Over the upcoming weeks, we will watch game telecasts, listen to others on the radio or internet, catch highlight shows and of course, read newspapers and websites in an attempt to single out who is playing well and who might be at risk.
While logic tells us that the best 25 players by position, regardless of salary, age or any other considerations should be the ones to head north, there is another important set of off-the-field factors to consider.
Specifically, I am referring to the option status of the players. In other words, which ones can be sent down to the minor leagues without the risk of losing them?
When I recently penned the article "2008 St. Louis Cardinals: Team in Transition", I quickly sat down and penciled out my early forecast of the Cardinals' opening day roster. The understanding of each player's option situation figured into my outlook. I will explain further here.
Two springs ago, I ran a four-part series in which the primary rules and uses of options and outrighting (removing a player from the 40-man roster) were reviewed. Rather than recreate that background information here, the links to those articles are provided for your reference:
Applying this information to the current Cardinals' 40-man, I have broken the roster into six groups. I label two as "Secure". The largest group of 14 players consists of those I believe will be on the 25-man opening day roster, short of injury or trade between now and the end of March.
If healthy, four others would be a part of the initial 25-man roster, but instead are expected to be placed on the disabled list to start the season. As such, they do not count against the 25 active player limit.
|Secure - active (14)||Service|
|Secure - disabled list (4)|
That leaves at least 22 players in camp competing for the remaining eleven spots. I will digress for a moment by commenting that for each non-roster invitee (NRI) in camp that makes the club (25-man active roster) out of spring training, one player would have to be removed from the 40-man.
The 22 40-man roster candidates are broken out below by their option status. Each player has none, one, two or three option years remaining.
No options remaining
The first group of four is potentially most troublesome – those with all their options previously exhausted. One could easily and convincingly argue that three of the four - Rick Ankiel, the outfield version, Ryan Ludwick and Todd Wellemeyer - have all earned spots on the 25-man already based on their 2007 performances.
That very well could be, but I am including them here to specifically call out the fact that the Cardinals have almost no flexibility NOT to include them on the roster. In the cases of Ankiel and Wellemeyer, due to the combination of being out of options and the fact that they each have over three years of service time, they could not be sent down without first being removed from the 40-man.
If that would happen, they could opt to become free agents instead. And even if they were willing to report to Memphis, they would first have to clear irrevocable waivers, meaning the Cardinals could not change their mind if the players were claimed. That substantially increases the likelihood they would be lost to the Cardinals in the event it ever got that far.
Ludwick has already been outrighted once in his career, by the Indians in 2005. As a result, he cannot again be removed from the 40-man roster without being given the same free agency choice, followed by the waivers clearing sequence noted above.
With Rule 5 pickup Brian Barton on the roster, non-roster invitee Juan Gonzalez in camp and top prospect Colby Rasmus on the front porch, Schumaker's (right) position is the most tenuous of the four in the "no options remaining" group.
With only a little over one year of MLB service time, Schumaker is different from the others in that he would be required to report to Memphis if outrighted. However, like the others, he would have to clear waivers first. It would seem there is reasonable risk that Schumaker would be claimed instead.
If Schumaker proves to be on the bubble at the end of March, the Cardinals would probably wait until the last possible moment to expose him to waivers in the hope that other clubs, faced with trimming their own rosters at the same time, might pass. Still, it represents a risky scenario if the Cardinals see a future for Schumaker in their organization.
My take is that the first three, Ankiel, Ludwick and Wellemeyer are most likely in. The Cardinals may try to either trade Schumaker or slip him through waivers. Even if the latter occurs, the risk would not have passed. To come back up to the majors again later would require Skip to be re-added to the 25-man and then to have to pass through waivers once more if he doesn't stick in the bigs.
|No options (4)||Outrighting required||Service|
|Rick Ankiel||Could declare FA or must clear waivers||4.033|
|Ryan Ludwick||Could declare FA or must clear waivers||2.109|
|Skip Schumaker||Must report if clears waivers||1.051|
|Todd Wellemeyer||Could declare FA or must clear waivers||4.009|
One option remaining
The next pair of players, Anthony Reyes (right) and Brendan Ryan, are rapidly approaching the same spot in which Schumaker finds himself today. They each have just one more season to be easily shuttled back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis before a more permanent decision must be made on their major league permanence.
Yet because of the very nature of their ability to be sent down "penalty-free", these two are squarely on the bubble in terms of making the 2008 team. Reyes needs to clearly win a rotation spot in camp. Certainly, his odds increased when it was announced that Matt Clement is not expected to be ready to start the season.
Ryan probably doesn't control his destiny, instead needing an infield version of the Clement setback to create an opening. Specifically an injury from one of the other middle infielders or a trade or release of a veteran such as Aaron Miles or Scott Spiezio would seem to be the keys for Ryan to make the team out of spring training. Releasing of one the veterans would come with a significant price tag attached, so it is the least likely scenario.
As a small footnote, in a recent article on Reyes' fourth option year here in 2008, I noted that his August three-year anniversary date this coming August could override his option. After discussions with an individual that works with MLB waiver rules regularly, we have come to a tentative conclusion that Reyes may in fact be protected all season long. The official reminded me of the gentlemen's agreement for option waivers noted in the Reyes article. That should clear a path for him even if the Cardinals want to send him down in August.
|One option remaining (2)||Option action||Service|
|Anthony Reyes||Waivers required after 8/5/08?||1.089|
Two options remaining
The players with two options remaining include the pair of incumbent lefties in the pen, Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson. The latter can be sent down with no risk, but because three years has passed since the former's MLB debut, Flores would have to clear waivers before being assigned to Memphis.
From an options/outrighting perspective, if recent signee Ron Villone or Randy's brother Ron makes the club as an NRI, barring a trade, it would seem Johnson would be the easiest to move to make room by exercising one of his remaining option years in 2008.
Others with two options that would appear to be "no-brainers" in terms of a trip to Memphis to start 2008 include Brian Barden, Cody Haerther and Blake Hawksworth. Kelvin Jimenez would also have been in this group had Matt Clement not experienced a setback. More on that below.
Reliever Josh Kinney (right) is listed here rather than in the "Secure – disabled list" category only because I wanted to call out the flexibility the Cardinals have with him. Kinney could be sent out on a rehab assignment to get ready for a possible May return, but even if he is not ready after the maximum 30 days, he could be optioned to Memphis until he and the Cardinals determine they are ready for each other.
That leaves Brad Thompson, who along with Reyes and Wellemeyer is competing for the final two spots at the back of the rotation. Brad reaches his three-year anniversary as a major leaguer in early May. Technically, he would have to pass through waivers to be optioned out after that date, so if that is needed, let's hope the gentleman's agreement holds.
Another interesting sidelight is that despite Thompson having been optioned to Memphis during 2007, he did not exhaust an option year in the process. This is because he spent less than 20 days in total down there – from August 24 until September 4.
|Two options remaining (8)||Option action||Service|
|Randy Flores||Waivers required now||3.130|
|Tyler Johnson||Waivers required after 9/2/08||2.005|
|Josh Kinney||Disabled List||1.058|
|Brad Thompson||Waivers required after 5/5/08||2.110|
Three options remaining
The final group in this analysis consists of those with all three options remaining. It is a relatively uninteresting group in terms of this study, since most were added to the roster over the winter and are not expected to have a viable chance to make the big club this spring.
One exception is rookie Rule 5 selection Brian Barton (right). The centerfielder must either stick on the Cardinals' 25-man roster or be passed through waivers. If claimed by another organization, Barton would be required to remain on that team's 25-man roster for the remainder of the 2008 season. Instead, if he clears, he can then be taken back by his original employers, the Cleveland Indians. Only if Barton passed through all those steps successfully could the Cardinals option him out this season.
The other unusual case is Aaron Miles. I listed him here instead of in the "Secure" category since he was let go by the club over the winter and because I am anticipating that Ryan will be given a fair shot at unseating him. Yet, despite Miles having options, he could not be assigned to the minor leagues without having been exposed to waivers first because of his time in the majors.
|Three options remaining (8)||Option action||Service|
|Brian Barton||Rule 5 clear waivers or returned first||0.000|
|Aaron Miles||Waivers required now||4.027|
In summary, here is that projected 25-man roster from the earlier article, along with the other moves from the 40-man roster to achieve that end. Again, at this point in time, it is assumed that no NRIs make the team. That surely could change based on results on the fields of Florida this spring.
The only change from the previous forecast is the move of Todd Wellemeyer from the bullpen to the rotation to replace injured Matt Clement, replaced by Kelvin Jimenez in the pen. With a solid March showing, non-roster invitee Chris Perez could easily take that extra relief spot himself, but that isn't the focus of this report.
The signing of another starting pitcher to provide coverage for the Clement exposure would also change matters. We will revisit all of this during March and as warranted.
2008 St. Louis Cardinals projected roster - 02/20/08 (25 of 40)
Starting pitchers (5): Looper, Pineiro, Reyes, Wainwright, Wellemeyer
Bullpen (7): Ra Flores, Franklin, Isringhausen, Jimenez, Johnson, Springer, Thompson
Infielders (5): Glaus, Izturis, Kennedy, Molina, Pujols
Outfielders (3): Ankiel, Duncan, Ludwick
Reserves (5): Barton, LaRue, Miles, Schumaker, Spiezio
Disabled list (5): Carpenter, Clement, Encarnacion, Kinney, Mulder
Optioned to the minor leagues (10): Barden, Haerther, Hawksworth, Hoffpauir, Mather, McClellan, Motte, Parisi, Ryan, Worrell
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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