Cardinals Roster Roulette

Looking at many of the puts and takes that may go into the St. Louis Cardinals' yearly off-season roster reconstruction in preparation for the 2008 season.

As each season nears its end, a segment of St. Louis Cardinals fans agitate for certain top prospects to be called up from the minor leagues, seemingly without understanding or caring about the potential roster ramifications of such moves.

In many cases, it means more than simply taking off one player to add another. It also can prematurely begin the elapsed time until they can be eligible for arbitration (meaning higher salary) and ultimately, free agency.

In other cases, it might entail exposing a player to waivers, assuming unnecessary risk that a wanted member of the team could be lost forever.

But at this point of the calendar, the current issues have more to do with the series of off-season steps needed to remold the roster for the subsequent season.

Let's look at what might be happening with the Cardinals' 40-man roster in the upcoming weeks. First, let's start with what we know – the current state of the roster.

Current
40-Man Roster (45)
Pitchers (22)

DL

Chris Carpenter   60-day 
Andy Cavazos
Dennis Dove
Brian Falkenborg
Randy Flores
Ryan Franklin
Blake Hawksworth
Jason Isringhausen
Kelvin Jimenez
Tyler Johnson
Josh Kinney   60-day 
Braden Looper
Mike Maroth
Mark Mulder
Troy Percival
Joel Pineiro
Anthony Reyes
Russ Springer
Brad Thompson
Adam Wainwright
Todd Wellemeyer
Kip Wells
Catchers (3)
Gary Bennett
Yadier Molina
Kelly Stinnett
Infielders (10)
Brian Barden
Russell Branyan
Miguel Cairo
David Eckstein
Adam Kennedy
Aaron Miles
Albert Pujols
Scott Rolen   60-day 
Brendan Ryan
Scott Spiezio
Outfielders (10)
Rick Ankiel
Chris Duncan
Jim Edmonds
Juan Encarnacion   60-day 
Cody Haerther
Ryan Ludwick
John Rodriguez
Skip Schumaker
So Taguchi
Preston Wilson   60-day 

First of all, you might note 45 players listed, but wonder how that can be. That is because long-term injured players on the 60-man disabled list do not count against the 40-man limit in-season. Since the season is now over, that will soon change.

That is but one of a number of puts and takes that can be anticipated in the upcoming days and weeks. Here are the general categories to consider:

Additions:
Returning all players on the 60-day disabled list to the 40-man – This must occur within 15 days following the completion of the World Series. This year, that date should be somewhere between November 12 and 16, depending if the Series goes a full seven games.

Protecting youngsters from the Rule 5 draft – Players drafted in 2002 or earlier will become eligible to be taken in December's Rule 5 draft if they haven't been added to the 40-man roster by November 20.

Deletions:
Free agents – Players without a 2008 contract who declare free agency are removed from the 40-man – unless/until they re-sign, that is. These players may file for free agency during the 15 days following the conclusion of the World Series. During that short window, these players may only negotiate with the Cardinals. After the 15-day period, they become eligible to sign with any team.

Removing non-prospects – Just what it means. Every year, a handful of players are taken off the 40-man as a signal their status has shifted from prospect to non-prospect, freeing up roster space for the next crop. There is no exact timetable for this. Some organizations have already made a number of these moves this fall, outrighting players to the minors.

Team options declined - The Cardinals have the choice in several cases whether they want to pay a player a set, pre-agreed amount for 2008 or instead turn him loose via free agency.

Non-tenders - Players on the 40-man roster can be removed if not tendered a 2008 contract by December 12. At that point, they become free agents, eligible to sign with any team. Typically, these are players that have less than six years of major league service time, so are not yet eligible for free agency.

The roster tally:

Here is a look at how this might play out. Projected changes are in italics. Remember, your mileage may vary…

Possible changes to
40-Man Roster (45)
Pitchers (22)

DL

Cuts?
Chris Carpenter   60-day 
Andy Cavazos Outright
Dennis Dove
Brian Falkenborg Non tender
Randy Flores
Ryan Franklin
Blake Hawksworth
Jason Isringhausen
Kelvin Jimenez Outright
Tyler Johnson
Josh Kinney   60-day 
Braden Looper
Mike Maroth Non tender
Mark Mulder
Troy Percival Free agent
Joel Pineiro Mutual option
Anthony Reyes
Russ Springer Free agent
Brad Thompson
Adam Wainwright
Todd Wellemeyer
Kip Wells Free agent
Catchers (3)
Gary Bennett Team Option
Yadier Molina
Kelly Stinnett Free agent
Infielders (10)
Brian Barden
Russell Branyan Free agent
Miguel Cairo Free agent
David Eckstein Free agent
Adam Kennedy
Aaron Miles
Albert Pujols
Scott Rolen   60-day 
Brendan Ryan
Scott Spiezio
Outfielders (10)
Rick Ankiel
Chris Duncan
Jim Edmonds
Juan Encarnacion   60-day 
Cody Haerther
Ryan Ludwick
John Rodriguez Outright
Skip Schumaker
So Taguchi Team Option
Preston Wilson   60-day  Free agent

Let's delve into each potential roster change in detail, keeping a running total, starting with the current count of 40. The first two steps will actually occur in concert timing-wise.

Implied here is a change in management that is only partially-developed at this time. General manager Walt Jocketty is out with his job still open. Field manager Tony La Russa may not return. Certainly, those decisions could adjust what follows.

60-day DL added to 40-man – This includes five players – Chris Carpenter, Josh Kinney, Scott Rolen, Juan Encarnacion and Preston Wilson.

40+5=45

Free agents removed from 40-man – Nine Cardinals players can become free agents. That includes starting pitcher Joel Pineiro, who has a mutual option (both the team and player must agree) on his 2008 contract that came with him from the Red Sox to the Cardinals in August.

Based on a dearth of free-agent pitching available and his late-season success in St. Louis, Pineiro may decide to test his value on the open market. That is what we estimate here. While the Cardinals reportedly want Pineiro back, it is not assured. Think Jeff Weaver, albeit without Scott Boras in his corner.

The other eight free-agents-to-be are pitchers Troy Percival, Russ Springer, Kip Wells, catcher Kelly Stinnett, infielders Russell Branyan, Miguel Cairo and David Eckstein plus outfielder Preston Wilson. Of that group, perhaps Springer is the most likely to return, with Eckstein as the highest-profile player. For now, we will consider them all as free agents.

45-9=36

Removing non-prospects – Since late in the season, Troy Cate, Travis Hanson and Brian Esposito had already traveled this route, being dropped from the 40-man and outrighted to Memphis.

Others who might follow include Andy Cavazos, Kelvin Jimenez and John Rodriguez. Brian Barden could be another candidate, but is not included in these numbers in the first go-round. Picked up in mid-August, Barden hasn't yet had a chance to strut his stuff for the organization.

36-3=33

Rule 5 protection – I went through this in detail last month in the article "Cards Rule 5 and September Call-Up Trade-Offs", but the net is that I see four players who seem most likely to be protected. They are second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir, first baseman/outfielder Joe Mather, and pitchers Jason Motte and Stuart Pomeranz.

If you think others like relievers Kyle McClellan, Mark Worrell and Mike Sillman also deserve Rule 5 protection, your roster would need to accommodate them. Unlike at least one other site, I don't think seven adds are realistic, so I am just going with the top four.

33+4=37

Options declined - Two players for whom the Cardinals have team options for 2008 may see their options declined – So Taguchi and Gary Bennett. Cheaper and more effective options should be readily available. If they would be replaced with minimum-salary players, about $1 million would be freed up next season. At least as important may be the two roster spots recovered.

37-2=35

Non-tenders – Players who might be potentially cut loose include Brian Falkenborg and Mike Maroth, who like the two immediately above could be replaced by cheaper, more effective players.

With a glut of middle infielders, arbitration-eligible Aaron Miles could be another non-tender candidate if the Cardinals decide to go younger and cheaper. But, he is not included here – at least not until the plans for the shortstop position are more clearly defined.

35-2=33

New players – Getting this far would leave seven roster spots to be filled by players re-signed, traded for or acquired via free agency. Of course, this number could drop further if players on the 40-man were to be traded away, but no assumptions about that are being made at this point.

We can assert the Cardinals need at least one starting pitcher, a back up catcher, a starting shortstop and a power-hitting outfielder. They also need a couple of dependable right-handed relievers if Percival and Springer do not return. That total is six.

33+6=39

The end result:
We will see how this actually unfolds in the upcoming months, but here is one view of how the Cardinals roster may come together for Spring Training, 2008. This table summarizes the moves discussed above. As above, projected changes are in italics.

Projected
40-Man Roster (39)
Pitchers (19)
Chris Carpenter
Dennis Dove
Randy Flores
Ryan Franklin
Blake Hawksworth
Jason Isringhausen
Tyler Johnson
Josh Kinney
Braden Looper
Mark Mulder
Anthony Reyes
Brad Thompson
Adam Wainwright
Todd Wellemeyer
Jason Motte
Stuart Pomeranz
New starter
New reliever 1
New reliever 2
Catchers (2)
Yadier Molina
New back-up
Infielders (9)
Brian Barden
Adam Kennedy
Aaron Miles
Albert Pujols
Scott Rolen
Brendan Ryan
Scott Spiezio
Jarrett Hoffpauir
New shortstop
Outfielders (9)
Rick Ankiel
Chris Duncan
Jim Edmonds
Juan Encarnacion
Cody Haerther
Ryan Ludwick
Skip Schumaker
Joe Mather
New outfielder

That would leave one wild card opening to reach 40. Every spring, one or two non-roster invitees invariably make the team, so they could hold aside at least one spot for that likelihood. A third catcher may be desired for competition purposes, but that can always be handled via a non-roster invitee, ala Eli Marrero in 2007.

Another 40-man spot can be projected to be reclaimed at the end of the spring when Carpenter is eligible to be returned to the 60-day DL. Juan Encarnacion's ongoing status also remains a question mark. His recovery from eye surgery is not assured, potentially opening up one more.

That could leave as many as three open spots of 40-man roster flexibility heading into Spring Training, even after netting up a total of six potential signings over the winter.



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

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