St. Louis Cardinals: What Happens When Everyone Gets Healthy?
The St. Louis Cardinals figure to face a roster conundrum in the coming weeks once injured guys finish up their DL stints.
After that ugly three or four day stretch of injuries between spring training and opening day, the St. Louis Cardinals seem like they are working closer to getting back to full strength, as opposed to moving in the other direction (knock on wood!).
Jhonny Peralta recently had the cast removed from his left hand that protected his surgically repaired thumb. It is reported that he will continue to wear a splint for the next couple of weeks before his next evaluation.
Presumably, if that goes well, Jhonny could jump back into baseball activities and back into the Cardinal lineup fairly quickly after that.
Based off of Yadi’s timetable in returning from the same injury, it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that we could see Peralta back by the beginning of June, if not shortly after that.
Ruben Tejada, the man that was signed to cover for Peralta in his absence, hopes to begin a rehab stint some time this week after a quad strain forced him to the DL at the end of March.
Initial indications were that Tommy Pham (oblique) and Brayan Pena (knee) would miss around a month, meaning we could see them come off of the DL some time around the second week of May.
The Jordan Walden situation is so murky that there really wouldn’t be much point in mentioning him here, although it is possible that he could throw again some time in 2016.
With all of the aforementioned names going down, the Cardinals have gotten big time contributions from less-heralded “fill-ins”, namely the rookie duo of Aledmys Diaz and Jeremy Hazelbaker.
Matt Bowman has filled in nicely in the bullpen, even if he doesn’t have the lockdown stuff that Walden does/did.
Even Eric Fryer has been a positive contributor in his time serving as Yadi’s backup.
With all the names set to return in the coming weeks, combined with some impressive performances from their replacements, where do the roster spots come from for all of these guys that appear able to compete at the Major League level?
There are only 25 roster spots. At least four of them figure to be challenged with Tejada, Pham, Pena and eventually Peralta returning.
Somebody is going to get the short end of the stick. The question is, who’s it going to be?
The cleanest and easiest scenario, at least from the standpoint of getting the DL guys back with little drama, would be for guys like Diaz and Hazelbaker to fall back towards performing like replacement level players, as opposed to the all-star type production they’ve given while being here.
It’s a pretty safe bet that neither Hazelbaker or Diaz are going to hold the .526 and .533 batting averages that they currently sport for an entire season.
But what if they continue to produce and lead the offense, say, putting forward Stephen Piscotty like efforts from last season?
How do you justify bumping Diaz back to Memphis in favor of Tejada if he continues to rake? Same thing with Hazelbaker in favor of Pham?
Almost certainly, Greg Garcia is going to get the boot back to Triple-A once Tejada returns. There shouldn’t be an issue, that is, until Peralta’s return.
Then what do you do?
There’s plenty of talk about getting Peralta to a corner infield spot and away from shortstop. So you move him to third, where does Matt Carpenter play? First base? Second base again?
Then what happens with Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Brandon Moss or Kolten Wong/Jedd Gyorko getting reps at second?
When you block off first base, you move Holliday back to left and block off Hazelbaker or Randal Grichuk and both Moss and Adams are on the bench.
Pena’s return should be a clean one, he’ll just take Fryer’s spot, but the rest is much less certain.
Really, the possibilities for how this could play out are endless.
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If you are going to have a problem, this is certainly a good one to have, particularly when you consider how murky the Cardinals depth situation looked just a couple of weeks ago.
How will it all play out? Anybody’s guess is as good as mine. A lot has to do with how Hazelbaker and Diaz follow up their coming out parties of the past week once the season really settles in and the true grind begins.
As I see things, the Cardinals will have seven guys in Peralta, Diaz, Tejada, Pena, Pham, Hazelbaker and Garcia that could lay claim to four available roster spots on the 25-man.
Peralta and Pena, for all intensive purposes, are locks for two of those. Jhonny will be playing shortstop the majority of the time that he is in the lineup.
That leaves Diaz, Tejada, Pham, Hazelbaker and Garcia vying for those final two spots on the roster.
Each guy has a pretty good argument (both from 2016 and past performances) for why one of those spots should be theirs.
In the end, when the Cardinals are back to 100% healthy (again, knock on wood!), I think it will be Hazelbaker and Tejada receiving those final two slots.
Hazelbaker makes it because of his speed/power combo in the outfield, Tejada for his defensive versatility and experience at the big league level.
I wouldn’t necessarily assume with 100% certainty that anybody on the Cardinal infield outside of those named Carpenter, Molina, Peralta, and Holliday are completely trade-proof or immune from Memphis.
But we will assume that those like Gyorko, Wong, Adams and Moss all stay where they are for sake of simplicity.
Diaz, Garcia and Pham will all deserve better than the fate that they receive. But baseball, much like life, isn’t always fair.
Next: The Impact that Memphis is Having on the Big Club
What do you think, Cardinal Nation? Who’s going to get shafted when all is said and done? What else might happen with the roster once those that are injured make their return?
Let me know what you think in the comments, or get at me on twitter!