Position Battles – Red, Yellow and Green

Handicapping the odds of various contenders and pretenders for roster spots on the 2005 St. Louis Cardinals.

Each of the almost 60 players in Cardinals' spring camp have a chance to crack the 25-man roster that will be taken north from Florida in a little over a month, right?

I guess if the answer can be measured in fractions or decimal points, yes. But, in reality, this writer believes that between 70% and 75% of the Opening Day roster, 17 of 25 players' worth, is cast in stone.

In fact, I am feeling pretty confident about 22 of the 25, truth be known. If you believe as I do that Einar Diaz is set as the back-up catcher, the two incumbent back-up outfielders, So Taguchi and Roger Cedeno are probably in, plus the returning right-handed relievers, Cal Eldred and Al Reyes are far in the lead, that would leave just three spots.

From the left side of the pen, I am projecting that two of the three among Mike Myers, Randy Flores and Carmen Cali will come north. The two veterans have the edge and if everyone performs equally, Cali will find himself in Memphis come April.

The only other job that is reasonably open is backup infielder, for which there are at least four serious contenders, including Abraham Nunez, Hector Luna, Bo Hart and Scott Seabol. Nunez has the early edge since he can hit from the left side – sort of. Hart has also taken up switch hitting, along with switch fielding. (He played some short for Memphis last season and in the past worked out as an emergency catcher.) It probably won't matter in March.

It remains to be seen whether John Gall will be given a legitimate chance to earn a job as a reserve outfielder and bump either Taguchi, or more likely, Cedeno. Gall didn't get that chance last spring. Despite a decent Triple-A season, Gall was not even part of the September call-ups. Privately, team officials are down on his defensive skills and I don't see that miraculously changing.

Of course, there are the usual caveats of unforeseen injury and trades that could alter this landscape. An assumption is that the team will initially be made up of 13 position players and 12 pitchers, which is supported both by past history and recent comments from Tony La Russa.

The method I have chosen to characterize this is the standard red, yellow and green designation. Their meanings in this context are as follows:

Green = a lock to make the team, even without incriminating photos of the general manager.

Yellow = has a shot; controls their own destiny via their play in March.

Red = no realistic chance, but there is always a very, very small hope until they're cut.

An asterisk (*) next to a player's name denotes a non-roster invitee.

The "yellows" are listed in the order I believe them to be sitting in the pecking order. Not as much thought has gone into the sequencing of the "reds", since I believe they are either heading toward minor league camp or toward being released.

The players in bold are my pre-camp 25-man roster predictions.

Infield

Green: Pujols, Grudzielanek, Eckstein, Rolen
Yellow (pick one): Nunez*, Luna, Hart, Seabol
Red: Guerrero*, Bell*

Catcher

Green: Molina
Yellow (pick one): Diaz, McKay
Red: Mahoney, Cresse*, Johnson*, Motte*, Moylan*

Outfield

Green: Walker, Edmonds, Sanders, Mabry
Yellow (pick two): Taguchi, Cedeno, Gall
Red: Gonzalez*, Gorecki, Schumaker*, Berger*

Starting Pitchers

Green: Mulder, Carpenter, Marquis, Suppan, Ankiel
Yellow: none
Red: Morris (red cross), Wainwright

Left-handed Relief

Green: King
Yellow (pick two): Myers, Flores, Cali
Red: Mercado*, Pulsipher*

Right-handed Relief

Green: Isringhausen, Tavarez
Yellow (pick two): Eldred, Al Reyes, Journell
Red: Lincoln (red cross), Rodriguez*, Parrott, Rust, Jarvis*, Borland*, Gissell*, File*, Cummings*, An Reyes*, Thompson*

You could argue whether the final reliever might be a righty instead of the lefty I assumed here. Or, if Matt Morris made a miraculous recovery, he would take that final spot, likely bumping Flores, who is my current projected 25th man.

Along with Morris, Mike Lincoln is the other "red cross" player in camp, meaning in all likelihood he, too, will start the season on the disabled list.

The current party line is that the team may just carry three left-handers in the pen. Whether that is preparing for the possible return of Rick Ankiel to the pen if/when he, Morris and the other four starters are all well at once or not, I don't know. It could just as much be because the right-handed options after Jason Isringhausen, Julian Tavarez, Eldred and Al Reyes generally look underwhelming.

What to do about the potential of having six healthy starters later is something to deal with later. After all it was only two years ago, during the 2003 season, when the injury bug hit what also looked to be a reasonably deep starting staff. It got so bad that Jeff Fassero was given six starts. Let's all hope we never have to experience that flashback.

As the Manager is so fond of saying anytime he is asked about future roster decisions, "These things have a way of working themselves out."

But, really, for the Cardinals this spring, there are very few of those "things", anyway.

Note: Tomorrow, I'll be back to put the rest of this Spring Training matter into context.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net


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