That generally begins with the forty players on the club's 40-man roster, or more realistically, a subset of the 40. Most clubs, including the Cardinals, have needed to add a number of youngsters to the roster far before they are ready to contribute. So, while they are there, they aren't considered to have a chance to make the big league club.
There are also some dark horses in the mix, players who are competing for jobs without holding a spot on the 40-man roster. In my companion story, "Handicapping the Cardinals' NRIs – 2007", I identified one such non-roster invitee (NRI) who has a reasonable chance of making the club, at least using today's assumptions. That is utilityman Eli Marrero.
As most sources sit down to project which players might make the big league club coming out of spring training, they focus on the obvious – the battles on the field. While that is extremely important, there are other considerations not fully understood by many that also play a crucial role in who stays and who goes.
That is what sets this analysis apart from others. In assessing players' odds of making the 2007 Cardinals out of spring training, I consider multiple factors which include guaranteed contracts, options, outrighting, service time, pitching/hitting roster splits and more.
Once we have that broader understanding to help bound the discussion, then we can apply that knowledge to the on-field competitions. So, let's look at each of these factors.
Last spring, I took a lot of questions from skeptical Cardinals fans when I reported infielder Deivi Cruz had a non-guaranteed contract. Because of that, I knew his chances of making the team almost completely depended on him getting out of the blocks with a tremendous early March. It happened, but not for Cruz – instead Scott Spiezio parlayed his fast start into a place on the 25-man roster. On the other hand, Cruz didn't last the month.
In 2007, I am unaware of any similar situations other than left-hander Randy Keisler, who signed a split contract that will make it very easy for the Cardinals to place him in Memphis. Consider that as good as done.
Players who are on the 40-man, but have already used up their three allowable years to be sent to the minor leagues without having to be exposed to waivers are in a tenuous situation.
If these players don't make the team out of spring training and are healthy, they will have to be either be traded or waived. If waived, they would either be claimed by another organization or if unclaimed, assigned to the Cardinals minor league system. In any case, they would be off the club's 40-man roster.
Cardinals in this situation include pitchers Chris Narveson, Brian Falkenborg and Josh Hancock. As a side point, veterans whose options were exhausted previously include pitchers Kip Wells, Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer plus outfielder So Taguchi.
Again, if these players don't make the Cardinals out of spring training, they quite possibly could be lost from the organization.
On the other hand, a large group of younger players have options remaining and have less than three years service time. They could be optioned out without risk. That includes Troy Cate, Andy Cavazos, Dennis Dove, Randy Flores, Blake Hawksworth, Tyler Johnson, Randy Keisler, Josh Kinney, Anthony Reyes, Brad Thompson, Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Chris Duncan, Travis Hanson, Brendan Ryan, Cody Haerther, John Rodriguez and Skip Schumaker.
Other than Taguchi, Aaron Miles is the only Cardinals player with between three and five years service time. While Miles has options remaining and could be sent down by the club, the Cardinals would first have to expose him to waivers to use his option in 2007.
Even if they have options remaining, players with greater than five years service time cannot be optioned out without their permission and must first pass through waivers. This includes most of the Cardinals front-line players, but also less-sure thing veterans like Ricardo Rincon and Gary Bennett.
For more details, check out my four-part series from last spring entitled "Options and Outrighting". But, for purposes of this analysis, consider outrighting sort of like a free pass for the organization. If the player has less than three years of Major League service time, that player can be removed once, but only once, from the 40-man and sent down without having to be exposed to waivers. In this case, the player has no choice but to report.
Players who have already been outrighted once in their career and have less than three years service include Bryan Falkenborg, Randy Flores, Josh Hancock, Tyler Johnson and Randy Keisler. Others with more experience who had been previously outrighted include Ryan Franklin and Gary Bennett.
Outrighting a player a second time gives him the choice of either reporting to the minor leagues or declaring free agency. More often than not when faced with the realities of the situation, the outrighted player bolts for perceived greener pastures elsewhere.
If faced with the possibility of a second outright, the door would be wide open for Bennett and Franklin to leave the organization. Though So Taguchi has never been outrighted, now that he has three years service time, he could declare free agency if outrighted or would still have to clear waivers even if he was willing to report to Triple-A.
Options plus outrighting
What does the combination of these factors mean for Falkenborg and Hancock? Basically, with no options remaining and having been outrighted once already, there is no sure way to get them safely to the minors.
If the two don't make the club, there are two choices. Being outrighted for the second time, they could declare free agency. Or even if they agreed to report to Memphis, they would first need to be placed on irrevocable waivers, where if claimed, they would be gone.
For Narveson, his options are exhausted, but he has yet to have been outrighted. That means if outrighted and he could clear waivers, Narveson would be obligated to report to Memphis. If claimed, he would be lost, however.
Even if executed, this would just delay the inevitable. To be called back up to St. Louis again in this scenario, Narveson would have to be re-added to the 40-man. Unless he remained in the bigs, he would then end up in the same situation Falkenborg and Hancock are in currently.
Even though Flores and Johnson have already been outrighted, since they each have options remaining, they could still be optioned out without being exposed to waivers.
Pitching-hitting roster size mix
This time of year, there is always a debate in the Cardinals fan community over whether the club will start the season with 11 or 12 pitchers on the 25-man roster. If the past holds to form, Tony La Russa will be asked this same question over and over during March, but the true answer won't be known until the end of the month.
There are several factors to consider when trying to answer this question now. First of all, the rotation is relatively young and had some health concerns in the past. Coming out of spring training, they may not yet be up to full pitch count workloads. That would imply more depth in the relief corps could initially be advisable.
On the other hand, the April schedule is less compressed compared to later in the season. That allows clubs to wait up to as much as a couple of weeks into the season before requiring their fifth starter. Instead, they could option that player out (if he has options remaining) and recall him when his initial spot comes up in the rotation. The way the Cardinals 2007 schedule is laid out, without reschedules due to weather, their fifth starter may not be needed until April 11 or later.
Pitching-hitting roster size mix - history
Looking at the initial club coming out of spring training in past seasons can also give us a decent clue as to what might happen this year. Since at least 1998, La Russa and Duncan's Cardinals have come north with five starters every year except for 2005, when Matt Morris' recovery from shoulder surgery carried him several weeks into the season.
In terms of relievers, 2000 was the only year in the last nine when the club broke camp with fewer than seven players in the bullpen. That year, the Cardinals had six. With seven relievers, there would only be room for five bench position players.
Lefty-righty bullpen balance
Every year since at least 1999, the Cardinals have carried at least two left-handed relievers. In 1999, 2001 and 2005, they opened the season with three lefties among their seven bullpenners.
Lefty-righty bench hitting balance
Moving on to the offense, let's look at the make-up of the bench in recent seasons. Only once since at least 2000 have the Cardinals opened the season with fewer than two bench players who could hit left-handed, either exclusively or as a switch-hitter. That was in 2002, a club that featured four left-handed hitters in the starting line-up, a situation that will not be repeated in 2007.
In fact, in four of the last six seasons, the bench opening the season featured three lefty-capable hitters. For example, in 2006, that group consisted of switch-hitter Scott Spiezio plus lefties John Rodriguez and Skip Schumaker. As an aside, two more left-handed hitting outfielders, Rick Ankiel and Larry Bigbie, opened the season on the 15-day disabled list.
The only time since at least 1998 that the Cardinals opened the season with three catchers was also the last time Eli Marrero was on the club, 2002, along with Mike Difelice. Again, that was the only time, as Marrero was the single catching back-up behind Mike Matheny in both 2000 and 2001.
Putting it all together
So, with that, here is the roster construction I expect to see the Cardinals select at the end of March. The "2+" next to both infielder and outfielder reflects a single player who can cover both positions.
Projected 2007 Cardinals Opening Day roster construction
|Relievers (7)||RHP (5)|
|Position Players (13)|
|Bench (5)||RH (3)|
I fully acknowledge that I created the above table not only as a result of considering the information in this article, but also after having looked at every player and written the second part of this piece. So, I backed into a position that I can defend. Do not consider it an absolute. It certainly isn't.
In Part Two, we will apply all this information to the contents of the Cardinals 40-man roster and handicap the odds of each player making the 25-man.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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