Which players should be let go? Which need to be protected? Which should be non-tendered rather than risk arbitration?
In all honesty, there aren't going to be that many difficult decisions for the club this winter.
Of the eight starting position players, seven of them are under team control. Only the shortstop job is open. With the major leap of faith that Chris Carpenter will be healthy, five veteran starters are locked in.
With injury recoveries by Josh Kinney and Tyler Johnson, there are more bullpen returnees than there are places on the 25-man active roster to put them. Even before any additions, the bench looks to have six returning players to compete for five roster spots.
Due to injured players, the actual count on the Cardinals current 40-man roster is 45. The following is an explanation of how the 45 are represented in the table below.
They are listed in four groupings. The first, "Under control", is made up of those veterans under contract along with players that have not yet reached the (almost) three years of major league service to qualify for arbitration. 25 players are in this group.
The next set consists of eight players with between just under three years and six years of service. The most noteworthy players in this group are three outfielders with considerable starting experience, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick and Chris Duncan*, along with starting pitcher Todd Wellemeyer and infielder Aaron Miles.
While salaries are not the focus of this article, it is worth noting that the eight, if all return to the Cardinals in 2009, will in aggregate receive a considerable salary increase compared to 2008.
* I am forecasting that Duncan will be arbitration-eligible as a Super Two, one of the top 17% of the two year players in terms of service time. Though the exact line for Super Two eligibility this year has not been announced, Duncan's two years, 144 days should be enough for him to qualify.
The third group is three players added to the 40-man roster when Memphis' season ended in September. Each was given a call-up to the majors for the final month, yet none saw much action then or are expected to be long-term factors at the MLB level.
The final players are those whose contracts are coming off the books. Most of the nine played substantive roles for the 2008 Cardinals, yet not all need be replaced from the outside for 2009. The nine have the option of declaring free agency during the 15 days immediately following the conclusion of the World Series.
|Under control (25)|
|Garcia (L- Inj)||Jimenez|
|Aribtration eligible (8)|
|T Johnson (L)||Ludwick||Duncan|
|September adds (3)|
|Free agents (9)|
The next exercise will be to consider what might happen over the upcoming days, weeks and months. I'll show the math first and explain afterward.
|40-man roster gyrations|
|Players under control||25|
|End 2008 season total||45|
|Minus free agents||-9|
|LHR, RHR, SP, SS, C|
|Rule 5 protects||+2|
45 minus nine free agents
Once the nine free agents are subtracted, the roster drops to 36 players.
Plus five needs
As noted above, there are adequate numbers in the relief corps, but it is generally considered the Cardinals will go after a stronger left-handed option than free agent Ron Villone, who made the team as a non-roster invitee last spring.
From the right side, veteran Russ Springer hasn't announced his intentions regarding playing another season, but if he wants to come back, the Cards seem primed to accept. Another possibility is deposed closer Jason Isringhausen as the club desires a veteran reliever with closing experience as a hedge against youngster Chris Perez' perceived inconsistency.
While Braden Looper's days as a member of the rotation are likely over, the Cardinals could look for a lower-cost, lower-profile insurance policy against Carpenter's health that would be a step up over swingman Brad Thompson. A left-hander would be ideal to balance the five righties in the projected rotation, plus Thompson.
With starting shortstop Cesar Izturis' one-year deal up, the Cardinals will have to replace him somehow, perhaps with a stronger offensive player. (While second baseman Adam Kennedy has asked to be traded, for purposes of roster management, a spot will be either held by him or his replacement.)
Backup catcher Jason LaRue did a credible job behind Yadier Molina and either he will be asked back or another veteran should be called upon. Youngster Bryan Anderson needs to play in Triple-A Memphis and hasn't yet been added to the 40-man. He also seems to be a trade candidate.
Plus two Rule 5 adds
In my recent article, "Potential 2008 Cardinals Rule 5 Eligibles", I noted the Cards' need to protect 2005 first-rounder, shortstop Tyler Greene. In addition, they might decide to protect another player such as reliever Luis Perdomo, acquired from Cleveland for Anthony Reyes, or oft-injured starter Mark McCormick, taken in the supplemental first round in 2005. Another dark horse backed by a number of Cardinals fans is reliever Matt Scherer, who was eligible to be selected last December but was not.
For purposes of this analysis, I assume two at most will be protected.
That would put the roster at 43 players, three over the limit. If you think more Rule 5 eligibles might be protected or additional veterans would be added to the 2009 club, the total would increase accordingly. For now, we'll go with…
Minus three removals to reach 40
The Cardinals should have absolutely no problem freeing up three or more roster spots needed to hit 40. In fact, they could very easily decide to cut more than three to provide additional roster flexibility.
Part of the reason I broke out the "September adds" separately is that at least two of them, catcher Mark Johnson and first baseman Josh Phelps, are expendable. The other, second baseman Brian Barden, had been dropped from the 40-man this past spring, but may have bought some time as his status rebounded with a solid 2008 season.
I consider three others, currently among the 25 "under control" players, as having tenuous holds on their roster spots. Two of them did not receive a whiff of a call up to St. Louis this past season despite 11 others making their MLB debuts. The third made his major league introduction, but did not impress.
They are starting pitcher Blake Hawksworth, a member of the organization since 2002 who limped home with a 9-20 record and an ERA of 5.61 the past two seasons combined in Triple-A, second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir, who dropped 55 points of OBP from 2007 to 2008 and reliever Mark Worrell, who allowed five runs in his first 5 2/3 MLB innings and was quickly passed by Perez and Jason Motte in the bullpen pecking order.
In addition, among the eight arbitration eligible players, left-handed reliever Randy Flores could find himself in the same position as infielder Aaron Miles did last winter.
In that scenario, the Cardinals would be fine with bringing the player back, but only if they didn't have to risk having to give him a raise via arbitration. They accomplish this by non-tendering the player, in essence making him a free agent, and then offering him the chance to come back, likely at a considerably reduced rate.
Alternatively, they could cut Flores loose and he could decide to seek his fortunes elsewhere, freeing up a roster spot. Yet, with Tyler Johnson's effectiveness upon his return from surgery still an unknown, the Cards may decide to try to keep Flores around.
Though a club cannot re-add players to the 60-day disabled list, which does not count against the 40 man limit, until the end of spring training, there are at least two players out for the 2009 season that could open up a pair of spots at that time – starters Mike Parisi and Jaime Garcia.
Those 40-man roster spots would be ideal for re-deployment if non-roster invitees make the 25-man opening day squad with good showings in spring training, such as Villone did this March.
The bottom line
Based on the number of free agents, the club's needs as well as Rule 5 at-risk players that need protection, the Cardinals should have no trouble balancing their 40-man roster this winter.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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