It was announced by the media over the weekend that Allen Craig may be activated from the DL as early as tomorrow. Craig, who has been recovering from knee surgery performed over the offseason, has been on a rehab assignment in the minors, first in Palm Beach, and in the last week, in Memphis. Craig’s return will necessitate another roster move by the Cardinals. Fans have been speculating as to what that move might be. The likely candidates for the move are outfielder Shane Robinson, Rule 5 draft pick Erik Komatsu, and some speculate Tyler Greene may also be on his way out. Greene, who has been with the Cardinals since he was drafted in the supplemental round of the 2005 draft, has spent most of his career in the minor leagues, making the team this year as a possible starting second baseman. Greene was touted during Spring Training as the favorite to be the starter at second base, but his play has dictated otherwise. Daniel Descalso, the other second base candidate out of Spring Training, has received most of the starts at second, giving that position up in the last several games to last season’s starting second baseman Skip Schumaker. Descalso has been in an offensive slump to start the season, after hitting well in Spring Training.
Now with the roster spot move in the offing, the question is who will be making the move off the 25 man roster. Daniel Descalso is almost certainly safe, having been with the team all of last season, making his mark in the post season, and being versatile enough to play multiple infield positions. Matt Carpenter is also almost certain to stay, given that he is currently manning the starting first base post while Lance Berkman is on the DL. In addition, Carpenter has been hitting the ball well and is also versatile enough to play multiple positions. That leaves Greene, Robinson and Komatsu as the candidates to be cut. Making a decision to cut a player from the active roster can be a difficult one and involves taking in a lot of factors, including depth at each position, the contract status of the players to be considered, as well as the current performance of those players. In the case of Greene and Komatsu in particular, the non performance factors are of particular importance. In this post, I will explain why it is imperative that serious consideration be given to keeping both on the roster for now.
Starting with Tyler Greene, one has to understand his history with the club. As was previously stated, Greene was a supplemental pick in the 2005 draft. Primarily a shorstop, Greene has widely been considered to be a multiple tool player, having great speed, range in the infield, and power potential in his bat. Greene has performed well in the minor leagues and has been called up several times to the major league club over his career, though never receiving a significant amount of playing time during any of those stints. For reasons not fully known, Greene has not been able to translate his minor league successes to the big leagues. Now here is where the rub comes in. When a player is put on the 40 man roster from the minor leagues, his contract is “purchased” and is transformed from a minor league contract to a major league contract. From that time forward, any time spent playing in the major leagues accumulates into major league service time. This is important because any player who accumulates three years of major league service time becomes eligible for salary arbitration. However, this is not the important factor for Greene as he has not yet reached that milestone. What is important is another part of the transformation from minor league contract to major league contract. If a player who has been put on the 40 man roster is not placed on the 25 man roster, that player is then “optioned” to play in the minor leagues. If a player is subsequently recalled to the 25 man roster during a season that “option” is exhausted and to return that player to the minor leagues for another season, the player must be optioned again. Under MLB rules, a player is only allowed three options to the minor leagues with his current team. Once all three options have been used, a player cannot be returned to the minor leagues without placing that player on what is called irrevocable outright waivers. The player then must clear those waivers, with no option to pull him back, before he can be returned to the minors. If a player is placed on outright waivers and is claimed, he is gone, with virtually no compensation to the team other than a waiver fee. This is the situation the Cardinals have with Tyler Greene. Thus, the Cardinals’ only alternatives with Greene are to keep him on the 25 man roster, trade him if a trade partner can be found, place him on outright waivers, or release him. If the Cardinals want to remove him from the 40 man immediately they must designate him for assignment or “DFA” him, in which case they have ten days to either arrange a trade, release him or place him on outright waivers. However, within that 10 day time, they only have seven days to place him on outright waivers if that is their choice. It is a safe bet that if Greene is placed on outright waivers he will be claimed. A trade is possible, but that is only likely if an interested team believes it cannot get him off waivers, such as if another team is also interested.
The other contract situation that is presented to the Cardinals is with Erik Komatsu. Komatsu was picked up in December off the Rule 5 draft from the Washington Nationals. Komatsu has never played above AA before coming to the Cardinals. There are restrictions placed on the Rule 5 draft, the most significant of which is that the drafting team must keep that player on its 25 man roster the entire season–the player may not be assigned to the minor leagues. If the Cardinals were to decide they did not wish to keep Komatsu on the 25 man roster, he must then first be placed on waivers. If a team claims him, that team gets him with the same Rule 5 restrictions. If no team claims him–if he “clears waivers”, then the Cardinals must offer him back to the Nationals. The Nationals can accept him, reject him, or arrange a trade for him with the Cardinals. Based on chatter reported by the media, it is likely the Nationals would accept Komatsu back and not arrange a trade for him.
So, given the dicey contract issues with both Tyler Greene and Erik Komatsu, the roster situation placed before the Cardinals with the return of Allen Craig is not an easy one. In addition to the contract situations, there is also the issue of depth. The Cardinals have more depth in the outfield than they do in the infield. Losing either Komatsu or Shane Robinson would be less of a problem position depth wise than losing Greene. If Rafael Furcal were to be injured, replacement options are limited to Greene, Descalso, or recalling Pete Kozma from Memphis. Ryan Jackson, another shortstop possibility, is not on the 40 man roster. Putting Greene or Descalso at shortstop then in turn limits the second base options. If Greene were to be gone, the situation would be even worse. In the outfield, the Cardinals have Skip Schumaker, Craig, and Matt Carpenter as possible replacements for an injury as well as outfielders in Memphis who are currently on the 40 man roster, such as Adron Chambers.
In situations such as the Cardinals have currently with the return of Allen Craig, often fans see the roster decision one dimensionally. In their minds, the player with the worst performance has to go. The Cardinals cannot afford this kind of thinking, both literally and figuratively. Given the contract and depth issues, the safest bet to leave the 25 man roster for Craig is Shane Robinson. Robinson has options remaining on his contract and is in a position–outfield–with better depth coverage. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t make the tough decision to let Greene or Komatsu go. We will all find out soon enough.