ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- It’s mid-November, but Cardinal Twitter would have you thinking pitchers and catchers report tomorrow.
Daily debates over next year’s 25-man roster fill social media, along with arguments over trade rumors both real and imagined. While the 25-man roster is the most exciting, fans ought to be looking at the bigger one- especially today.
With the Rule-5 draft approaching, pending decisions for the Cardinals 40-man roster are more pressing than any related the pursuit of a new outfielder. Friday is the last day teams can add prospects to their 40-man to protect them from being Rule 5 Draft eligible.
To do so, the Cardinals need to clear slots, or else risk losing prized talent. After recent trimmings of Jeremy Hazelbaker, Dean Kiekhefer—and already Friday, Tim Cooney—the 40-man roster stands at 36 players. John Mozeliak and company are likely not finished thinning the herd.
Players drafted as Rule 5 selections must remain on the major league roster of the team who picks them for the full season to follow. Several of the Cardinals talented young prospects would seem to require significant growth before being ready to arrive in the big leagues. However, St. Louis can’t ignore the possibility of these players being scooped up by a rebuilding club, as the Padres did with former Cardinals minor leaguer Luis Perdomo in last year’s Rule 5 Draft.
To be safe, the Cardinals would like to protect their prized youth. With so few spots available, however, the decision before the Cardinals is the degree to which they can plan for the future to the possible detriment of the present.
Magneuris Sierra: Though Sierra has not advanced beyond Class-A, the Cardinals would be foolish to put the 20-year old outfielder on a platter for the rest of the league. With a .307 average and 31 stolen bases in Peoria this year, Sierra is precisely the type of athletic prospect the Cardinals value. Letting him walk would be a sin.
Allen Cordoba: This 20-year old infielder is even more raw than Sierra, as Cordoba hasn’t progressed beyond rookie ball in Johnson City. It might be presumptive to include him as a lock for the 40-man roster, but his .922 OPS in 2016 is an indication of his upside. You would have to be in the midst of a complete tear-down to waste a major league roster spot on Cordoba in 2017, but I don’t think the Cardinals should take that risk, however minimal, on Cordoba.
Corey Littrell and/or Ryan Sherriff: Injuries to Zach Duke and Tyler Lyons have the St. Louis bullpen looking thin from the left side for the upcoming season. Corey Littrell and Ryan Sherriff—lefties who represented the Cardinals in the Arizona Fall League this year—could be candidates for promotion in 2017. Littrell, who came to St. Louis as the forgotten man in the John Lackey trade, struggled to a 4.56 ERA with Memphis, but flourished in his stint in Springfield with a 1.72 ERA. Sherriff has excellent splits against lefties, and was a Triple-A All-Star in 2016. It seems clear that unless the Cardinals do some fishing in the free agent market to upgrade their bullpen, one of these players will be in St. Louis next year.
ON THE BUBBLE
Rowan Wick: A former outfielder converted to a reliever full-time for 2016, Wick lit up the lower levels of the minors before posting a 4.12 ERA in Springfield.
Arturo Reyes: He started 19 games in Memphis this season, going 9-4 with a 4.17 ERA. At 24 years old, he could be snatched up if another club decides they are willing to stash him in their rotation in a rebuilding season.
Trey Nielson: The 24 year-old spent most of 2016 as a decent starter in Springfield, also boasting one great start in Memphis.
Eliezer Alvarez: The 22 year-old second baseman lit up Class-A with an .879 OPS in Peoria this season. Still raw, but has enough upside to be a possible selection should he be opened up to Rule 5 waters.
Juan Herrera: Another infielder, the Cardinals may be less inclined to use a valuable roster spot on the 23 year-old after a rough 2016 at the plate between Palm Beach and Springfield. Still, he is among their favored infield prospects, and bears mentioning today.
WHO COULD GO
This could be painful. Already Friday, the Cardinals watched the Indians swoop in to grab lefty starter Tim Cooney off waivers, clearing another roster spot. Minor league infielder Anthony Garcia seems a reasonable choice, as his ceiling offensively appears limited.
Mike Mayers, Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich are all candidates, too, as each has failed to grab hold of a consistent spot on the St. Louis roster. Who else might depart? Here are some possibilities.
Jose Martinez: The Cardinals outfield situation for next season is pretty foggy, and that includes the bench. A journeyman minor leaguer, the 28 year-old Martinez had success in St. Louis as a September call-up. But if the Cardinals don’t foresee a role for him on the bench next season, he may be packing his bags for another organization change.
Zach Duke: The Cardinals could get creative in their quest to retain prospects by releasing the injured lefty. They are already on the hook for his 2017 contract, so with the likelihood that Duke will be out for the entire season after Tommy John surgery in October, this would be one way to create extra space. However, the Cardinals just saw Lance Lynn succeed in rehab starts less than ten months after his own Tommy John surgery. It’s conceivable that Duke, as a reliever, could possibly make it back to major league action late in 2017. Watching Duke return in September to help a contender would be a tough pill to swallow.
Tommy Pham: This one may sound crazy, but the enigmatic outfielder clearly fell out of favor with the organization as this season progressed. If he’s not in the plans for the MLB bench next year, it wouldn’t stun me to see the Cardinals move him or let him walk.
Brayan Pena: Another option that would include eating cash, which makes it another unlikely avenue. But if the Cardinals want to groom Carson Kelly as the catcher of the future, they could decide to cut bait with Pena, who frustrated fans and the front office with his injury-plagued St. Louis debut in 2016.