Options and Outrighting – Part Two of Four

The second in a four-part series as Brian Walton looks into a couple of important, but not well-understood areas that may have a significant impact on the makeup of the 2006 Cardinals.

As one thinks ahead to how the 2006 Cardinals roster (or any roster, for that matter) may ultimately be constructed, the answers to several questions must be understood. They include:


1)     Which members of the 40-man roster could be sent down to the minor leagues without being at risk of losing them to another team? (options)


2)     If the Cardinals need to make room on their 40-man roster for non-roster players who make the team out of Spring Training, which players can be removed from the 40-man roster without being at risk of losing them to another team? (outrighting)


It goes without saying that this is complicated, but it should become much clearer by the conclusion of this series when we look at the specific situations of all 38 players on the current Cardinals' 40-man roster.


Here in Part Two, we'll relate the first question posed above – options – to specific players on the Cardinals roster. Tomorrow, we'll move on to outrighting in Part Three.


No more options – end of the line?


Only one of the four Cardinals who has exhausted his options and is at serious risk of not making the 2006 club. That is pitcher-turned outfielder Rick Ankiel. Come March, Ankiel will either need to have earned a spot in St. Louis or if the team tries to send him down, another team could claim him.


If Ankiel clears unconditional release waivers, he would be a free agent, and could sign with any team. That is what happened last year, enabling Ankiel to return to the minors to learn the outfield while remaining Cardinals property.


In order to protect Ankiel from being taken during this past December's Rule 5 draft, Ankiel was again added to the 40-man. And so, the cycle began all over again. However, after his first year as an outfielder, the odds are much lower this spring that Ankiel would pass through waivers without being claimed.


One option year remaining – getting close


The list of players with less than three years experience and one option year remaining is a very intriguing one. These are all players who if sent down this season, will be out of options for 2007. In other words, this season may be their last chance to make good.


This group includes catcher Michel Hernandez, outfielders So Taguchi and John Gall plus pitchers Chris Narveson and Adam Wainwright. Let's take them in order.


Hernandez' lot in life is pretty straightforward. Barring an injury to Yadier Molina and Gary Bennett, Hernandez' final option year in 2006 will be exhausted as he serves as injury insurance in Memphis. If he leaves in 2007, he can be easily replaced. Or, if he shines, Hernandez would be a lower-cost backup to Bennett next year.


Taguchi and Gall having an option year remaining could have implications in the Ankiel scenario, especially if the latter has an excellent spring. John Rodriguez has all three of his options remaining, so technically, Ankiel could make the team with one or more of the group of Taguchi, Gall and Rodriguez being sent down and the team would maintain control of all of them. Granted, Ankiel sticking may be low odds, but it is an intriguing possibility. (Note that Larry Bigbie is out of options, so is either in the majors or gone.)


Of the pitchers, Narveson does not have a realistic chance to make the 2006 team, but Wainwright is at least a long shot. However, each can be sent down for one more season and odds are that is exactly what will happen come March. Of course, they could be brought up later in the season even if they fail to make the opening day 25-man roster.


Two option years remaining – plenty of room


A player like outfielder Reid Gorecki, who was added to the 40-man a little over one year ago, has now exhausted one of his option years as he spent all of 2005 back in the minors. As a result, the longest amount of time that the Cardinals have before placing him on the 25-man roster or risk losing him is by the start of the 2008 season.


Other prospects similar to Gorecki in terms of having two option years remaining include infielder Hector Luna, outfielder Skip Schumaker and pitchers Carmen Cali, Randy Flores and Anthony Reyes.


For example, in case Flores needs more mound time to get ready following his off-season surgery than a rehab assignment would allow, an extended stay in Memphis can be done without passing him through waivers.


Three option years remaining – maximum flexibility


In addition to the youngsters who have no chance of making the team, such as new 40-man additions Travis Hanson and Brendan Ryan, pitchers Tyler Johnson and Brad Thompson, infielder Aaron Miles and outfielder John Rodriguez are in this group with all option years remaining.


Miles is among the most interesting cases of players at this level. Coming into spring training, the Cardinals have a tremendous amount of flexibility with their infielders. Both Miles and Luna can be optioned out if needed, while Deivi Cruz is on a non-guaranteed contract. As a result, we should see the best players make the team, with the decision-making unencumbered by artificial contractual considerations.


It might not be fair based on his 2005 contributions, but given his age and options remaining, Brad Thompson could find himself on the outside looking in. If Rule 5 pick up Juan Mateo sticks or non-roster invitee Jeff Nelson impresses, Thompson's odds of getting sent down increase substantially.


In tomorrow's Part Three, we'll look at outrighting – how it relates to options but is also independent from it.


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


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