Ryan Works both Ways While Thompson Departs

One injury took him out and another re-opened the door for Brendan Ryan. The St. Louis Cardinals are activating the infielder and optioning pitcher Brad Thompson to Memphis. While the moves likely aren't ending there, they may soon become more difficult.

Infielder Brendan Ryan is being activated by the St. Louis Cardinals and will join the club in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The 26-year-old has been on a rehab assignment, first with A-Advanced Palm Beach, then with Double-A Springfield. He logged ten hits in 31 at-bats, posting a .323/.382/.548 (BA/OBP/SLG) line between the two stops while playing at his primary position, shortstop.

Ryan had suffered a strain in his rib area partway through spring training which robbed him of the likelihood of coming north with the major league club to begin the season for the first time in his career. That roster spot seemed originally earmarked for veteran utilityman Scott Spiezio, but he was released this spring when off-the-field problems compromised his job performance.

Instead, career minor leaguer Rico Washington received the call to start the season with the Cardinals before being optioned out to Triple-A Memphis earlier this week. He was replaced on the active roster by reliever Russ Springer.

As a result, St. Louis played the two-game Milwaukee series with just four bench position players and ended up being burned by the roster maneuver.

In Tuesday's game, shortstop Cesar Izturis was hit by a pitch, suffering a contusion just below his right elbow that took him out of the game and perhaps to the sidelines for awhile. From there, everything went crazy.

All-World Albert Pujols made his MLB debut at second base, causing fantasy leaguers everywhere to fear the slugger's elbow would immediately become disconnected as soon as he slid the smaller fielders' glove onto his other hand. In addition, two pitchers, Adam Wainwright and Braden Looper, each were called upon to pinch hit as the game went into extra innings.

In the tight contest, one the Cardinals lost in 12 innings, the versatile Ryan would have come in handy. In hindsight, he would have been far more valuable to the club than their 13th pitcher, sitting in the bullpen, turned out to be.

Ironically, Ryan now is poised to reclaim the roster spot he lost because of injury due to another teammate's physical problems. Sometimes things do come around.

From a roster perspective, Ryan has one minor league option season remaining, which may or may not be exhausted this season. One could argue that by now he should be ready to become a full-time major leaguer, though there are always considerations outside the player's control.

As Ryan told me in this interview about ten days ago, the focus in his rehab and therefore, one gate in his return, was not hitting or throwing, it was in running. Another gate was considered by some to be Manager Tony La Russa, who asserts that he likes Ryan while at the same time acknowledging the view that he plays "young".

Analyzing La Russa's lineup moves seems to indicate he may be more comfortable with Ryan at third base than where help seems most immediately needed – to cover for Izturis at Ryan's natural shortstop position.

Brad's future cloudy?

Due to the above combination of factors, swingman Brad Thompson is being optioned to Triple-A Memphis to make room for Ryan. The corresponding roster move with the Redbirds is not yet known.

In 2008, Thompson, 26, has appeared in two games as a starter and four out of the bullpen, posting an aggregate 4.58 ERA. He fanned 13 in 17.2 innings but also walked too many, ten. Worse, he gave up four runs in the sixth inning on Tuesday after having yielded a Prince Fielder home run in the tenth frame in another tough loss to the Brewers last Thursday.

While Thompson has provided his manager and pitching coach with role flexibility, the club may soon lose some roster flexibility with him.

Unlike Ryan, Thompson actually has two option years remaining. Though he was sent down briefly between last August 24 and September 4, he did not remain in the minor leagues for at least 20 days, so an option was not used in 2007. Yet, those options may soon become devalued.

What many do not know or understand is that even if a player has options remaining, he cannot be optioned out without first passing through waivers once the player's third anniversary since his MLB debut has passed.

While these options are revocable, if the player is claimed and the options are revoked, from a practical view, he would need to be kept in the majors for the short-term. This would effectively block the desired roster move for all intents and purposes.

Some do downplay this concern. I am told that as a courtesy, clubs usually pass on these types of waivers, allowing players to move down freely. Yet, all it would take is one claim by a heated competitor to gum up the works for the Cardinals.

For Thompson, the date in question is May 5, 2008. While the Cardinals can send him down cleanly now, that choice will change in less than two weeks. In other words, it may not be possible for Thompson to be shuffled up and down over and over again this season without soon facing a real risk of losing him to another organization.

How about Anthony, then?

One could conclude that with the return of starter Mark Mulder likely less than a month away and perhaps relievers Josh Kinney and/or Tyler Johnson not too much further behind, short of additional injuries, the Cardinals roster crunch will only worsen. As a result, Thompson could become trade bait, even before the pitcher generally viewed to be the most likely candidate to be shipped out in a deal, Anthony Reyes (right).

In fact, Reyes is the other Cardinals swingman who might be considered to be in a most comparable situation to Thompson in terms of role, usage and in options remaining. (Reyes has one.) Correspondingly, I believe that Reyes' three-year MLB anniversary arrives on August 5 of this year.

Between now and then, anything could go with Reyes, but again some of his minor league roster flexibility will be lost before we know it. With Chris Carpenter projected to be coming back in July, we will revisit Reyes' situation before the summer is out.

In the meantime, watch this space in terms of Brad Thompson's future with the St. Louis Cardinals.

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

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