Making Room for the Cards NRIs: Outrighting

We've looked at those non-roster prospects and veteran players that have the best chance of making the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals out of spring training. Now we will consider how the club might make room for them.

In Parts One and Two of our report on St. Louis Cardinals 2008 non-roster invitees (NRIs), we assessed the chances of prospects and veterans currently on the outside looking in to make the leap to the major leagues to start the season. Veteran Juan Gonzalez is the current poster child for this group, but a rookie like Chris Perez could also impress.

Earlier, we looked at which players could be optioned out. We noted the flexibility the club should have with at least two spots on the 40-man roster opening up once the season begins due to long-term injuries to Chris Carpenter and Juan Encarnacion.

We considered the Rule 5 status of outfielder Brian Barton (right) and its potential impact on the roster with the newest news being the immediate clearing of a roster spot due to the release of Scott Spiezio. Spiezio's departure leaves the Cardinals' 40-man at 39 players.

Originally, I thought I would stop there until we see more out of these players in game action, which just began this Wednesday, February 27. Yet, there is one additional part of the puzzle that can still be considered – the removal of players from the 40-man, while still keeping them in the organization.

There is a standard way to do this and a less-standard, higher-risk way. The normal route would be to outright a player to the minors. There is a major risk involved as these players must first pass through outright waivers without being claimed by another organization. These waivers are not revocable, so a club that places a player on outright waivers cannot pull him back if claimed.

If a player has never been outrighted in his career and has less than three years of MLB service time is outrighted and clears waivers, he must report to the minor leagues.

Recent outrighting history

In 2007 alone, Cardinals players in that situation who were outrighted included catcher Michel Hernandez (January) along with pitchers Chris Narveson (February), Brian Falkenborg (May) and Dennis Dove (November - right).

If a player has been outrighted previously or has more than three years of service time, then he has a choice to make. The player can declare free agency right then or at the end of the season. Or, even if he wants to remain with the organization, he must clear waivers. Veteran catcher Kelly Stinnett (June) was outrighted last season.

An even more unorthodox method is to cut the player free and re-sign him to a minor league contract. This has been used with Rick Ankiel in the past as a way to get him to the minor leagues after all of his option years had been exhausted.

In December, 2006, the Cardinals non-tendered Ankiel, meaning they did not offer him a major league contract for 2007 by the deadline. That made the player a free agent. With a pre-agreement likely already in place before the whole thing started, the Cards then re-signed Ankiel to a minor league deal for 2007 that remained in place until the outfielder's contract was purchased by the Cardinals in August. At that point, Ankiel rejoined the 40-man and 25-man rosters.

Possible outrighting candidates

There are only two players on the current 40-man roster who have less than three years of service time and have already been outrighted once in their career. They are outfielder Ryan Ludwick, outrighted by the Cleveland Indians in 2005 and Tyler Johnson, who was outrighted as part of the Rule 5 process before being returned by the Oakland A's to the Cardinals after they selected him in the December, 2004 Rule 5 draft.

16 other players currently on the 40-man each have under three years time, have never been outrighted and are not among the list of players I designated as "Secure" in Part One of this series. (The latter point excludes Chris Duncan and Adam Wainwright, who are not at risk of going anywhere.)

Of the 16 players, 14 still have options remaining. If they don't make the big club and the organization wants to keep them over other players competing for 40-man space, they can be sent down with no exposure.

One exception is outfielder Skip Schumaker (right), who is out of options. If he does not come out well in the St. Louis outfield derby in March, the only way to get him to the minors would be to outright him. I wrote more on his situation in Part One of this series.

The other outlier is outfielder Brian Barton, claimed from Cleveland in the December, 2007 Rule 5 draft. Like Johnson, if he is returned to the Indians, he will use an outright. But at that point, it won't matter to the Cardinals. For the purposes of this article, what being returned would mean is that Barton's 40-man roster spot would be opened up for another Cardinals player who made the club.

The immediate futures of at least 11 of the 14 players with options remaining seem to be solid at this point. In other words, I don't see these players being at any risk of being outrighted this spring. Many of them were just added to the 40-man over the winter and the others certainly look to be part of the Cardinals 2008 plans. They will surely be optioned out if they don't make the Cardinals.

Unlikely outrights Service
Blake Hawksworth 0.000
Jarrett Hoffpauir 0.000
Josh Kinney 1.058
Joe Mather 0.000
Kyle McClellan 0.000
Jason Motte 0.000
Mike Parisi 0.000
Anthony Reyes 1.089
Brendan Ryan 0.097
Brad Thompson 2.110
Mark Worrell 0.000

The three remaining are those that I see most at risk of removal from the 40-man. If the Cardinals need more than the two 40-man roster spots that can be freed up when Chris Carpenter and Juan Encarnacion move to the 60-day disabled list to start the season, Spiezio's spot and the up to two spots potentially freed up by Schumaker and/or Barton, then one or more of these players could be outrighted to Memphis.

The reasons for needing 40-man spots could include a combination of a trade, the free-agent signing of an established major leaguer and/or a number of NRIs making the club out of spring training.

Outright candidates Service
Brian Barden 0.045
Cody Haerther 0.000
Kelvin Jimenez 0.088

The three are listed in alphabetical order, but also in my view of their probability of being sacked. To be honest, because of the roster flexibility noted above, I don't see any of them at high risk at this point, though that could change over the next four weeks.

Brian Barden

Barden was originally selected in the sixth round of the 2002 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and was considered one of their better prospects coming up. Yet, the third baseman seemed to plateau out, and at the age of 26, was placed on waivers and subsequently claimed by the Cardinals last August 13.

Barden was optioned to the Cardinals Triple-A Memphis roster until being called up as part of the post-September 1 wave when rosters expanded. With Memphis, in 68 at-bats, he had posted an anemic .235/.286/.368 (BA/OBP/SLG) line.

The third baseman made his first Major League Opening Day roster last season with Arizona, with his MLB debut on April 3 as a pinch hitter at Colorado. Barden had one hit in 12 at-bats in his eight games before being optioned to Triple-A Tucson in May.

Once back up with the Cardinals in September, the 26-year-old went 5-for-23 (.217) while seeing very limited time at second base and shortstop. A pair of retread infielders who also joined the club late in the season, Miguel Cairo (.254 in 67 at-bats) and Russell Branyan (.188 in 32 at-bats) were each given more playing time than Barden.

While Cairo and Branyan are gone and Barden remains, the very limited September audition during a time when the team should have had plenty of at-bats due to injuries and their sub-.500 record didn't necessarily signal a high level of regard for him by the organization.

To stack the deck even more against Barden, Triple-A looks crowded in 2008, too. Third baseman David Freese was brought from San Diego in the trade for Jim Edmonds and second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir was among those added to the 40-man over the winter.

Some hope may remain at shortstop, however. Prior to the release of Spiezio, Brendan Ryan seemed destined for a return to Memphis to be their man in the middle. The major league infield logjam still includes Adam Kennedy, Aaron Miles and Cesar Izturis, not to mention NRI D'Angelo Jimenez.

Ryan and Barden basically can play the same positions – second, third and short, so Barden had better be rooting to Brendan to stick in St. Louis – and for former first-rounder Tyler Greene to need more time in Double-A.

If the Cards need a 40-man spot, risking the loss of Barden seems a most plausible scenario, though his chances of staying around improved when Spiezio exited.

Cody Haerther

To put it mildly, outfielder Cody Haerther had a strange winter. Still ranked as our number 27 prospect in the Cardinals system, the 24-year-old left two different organizations in less than a week during November, only to end up right back where he started.

Haerther was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays as the Cardinals tried to pass him through, hoping to use the roster space to protect another. After just two days on the Jays' 40-man, they designated Haerther for assignment in order to make room for another player. He was placed back on waivers, with the Cardinals exercising their right to reclaim Haerther.

It should be noted that neither the Cardinals nor the Jays exhausted Haerther's one "free" outright despite all the roster gymnastics in November, since the outfielder was claimed each time before the outrights could take effect.

It was just 12 months earlier, in November, 2006, that the Cards first added Haerther to their 40-man roster. Since then, he suffered through a wasted 2007 season, starting with an injury suffered in the very first spring training contest.

Haerther appeared in just 41 games during 2007 but was fully recovered by the end of the season. As such, he seemed to have been in the ideal situation to play winter ball to reassert his standing. Oddly, that did not happen despite the player having told me he was interested in doing so.

During 2007, Rick Ankiel and Joe Mather passed him on the outfield prospect ladder. Other competitors like Nick Stavinoha and Amaury Marti are coming into camp in at least in a strong of a position as Haerther.

While the Cardinals brass affirm their admiration for Haerther, their actions over the winter do not speak highly for where they may consider him in their crowded outfield pecking order.

If another 40-man spot is needed this spring, considering they did it once, what would keep the Cardinals from exposing Haerther to waivers yet again?

Kelvin Jimenez

The 27-year-old right-hander was signed to his first professional contract by the Texas Rangers in 2000 from the Dominican Republic. In 2002, he aged two years as part of a crack-down instituted by MLB.

Jimenez steadily moved up the ranks each year, reaching Triple-A in 2005 and repeating the level in 2006. He was converted from being a swingman to exclusively a reliever about that time. Jimenez posted a 5.21 ERA in 26 games for Triple-A Oklahoma before suffering an elbow injury in July and missing the remainder of the 2006 season.

Jimenez became a six-year minor league free agent in the fall of 2006 and signed with the Cardinals a year ago last December. He was one of the final cuts in 2007 spring training after posting a 0.96 ERA in nine games and became the first call-up of the season from Triple-A Memphis on April 27, at which point in time he was added to the 40-man roster.

It was far from an impressive debut as Jimenez posted a 10.41 ERA in his first 20 Major League games before being optioned back to Memphis on June 16. There, his results improved until he went onto the disabled list with shoulder soreness in July. He was recalled to St. Louis near the end of the month for one week before being returned to Memphis. Jimenez was called up a third time on September 1 when rosters expanded.

Overall, with Memphis, he posted a 2.32 ERA in 30 games, 39 2/3 innings, as hitters managed a .289 average against him. At the MLB level, Jimenez fared more poorly. His 7.50 ERA was accrued over 42 innings, during which time he allowed opposing hitters a .320 batting average against. He fanned 24, walked 17 and allowed two home runs.

I honestly thought Jimenez was at risk of being bounced from the 40-man in December when John Rodriguez was released. Yet, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan seem to like Jimenez and if the Matt Clement setback is prolonged, Jimenez' chances of actually making the big club improve.

On the other hand, just one year ago, reliever Dennis Dove was in a similar situation, knocking on the door. Though injuries probably contributed to the fact that Dove is no longer on the 40-man, the same fate could happen to Jimenez, too.

On deck

In Part Four, the final installment of this series, we will take a look around the National League Central Division at some of the most intriguing non-roster invitees in the spring 2008 training camps of the Cardinals' most direct competitors.

Links to previous articles in this series:

"Handicapping the 2008 Cards NRIs: Prospects"
"Handicapping the 2008 Cards NRIs: Veterans"

Related articles:

"The St. Louis Cardinals 2008 Roster ‘Options'"
"The Cards Outfield, Barton, Rule 5 and the DL"



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

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