Like all Major League Baseball clubs, the St. Louis Cardinals spent the spring with one eye on getting players ready for the regular season and the other on trying to keep them healthy. In defining the season-opening 25-man roster, health ended up becoming the major determining factor.
Let's revisit how it all unfolded this spring.
Spring injury recap
On the offensive side, the major question coming into camp was the left thumb of catcher Yadier Molina. The goal of the three-time Platinum Glove Award Winner was to be ready to start the regular season, however, given his two surgeries last fall, he began the spring very slowly.
Of course, Lance Lynn’s recovery from Tommy John surgery, putting him out for all of 2016, was known coming in. Less clear was any lingering issues with Carlos Martinez’ right shoulder, a problem that ended his 2015 season prematurely, but did not require surgery. Again, Martinez was initially put on a slower schedule than the other pitchers.
By the end of camp, both Molina and Martinez were ready to go, though Martinez was held back to make the fifth start of the regular season.
Reliever Jordan Walden was supposedly healthy after spending most of the last 10 months rehabbing his shoulder. That turned out not to be the case as the right-hander continued to feel discomfort after pitching and is slated to open the season on the disabled list, his home since last May 3.
Pitchers Mitch Harris and Tim Cooney both dealt with shoulder ailments in camp that kept them from fully competing to make the team. Cooney improved enough to be optioned to Memphis, while Harris’ nerve problem kept him with St. Louis, but on the DL.
The biggest injury of the spring occurred quickly. In just his second game, shortstop Jhonny Peralta tore a thumb ligament, an injury similar to Molina’s. The initial prognosis was 2-3 months out.
To be the everyday shortstop, the Cardinals then went out and signed Ruben Tejada, who had been released by the Mets a few days before. The bad luck continued when Tejada suffered a left quad strain in the team’s final spring training contest.
Though no one would likely admit it, there were really no wide open jobs in camp. Sure, not all spots were written in ink, but the leaders at each position would have had to play their way off the team - and they did not.
The most competitive may have been the reserve infielder position. Early on, Cuban native Aledmys Diaz made some noise, but the acquisition of Tejada led to Diaz being sent down to Triple-A. Greg Garcia claimed the reserve spot.
The second left-handed reliever was Tyler Lyons’ job and with no options remaining, it was not surprising he made the team.
Rule 5 acquisition Matt Bowman needed the injury to Walden to make his first Major League roster as the last man in the bullpen. Whether the former Met farmhand can remain with St. Louis all season long remains to be seen.
The non-roster player to stand out most during spring training was outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker, in his first Cardinals camp at the age of 28. Despite his solid play (.304 average, three home runs and 10 RBI), there appeared to be no room for him on the season-opening 25-man roster.
That changed with Tejada’s final-day injury. The only non-roster invitee to make the team turned out to be Hazelbaker, who will be making his MLB debut. In other words, the Cardinals will open the season down one middle infielder and up one outfielder.
With a full 40-man roster, the Cardinals are expected to place Lance Lynn, who is out for the season, on the 60-day disabled list to make room for Hazelbaker.
Here are the final roster cuts, with all assigned to Triple-A Memphis.
40-man players: none
St. Louis Cardinals 2016 Opening Roster
Starters (5): Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Mike Leake, Jaime Garcia (L), Carlos Martinez
Catchers (2): Yadier Molina, Brayan Pena
Disabled list (5): Lance Lynn, Jordan Walden, Jhonny Peralta, Mitch Harris, Ruben Tejada
On Saturday, the Cardinals announced that catcher Brayan Pena required knee surgery with Eric Fryer to be added to the 40-man and 25-man rosters to replace him. (Details here)
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