25 and 40-Man Gyrations

Handicapping likely upcoming roster decisions for St. Louis and Memphis

Coming into camp, the Cardinals' 40-man roster stood at 38. The primary purpose of this story is to speculate how that might change over the next couple of weeks.

At the simplest level, keeping open two spots on the roster provides flexibility in case either someone who was cut by another team is brought in (like a Joe McEwing, for example) or someone is traded for (like Tony Womack last year). This way, another player does not have to be cut and potentially exposed to waivers to make room.

Let's start by looking at how the 25-man roster might pan out:

Starting pitchers (4): Mulder, Carpenter, Marquis, Suppan, Morris (DL)
Lefty relievers (2): King, Myers/Pulsipher/Flores
Righty relievers (4): Izzy, Eldred, Tavarez, Al Reyes, Lincoln (DL)
25th-man reliever (1): One of Myers/Pulsipher/Flores losers or Jarvis
Infielders (6): Pujols, Grudz, Eckstein, Rolen, Nunez, Seabol
Outfielders (6): Sanders, Edmonds, Walker, Mabry, Cedeno, Taguchi
Catchers (2): Molina, Diaz

Starters to Memphis: Wainwright, An. Reyes
Relievers to Memphis: Cali
Relievers waived or accept assignment to Memphis: File and losers of Myers/Pulsipher/Flores battle or Jarvis
Infielders to Memphis: Luna, Hart
Outfielders to Memphis: Gall
Outfielders to Single-A: Ankiel
Catchers to Memphis: Mahoney, McKay

Of course, I've made some assumptions here.

• Morris starts the season on the disabled list.
• La Russa elects to carry just 11 pitchers and only two lefties for sure.
• The last reliever spot, what I call 25th man, is a holding spot for when Morris is ready.
• Nunez makes the team as middle infield backup over Luna and Hart.
• Seabol, the official surprise of the spring, makes the team over Gall.

So, what would this mean to the 40-man?

Let's look at the worst case. Both Pulsipher and Jarvis are non-roster invitees. So, if they make the club, they would have to be added to the 40-man, using up both of the available spots. However, for that to happen, Myers would have to lose out on his bid to make the team. In that case, he would surely be released, freeing up one roster spot.

If that were the case, the last roster spot would be used for Nunez, who is also an NRI. That seems to do it.

Certainly, the highest profile change would be based on the future of Rick Ankiel. I have confirmed that Ankiel will be removed from the 40-man; either when he clears waivers or is claimed by another club. If the former happens, the risk of Ankiel being claimed via the Rule 5 draft later or his becoming a minor league free agent at season's end could become a consideration in the not-too-distant future.

What if another player or players are brought in? In that scenario, given no other moves, the Ankiel spot remains. If another is needed, the most likely person to get booted off the 40-man would be Mike Mahoney. Cody McKay would also be a suspect.

Taking this analysis one step further, what would this mean in Memphis with regard to middle infield? This writer is concerned about the fragility of Mark Grudzielanek.

Would you play Luna at second base everyday at Memphis and Hart at short, having the former ready if/when Grudz goes down? What if Seabol doesn't make the team? Where would he play? The Memphis decisions are almost as interesting as those coming for the big club. Nunez looks like a convenient fill-in, but if a regular replacement is needed, it will come from Memphis.

Remember, this is all speculation and could change over the next two weeks. But, all in all, the roster situation seems to be manageable at this point and should not be a factor in upcoming decisions.

When I began this report, I was unsure what conclusion I would draw. However, when all is said and done, I must give kudos to Walt Jocketty and John Mozeliak for maintaining the necessary roster flexibility.

In conclusion, I asked Birdhouse contributor Jerry Modene to take a look at a draft of the above story. His reply was quite substantive, so I am including it here.

Addendum from Jerry Modene:

I did note last night on the Scout.com forum my interest in keeping three lefties, despite what TLR is saying - as backup, as I'm just not comfortable with the notion of King (who had the stiff shoulder thing, although he did pitch on Friday, finally, and is supposed to pitch again on Sunday) and Pulsipher as the two lefties. I still remember when we broke camp with Lance Painter as our only lefthander reliever and then *he* got hurt trying to handle the load. Thus, I'm really pulling for Randy Flores to make this team.

I do share your thoughts about Myers - my feeling is that there's nothing wrong with carrying him as a LOOGY (Lefthanded One Out GuY) but not if we're only going tiwh two lefties because we don't have the flexibility to use a roster spot just for that - carrying Myers would tempt TLR into using him for full innings like Kline used to be able to do, and that could be a disaster.

If we're only going with two lefties, then it needs to be someone good enough against lefties to be used in a LOOGY-type situation, but flexible enough to be able to pitch a full inning, or even more - which means Cali (if he's ready) or Flores. Of the two, I prefer Flores, simply because given the question marks that still remain in the rotation, we need someone who can spot start, just in case. Flores and Jarvis are the two possibilities (so was Gissell, but he's already been cut) and although Jarvis has far more ML experience than Flores, I prefer the lefthander, simply because he'll be more useful than a *fifth* righty reliever (and if we need a long reliever from the right side, that's what we have Cal Eldred for). OTOH, Flores, I think, still has an option year left to him, whereas Jarvis, like Myers, would probably be released if he doesn't make the team.

However, I think that Carmen Cali, while an outstanding talent, needs more seasoning in AAA. Two reasons - one, he's had a grand total of 27 1/3 innings above the AA level (and he'd never pitched at all above A-ball before 2004; his four previous pro seasons ranged from rookie ball at New Jersey to high-A ball at Palm Beach), and two, he'd not been overly successful in his previous four pro seasons; in 271 innings of A-ball prior to 2004, he'd allowed 272 hits and had a 4.48 ERA. Between Tennessee and Memphis in 2004, he allowed just 60 hits in 66 1/3 innings, and cut his ERA down to 2.85. We need to see if his improvement was the real deal or just a one-season fluke (I lean towards the reality of the improvement, and if he's showing by June or July that he is in fact the real deal, there's a good chance he'll get the callup, perhaps replacing Flores if they decide they need a short reliever instead of a long one).

Aside: Jimmy Journell is in kind of a similar situation; the brass is clearly impressed with him this spring, but the decision to cut him was a good one - after his injury season in 2004, he needs plenty of work - regular work - at Memphis before they're comfortable bringing him up. As it is, he's going to be closing at Memphis - or co-closing with Cali in what could be the best righty/lefty bullpen combo in the minor leagues.

As for the infield... I think you're exactly right and that Seabol has made the team over Gall, mainly because of his flexibility; it doesn't hurt that he's had a better spring. I do think that Gall's hard work is close to paying off, though - he's made himself a better defensive outfielder, and TLR has definitely noticed. If Sanders has to start the season on the DL (and I think that wouldn't be a bad idea; why rush recovery from surgery, even if he is "good to go" iin two weeks, as seems to be the general prognosis after an appendectomy?) than Gall does make the team, at least for a short while, and gets at least a week or two to show his stuff and either prove he's a major leaguer or not. This *does* appear to be his last chance, though, and if he doesn't make the team, I really think it's time to trade him to someone (Baltimore? Seattle? Arizona?) that can use him.

Barometer: The ultimate clue as to whether Seabol makes the team over Gall will be this - watch and see if TLR uses Seabol in the outfield at any time in the next two weeks. If he does, that's pretty much a dead giveaway.

Nunez does make the team over Hart and Luna; however, while Luna will be the starting second baseman at Memphis, Hart will not be the starting shortstop unless they decide that John Nelson just isn't gonna cut it. Nelson has already had two seasons in AA (a full season in 2003, an injury season in 2004) and it's time for him to play in AAA. So I see a Luna/Nelson DP combo at Memphis, with Hart becoming a Jose Oquendo/Al Newman 400-AB supersub at 2B, SS, and 3B. It's the role Hart was born for; the Cards were already training him as a utilityman in 2003 before the Vina/Cairo injuries forced us to call him up and make him the regular second baseman (he'd been playing several games at short and third for Memphis prior to the callup; he played another 20+ games at SS at Memphis in 2004).

If Grudz gets hurt, then we probably see a situation not unlike Boston's 2B combo the past couple of seasons - a hitter starting the game, a defender finishing it. In Boston's case, that was Todd Walker and Mark Bellhorn (the bats) and Damian Jackson and Pokey Reese (the gloves). In our case, it would be Scott Seabol (the bat) and Abraham Nunez (the glove). And as Boston has shown, that sort of 2B combo can work, at least for awhile. And if Grudz is out for any extended period of time (hopefully not; I'd really like to get 140 games out of him this season) and Luna is doing well in AAA, then I'd have no trouble with them calling him up and letting him play regularly at 2B.

Final Aside: Memphis looks like it's going to have a really strong team:

SP - An. Reyes, Wainwright, Gissell, Nerio Rodriguez, and Cummings (Parrott probably has to stay on the DL).
RP - Journell, Cali, Pearce, Rust, File, Flores (starter/reliever, like he was in 2004, if he doesn't make the Cards).
C - Mahoney and McKay; if either one is claimed on waivers if/when the Cards try to take one or the other off the 40-man roster, then Cresse or Moylan
IF - Berger, Luna, Nelson, Hart, Bell, Guerrero
OF - Gall (if he's not traded or makes the Cards), Schumaker, Haynes, Gonzalez, Zoccolillo

I'm sure I'm forgetting some names, but that is *one* strong AAA roster! (Remember that AAA has a 24-man limit, although guys on rehab - Morris in early April, perhaps - don't count.)

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