lefty- and righty-swinging infielders in Garcia and Diaz, the right-handed Pham and likely the last man off the bench, the switch-hitting Pena.
The Roster Matrix
To see the full 2015 season-ending rosters by level and position and every transaction across the entire Cardinals system on one page, check out the Roster Matrix, always up-to-date and free at The Cardinal Nation blog.
The Cardinals’ Triple-A roster will be the focus of part two of this five-part roster projection series - coming this week for members of The Cardinal Nation.
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