Brayan Pena (Evan Habeeb / USA TODAY Sports Images)

Players returning from injury could limit the number of minor league callups by the St. Louis Cardinals in September.

Players returning from injury could limit the number of minor league callups by the St. Louis Cardinals in September.

This is the time of year many get excited about potential Major League callups when rosters expand on September 1st. They want to see their favorite minor leaguer get a shot in the bigs.

Reality is usually less exciting, as roster space considerations can be a factor as well as avoiding what the manager may feel is too many players in his clubhouse.

Another factor in 2016 is that the Cardinals are far from assured from making the playoffs. In fact, as I type this, St. Louis has a very slim one-game lead for the second and last wild card berth. With the team in such a pitched battle, the opportunity for unproven youngsters to see playing time next month will likely be even more diminished than usual.

Let’s dig into the roster considerations. While it is true that the 25-man limit does not apply during the final month, a spot on the 40-man roster is still a requirement for any active MLB player in September.

This is where the Cardinals are heading toward what looks to be a log jam.

The 40-man roster is currently full, with five additional players on the 60-day disabled list. Seth Maness, out with Tommy John surgery, could be moved from the 15-day to the 60-day DL, creating one additional spot.

At this point, it appears the Cardinals are holding out hope that their other 15-day DL players will return yet this season – Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Aledmys Diaz, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal. As long as that remains the case, the five will not be 60-day DL candidates. On the other hand, later setbacks could provide 40-man roster relief, but that will not be assumed here.

The Cards could decide to cut loose pitcher Jerome Williams to free up one roster spot, though I am not assuming that will occur. The veteran is serving as inning-eating insurance, which is of even greater importance with two very young pitchers having been called up in the last 10 days in Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver.

Four other spots could be generated, however, by removing four minor leaguers, all position players currently with Memphis, from the 40-man – catcher Michael Ohlman, infielder Dean Anna and outfielders Jose Martinez and Anthony Garcia. Both Ohlman and Garcia were sent back down to Double-A for a period this summer and the latter is currently on the disabled list. Anna is a journeyman and Martinez’ contract was purchased from the Royals in May.

None of them have seen a day of regular-season action with St. Louis in 2016, though Anna had one at-bat with the big club in 2015. In other words, any and all do not seem a key part of St. Louis’ future plans and could be expendable. At one time, Ohlman and Garcia were among The Cardinal Nation’s top prospects, but fell off the new top 50 published earlier this week.

One potential advantage in exposing these removed players to waivers in September is that other organizations are also facing similar roster challenges. Last September, for example, Xavier Scruggs and Nick Greenwood were exposed and went unclaimed.

The other five current 40-man roster players not already in St. Louis and are all pitchers. Two are out for the season - starters Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney. The third starter is Mike Mayers, who made his one-game MLB debut in July. The two relievers are Dean Kiekhefer and Miguel Socolovich, both of whom are among good September addition candidates.

While technically, Gonzales and Cooney could be added to the MLB 60-day DL to create 40-man roster relief, it is unlikely to occur. The reason is that they would first have to be removed from the Triple-A 15-day DL, promoted to St. Louis, then moved to the Cardinals’ 60-day DL. With that would come Major League pay and service time, which teams want to avoid for obvious reasons.

So, what? What is the issue, you might ask? Five spots should be more than enough to cover any September callups not yet on the 40-man roster, right?

Here is the rub. Returning veterans have priority to grab available 40-man spots.

Of the five Cardinals currently on the 60-day DL, three of them are either already in rehab games (Lance Lynn) or starting their recovery contests this weekend (Brayan Pena and Jordan Walden). Assuming their final steps are successful and to be reactivated by St. Louis, they will require three 40-man roster spots. Further, they will take three more places on the September team with associated playing time expectations.

Add those three to the aforementioned five players on the 15-day DL who the club is hoping will return (Holliday, Adams, Diaz, Wacha and Rosenthal), and the Cardinals could have eight additional Major Leaguers not currently on the 25-man roster added in September. That would put 33 active players in the clubhouse – before a single minor league callup!

St. Louis’ other two 60-day DL players, pitchers Mitch Harris and Tyler Lyons, are not expected back in 2016.

Putting this all together, there would seem to be at most two 40-man roster spots for new September additions. Here is the associated 40-man math: 40 today – 1 to 60-day DL - 4 removed + 3 rehabbers returning = 38.

Remember that given these assumptions, to keep one or more the four I suggest could be removed from the 40-man (Ohlman, Anna, Garcia and Martinez) would mean one less potential September minor league promotion of another.

Next time, we will go through the various candidates to join St. Louis in September and I will go on record with my annual predictions. You already know that my bottom line will include no more than two new additions to the 40-man roster.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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