Reporting Kevin Wheeler
It’s too early to form hard and fast decisions about the Cardinals Opening Day roster because things can change quickly, primarily because of injuries, and there is a lot of time left in Spring Training.
That said, we can draw a pretty good picture of how things are likely to shake out. Established players – or those with noteworthy contracts – aren’t losing their jobs, for example, outside of serious injury and the Cardinals roster is loaded with those types of players.
Outside of injuries popping up, most of the Cardinals roster is already set. There are a few open spots, though, and we’ll continue to monitor those. Here’s a look at what we know:
Molina and Cruz are locks to make this team. Rob Johnson and J.R. Towles are in camp but they’re much more likely to be at Memphis as insurance than to make the team.
The five returning players from last year are assured of jobs, though we know playing time at second base is still up for grabs. Cedeno and Wigginton are on Major League contracts. Barring injury, or something completely out of the blue, they’re going to be on this team. The fact that Craig, Carpenter and Wigginton can also play the outfield allows for plenty of flexibility.
I just don’t see where Matt Adams or Pete Kozma can squeeze into this situation, again, barring injury. Adams can mash and he’s really got nothing left to prove in the minors but with Craig, Carpenter and Wigginton all in the mix at first base the team can afford to let Adams play everyday. For Kozma, the presence of Ronny Cedeno is what will keep him out of the mix. Furcal’s health is always a concern and if Furcal needed some time on the DL then it would make sense for Kozma to take that spot. Now, a horrific spring for Cedeno could push him out of favor but there’s been no sign of anything like that so far.
There is some competition here and all of the candidates for the fourth outfield spot are capable of playing center field. Shane Robinson, Adron Chambers and Justin Christian are the guys competing for that spot, which would seem like a better fit for guys who have been around a bit longer (Robinson and Christian). Chambers could handle the role, I have no doubt, but he still has some upside to his game and might be better off with everyday at-bats at Memphis. Robinson and Christian are what they are and in either case that would be good enough for this spot. I’d have Robinson as the favorite because he’s performed in that role before but this seems like a legit 3-way competition.
The Cardinals don’t need a 5th outfielder because of the infielders listed above who can play the outfield.
Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller are the guys vying for the final spot in the rotation and all three would seem to have a chance at working out of the bullpen if the miss out on the rotation spot. Last week I would have said Rosenthal was the favorite for that spot but I’ve flip flopped a bit. I think Kelly is the favorite, because he made so many starts in the Majors last year, but this definitely seems to be a case of having a 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c) rather than a 1-2-3 clearly defined. It’s also notable that Mike Matheny has Kelly starting Spring Training games (his first start is today) where Rosenthal (after Westbrook yesterday) and Miller (following Wainwright tomorrow) are now scheduled to follow starters in upcoming Grapefruit League action. I might be making too much out of a small thing but I do believe that’s a hint, of sorts.
No matter what happens, I see Kelly with the big league team. Rosenthal and/or Miller could wind up starting at Triple-A if they don’t win the rotation spot. At least one of them seems bound for Memphis – the team will need to have a “6th starter” ready and stretched out in case someone gets hurt – but it wouldn’t shock me if the Cardinals kept all three, depending on what happens with the relievers.
Then again, with the impression Michael Wacha is making here in camp maybe that won’t be as much of an issue. Okay, that’s probably a bit much. Still, Wacha is the real deal. Everyone down here – players, coaches, media – has been blown away by Wacha’s stuff, delivery and demeanor. I wouldn’t rule out seeing him in the big leagues at some point this year though much of that will depend on what happens with the Major League staff.
The first five guys listed above are locked and loaded. They have their roles and they’ll be a part of this team. Salas will be there too, in my opinion. He’s throwing the ball well down here and he’s got a lot of big league experience. If he’s healthy and pitching well it’s hard for me to see the team sending him down to Memphis.
That leaves one spot and that spot will almost certainly go to one of the three guys competing for the final spot in the rotation. Kelly and Rosenthal showed they can have an impact coming out of the bullpen and that experience may give one of them the edge over Miller. The truth is that right now all three look like Major League pitchers and the team can’t go wrong with how they decide to hand out the jobs that are open.
So, to sum up…
There are really only three jobs available here in camp: 4th OF, 5th SP and the 12th spot on the pitching staff. Salas’ performance could open that up to one more but, again, I see him breaking camp with this team.
That makes it tough to see how Taveras, Adams or Kozma could break camp with the team without an injury clearing the path for one (or more) of them. There is no doubt in my mind that Taveras and Adams could handle regular Major League duty this season but it’s hard to take a young player, especially early in the season, and have them playing on a part-time basis. Not impossible. Just tough.
And with Taveras you have to consider service time as well. If he’s as good as I think he is the team may not want to start his clock before it’s necessary, especially when you already have Holliday, Beltran and Jay as starters. Patience with Taveras could buy the team an extra year of control. I’d say that’s a pretty darn good reason to not jump the gun on placing him on the Opening Day roster unless there is a need for him as an everyday player.
The Cards take on the Astros in Kissimmee this afternoon and then host the Nationals here at Roger Dean Stadium tomorrow. Tomorrow’s game can be heard on KMOX – 1st pitch is set for 12:05 CT and Adam Wainwright will start with Shelby Miller to follow. You can also hear my interview with Shelby Miller tonight after the Blues-Oilers game as a part of The Hub with Scott Warmann. We’ll have that for you on Monday during Sports Open Line as well…