If it seemed to you like it has been a relatively quiet off-season for the St. Louis Cardinals, it was – at least in terms of raw numbers of player movement.
On one hand, the club said goodbyes to 40 players who had been part of the organization in 2016. That was up five from the winter before.
At the other end of the pipeline, 25 players entered the organization since the end of last season. Further, over one-third of them, nine to be precise, are international teenagers, most set to intern in the Dominican Summer League. This total is equal to the year prior.
Of the 25 new recruits, 13 are pitchers with the other 12 being position players. 21 were free agents, three were trade acquisitions and one joined the Cardinals via the Rule 5 draft.
In the table below, these new Cardinals are broken into pitchers and position player columns. The four horizontal groupings are based on their assignments – 40-man roster, minor league contracts with non-roster invitations to big league spring training camp, veteran minor league free agents and international free agents. Within those categories, the players are listed in alphabetic order.
|Pitchers (13)||Throw||Position Players (12)||Pos|
|40-man (3)||Brett Cecil||LH||Dexter Fowler||OF|
|John Gant (trade)||RH|
|NRI (8)||Kendry Flores||RH||Todd Cunningham||OF|
|Zach Phillips||LH||Eric Fryer||C|
|Jordan Schafer||LH-OF||Chad Huffman||OF-1B|
|Minors (5)||Chris Ellis (trade)||RH||Luke Dykstra (trade)||2B|
|Daniel Schlereth||LH||Dickie Joe Thon||2B|
|Austin Wilson (Rule 5)||OF|
|International||Jose Moreno||RH||Freddy De Jesus||1B|
|(9)||Nelson Prada||LH||Pablo Gomez||SS|
|Larimel Soriano||RH||Cristhian Longa||C|
40-man roster (3)
The Cardinals added just three 40-man roster players this winter, with one being a direct replacement of another. Specifically, when Jaime Garcia was traded to Atlanta for three prospects, one of them, pitcher John Gant, had prior MLB experience and his 40-man roster status came with him from the Braves.
Center fielder Dexter Fowler was the club’s premier free agent signing this off-season, but the four-year $30.5 million commitment the Cardinals made to left-handed reliever Brett Cecil is nothing to sneeze at, either.
Of course, Fowler and Cecil are expected to make St. Louis’ 25-man roster coming out of camp, with Gant ticketed for Memphis. An open question is whether Gant will start or relieve. The latter seems the right-hander's most likely eventual role with the Cardinals, but he could join Memphis' rotation initially.
Non-roster invitees (8)
Eight of the 25 NRIs in MLB camp are newcomers. Of these newbies, only one seems to be almost sure of coming north with St. Louis, though all - except perhaps catcher Gabriel Lino - could start the season with Triple-A Memphis.
Unless there is unforeseen problems with injury, free agent catcher Eric Fryer is highly likely to be added to the 40-man and 25-man rosters, duplicating his path blazed just one year ago to serve as Yadier Molina’s back up.
Of course, many recall some Cardinals fans' delight with Fryer's small-sample size hitting feats early last season before he was placed on waivers. From there, he was claimed by Pittsburgh last July, only to be cut loose again at the end of the 2016 season. That made the 31-year-old available to sign with St. Louis for the second consecutive winter.
The other seven would need varying degrees of help to have a fighting chance at a spot with St. Louis coming out of spring camp, primarily through injuries to others.
Four others in addition to Fryer have some MLB experience. Right-handed pitcher Kendry Flores earned brief stints with the 2015 and 2016 Marlins and well-traveled outfielder-first baseman Chad Huffman appeared with the 2010 Yankees. Outfielder Todd Cunningham has logged 130 plate appearances over three partial MLB seasons from 2013.
Perhaps the most interesting case is Jordan Schafer, who has some speed, but after hitting just .228 over parts of six MLB seasons, the outfielder made a decision to start pitching in an attempt to prolong his career. Now just one season into his transformation into a left-handed hurler, Schafer began 2016 at Double-A, but struggled in his limited Triple-A mound debut.
The Cardinals have asked the 30-year-old to prepare for camp in both roles – as both a pitcher and outfielder - but the reality of the roster competition numbers suggests Schafer should open in Memphis. Given his very limited and checkered pitching experience, that would seem to be the better move for both him and the organization, anyway.
Minor league additions (5)
The list of minor leaguers added this past off-season who are not invited to big-league camp is short – consisting of just five players. They joined the organization in one of three ways – as a free agent signee, a Rule 5 draftee or via trade.
Among them, three have familiar surnames. Left-handed pitcher Daniel Schlereth is a former major leaguer and the son of an ex-NFL player. An offspring of a former big leaguer, second baseman Dickie Joe Thon, like Schlereth, was signed to a straight minor league contract as a free agent.
A former Cardinals draftee who did not sign at that time (2012) in favor of attending college, outfielder Austin Wilson, was picked up in the minor league phase of the December Rule 5 draft from the Mariners.
Of the five, only Schlereth is not invited to the Cardinals early minor league camp, STEP camp.
International signees (9)
Prior to the addition of this more recent group of nine teenagers, the Cardinals had already signed another 18 international free agents as part of an unprecedented (for this organization) signing and spending spree. This class began on July 2, 2016 and remains incomplete, running until June. To date, the Cardinals have committed well over $16 million on these 27 players.
Little is known - or at least has been written - about the most recently-added nine, though Mexican Hector Soto has received some ink. It is definitely worth noting that the right-handed pitcher is the only of the nine to receive an initial assignment in the United States – with the Gulf Coast League. The others are likely to open their professional carriers in the 2017 Dominican Summer League.
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