While the St. Louis Cardinals have had to make some roster moves recently to accommodate for injuries, they’ll face some tough decisions once those players get healthy.
Last week, the St. Louis Cardinals placed right fielder Stephen Piscotty on the 10-day disabled list because of a right hamstring strain. In his place, they called up outfielder Tommy Pham from Triple-A Memphis. In his six games upon returning to the big leagues, Pham has made two starts in center field and four starts in left field.
Last weekend, the Cardinals placed reserve outfielder Jose Martinez on the 10-day disabled list because of a groin strain. In his place, they called up speedy outfielder Magneuris Sierra from Single-A. In his four games since getting the call, Sierra has started all four in center field.
Dexter Fowler’s Return
A contributing factor to the amount of playing time both Pham and Sierra have received is the health of regular center fielder Dexter Fowler. He strained his shoulder the same day Piscotty went down with a hamstring, but the Cardinals didn’t place Fowler on the disabled list.
Instead, he’s remained on the active roster. He didn’t see the starting lineup at all on the Cardinals’ recent six-game road trip. He came off the bench to make three pinch-hit appearances, but didn’t play at all in the field.
The concern with Fowler’s shoulder is not his ability to swing a bat, but rather his ability to make long throws from the outfield. If Fowler isn’t in the starting lineup Friday night against the Chicago Cubs, it will mark the eighth consecutive day since his injury in which he’s unable to play in the outfield.
I wrote the other day arguing that the Cardinals should have just placed Fowler on the 10-day disabled list right away after his injury. If they had done that, he’d be eligible to return after the series this weekend against the Cubs.
However, Fowler was far from useless in the series sweep against the Miami Marlins. Twice he came off the bench to deliver go-ahead pinch hits for the Cardinals. In game two, he hit the game-winning single in the ninth inning to score Sierra from second base. In the third game, he hit a two-run triple in the sixth inning to put the Cardinals ahead for good.
With Pham hitting .417/.517/.917 in his six games back, it seems that once Fowler returns to the everyday lineup, Sierra is the odd man out. That is, unless Mike Matheny is willing to move Sierra to a corner outfield spot at the expense of Randal Grichuk‘s playing time.
My bet is once Fowler is back in center field, Sierra becomes the fourth outfielder and Matheny uses him as a late-inning defensive replacement as well as a pinch-runner. Those are the two tools he has that are major-league caliber right now. Even if he isn’t in the starting lineup, Matheny can still utilize those tools.
Not too long after Fowler returns to the lineup, Piscotty and Martinez will be ready to return from the Disabled List. The Cardinals will then have some roster decisions to make. A third player, Jhonny Peralta, is also likely to return from the DL soon.
Stephen Piscotty’s Return
Piscotty will be back in the starting lineup once he’s activated. But who gets sent down to the Minors in his place? I think the Cardinals have two options here. Either they demote Sierra back to High-A or perhaps Double-A, where he can continue to work on his hitting and get regular at-bats, or the Cardinals hold on to Sierra and trim their bullpen by one.
The team is currently carrying eight relief pitchers. In previous years, they’ve had seven on the roster most of the time. Candidates for a demotion would include Miguel Socolovich, Sam Tuivailala, and Jonathan Broxton.
Socolovich is out of minor-league options, so if the Cardinals demote him, its possible he lands with another team via waivers instead of returning to Memphis. The right-hander hasn’t exactly been lights-out either to begin the season. In 14 2/3 innings, he’s allowed thirteen runs, eleven of them earned.
If the Cardinals are considering demoting Socolovich, they may simply have to cut their losses and rely on who they have in the minor leagues now if they’re in need of a bullpen arm later in the season.
The organization has more flexibility with Tuivailala on the roster than they do with Socolovich. Though he’s pitched well with St. Louis this season, the team can option him back to Memphis without first having to clear waivers. If he continues to control his fastball and establish his curveball as a legitimate pitch, the team may be inclined to keep him on the roster because of his increasing value.
A third reliever that the Cardinals might consider expendable is Broxton. Though I think it’s unlikely the Cardinals release him to free up some roster space, many in Cardinals Nation have been waiting for that to happen for a while already. He hasn’t been good this year, allowing seven runs in ten innings.
He’s not a reliable option out of the bullpen for Matheny, but don’t tell the manager that. He did get out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam with Giancarlo Stanton at the plate on Wednesday. But that shouldn’t warrant growing confidence in him as a late-inning option.
Broxton is a veteran with a major league pedigree, and he’s on the last year of his contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Matheny respects him for what he brings to the clubhouse and feels comfortable using him on the mound in big spots. Those factors make it unlikely that Broxton will get the boot before season’s end. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he does.
If Pham stays hot, the Cardinals will have Grichuk, Fowler, Pham, and Piscotty to chose from for their starting outfield. Of Grichuk, Fowler, and Piscotty, I think Grichuk is the most likely candidate to see a decrease in playing time as a result of Pham’s emergence.
Jose Martinez’s Return
Once Jose Martinez is fully recovered from his groin strain, the St. Louis Cardinals will either activate him on the major-league roster or option him to Memphis. Given Pham’s production, Martinez might be ticketed for the minor leagues unless another injury crops up.
That doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of Martinez with the St. Louis Cardinals this season. Having too many good options at outfield is a good problem to have. In the ebbs and flows of an entire season, its likely the team will need Martinez to be a big piece of the roster at some point again this year. That time just might not be right now.
If the Cardinals want Martinez to return to the major league roster, that all but ensures Sierra will be sent back down to the minors. But if the organization values having Sierra on the major league roster over Martinez, they could find a way to keep Sierra active even with Piscotty back on the team.
Any plan to keep Sierra on the St. Louis Cardinals creates some uncertainty for Jhonny Peralta’s future. He’s on the last year of his contract, and frankly, the team doesn’t need Peralta right now. Not only has Jedd Gyorko taken hold of the regular third base gig, but he’s established himself as the cleanup hitter in the lineup.
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Matt Adams is the Cardinals’ reserve first baseman to Matt Carpenter. The starting middle infield roles belong to Aledmys Diaz and Kolten Wong. Greg Garcia serves as an adequate backup for third base, second base, and shortstop. Even Carpenter can still play third base, and Gyorko can play first base, so that offers Matheny even more flexibility on the infield.
It’s hard to find a good reason to return Peralta to the major league roster. He’s currently on a rehab assignment at Single-A Palm Beach. The Cardinals might consider biting the bullet on Peralta’s contract and moving forward after his disappointing start to the season.
Whether or not the organization does that is an entirely different question. Like Broxton, he’s a veteran with a major-league pedigree. But the St. Louis Cardinals have guys producing right now in his place, and more prospects waiting in the wings.
Again, the forthcoming questions the St. Louis Cardinals will need to answer regarding their roster are good questions to have. At the same time, Pham and Sierra were huge parts of the team’s six-game road trip sweep.
They bring added athleticism and excitement whenever they’re on the field. They’ve propelled the St. Louis Cardinals into first place, ahead of the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers. Watching them compete with the Chicago Cubs this season will be a treat.