With opening day right around the corner, Cardinals still have roster decisions to make
With just more than a week to go until opening day against the Toronto Blue Jays at Busch Stadium, many of the decisions regarding the Cardinals’ opening day roster have already been made.
Some of those likely include surprises, and some will be made out of necessity.
Some, though, remain to be finalized, and the Cardinals find themselves in the enviable position of seemingly escaping spring with their health relatively intact. Indeed, with a week to go, there’s only one obvious candidate to open the season on the injured list, leaving a variety of options and some very difficult cuts.
Tuesday’s lineup against the Washington Nationals seemed to signal a transition into a period in which some players will start to get rest to prepare them for the season — and some will have to fight to the wire for their spots. Here’s the best guess for how those battles work out.
Behind the plate
Catchers (2): Willson Contreras, Andrew Knizner
Last Cut: Tres Barrera
The unexpected battle to backup Contreras sprung from Knizner’s weak spring at the plate and an appreciation the Cardinals have developed for Barrera’s defensive skills. Still, when in doubt, lean on incumbency and the roster moves of least resistance. Should another team be unhappy with their backup or particularly enamored of Knizner, he could be a candidate to be on the move.
Around the horn
Infielders (6): Nolan Arenado, Brendan Donovan, Tommy Edman, Nolan Gorman, Paul Goldschmidt, Taylor Motter
Injured List: Paul DeJong
Last Cut: Masyn Winn
DeJong started the spring with a sluggish arm and is wrapping it up with a stiff back. That could allow the Cardinals as much as a month of extra evaluation of his renovated swing before they decide whether he can contribute as a backup infielder.
Motter, a veteran non-roster invite, has displayed the ability to play all over the diamond and has shown flashes of pop, despite a career .572 OPS in 404 Major League at bats. Perhaps more importantly, Motter still has a minor league option, and if someone needs to be moved off the roster to make room for DeJong by the middle of April, he’s a quintessential moving piece.
Winn likely opened spring training headed for Springfield. He’s proven himself beyond that level and will be available in Memphis, pounding on the door of making his debut at age 21.
Roaming the outfield
Outfielders (5): Alec Burleson, Dylan Carlson, Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill, Jordan Walker
Last Cut: Juan Yepez
There’s nothing more Walker could have done in spring to make a case for himself, and there’s nothing more he needs to do. Perhaps it shouldn’t yet be put in permanent marker, but it’s fair to expect Walker to be on the team and in the lineup on opening day. Don’t get too excited about purchasing a number 67 jersey, though; there’s a vacant 25 that seemingly is waiting for his name.
Neither Burleson nor Yepez has anything left to do at Triple-A, but with Motter on the roster, there’s not room for both of them. Break the tie to the lefty, and that’s Burleson. Both will get a chance to make significant contributions to this year’s club.
Count on O’Neill to start in center on opening day. From there, the competition is likely to continue.
Taking the bump
Starting Rotation (5): Jack Flaherty, Steven Matz, Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery, Adam Wainwright
Last Cut: Dakota Hudson
No one is popping champagne corks yet, but if the Cardinals do make it through just one more week without injury to any of their projected starters, it’ll be the first time in more than a decade they’ll have achieved that goal. Hudson had a tough spring and has options, and he’ll head up the Memphis rotation and be ready when needed.
Wainwright’s work in the World Baseball Classic aligns him to start on opening day. It would be a huge upset if he’s not granted that ceremonial honor in his last season.
Being summoned from the pen
Bullpen (8): Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, Jordan Hicks, Andre Pallante, Chris Stratton, Zack Thompson, Drew VerHagen, Jake Woodford
Last Cuts: Packy Naughton, Wilking Rodríguez
There are countless possible permutations of the opening day bullpen and limited flexibility given the guaranteed contracts and assignment rights of many of the pitchers involved. Start with the obvious: Gallegos and Helsley will hold down the back end. Hicks has sufficient service time to refuse a minors assignment, as does Stratton. VerHagen is out of options, is owed a guaranteed salary, and has shown well in a healthy spring.
Beyond that, Thompson has done little to dissuade those who believe the Cardinals see him as their best lefty option. Woodford appears to have packed up his suitcase and moved out of the doghouse with a sparkling spring and has earned his spot.
Looks at Pallante have been limited thanks to the WBC, but the Cardinals didn’t send him down once last season, and it would be out of character for the organization to do so now. He also offers a reverse split that allows them to carry only one lefty, much to the detriment of Naughton, Génesis Cabrera and Andrew Suárez.
Rodríguez would be a tough cut, because he would have to be offered back to the New York Yankees if not kept on the active roster. One possible solution — working out a minor trade to secure his full rights. He could then be optioned to Memphis, and in doing so, would open up a great deal more flexibility.