St. Louis Cardinals: September Call-Ups May Prove Trickier Than Usual

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 23: Manager Mike Matheny
ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 23: Manager Mike Matheny /

It’s almost that time of the year where MLB rosters expand in the push for postseason, but that doesn’t necessarily point to change for the St. Louis Cardinals in the immediate future.

On September 1st, the St. Louis Cardinals and other teams can recall players in their farm system and hold up to 40 players on the big-league roster. Teams in the playoff race could recall players to offer starters occasional rest, while non-contenders may use this opportunity to give prospects experience and play spoiler.

Call-ups have proven essential for the offensive and pitching dynamics of the Cardinals in recent postseason run. Adron Chambers showed even the smallest contributions could prompt postseason hopes with a crucial game-winning run keeping St. Louis in Wild Card contention in 2011. Previous September additions, like Tyler Lyons, still hold valuable roles with this year’s club.

But in a season where the Cardinals are consistently hovering around .500, and could come into September the furthest back of a playoff spot (4.5 games back of NL Central, 6 games back of NL wild card) since the 2011 run to a World Series championship, it’s unclear how many players in the minors right now could make a notable impact in the final month.

Part of this conundrum comes from the positional depth St. Louis already carries, as eight of twelve active position players have played on a postseason team since 2015. In a stretch where the Cardinals have lost nine of their last thirteen games, the team has interchanged several players into the lineup and has not used the same starting combination on back-to-back games, except once.

More from St Louis Cardinals News

For instance, the outfield has been so crowded for the Cardinals, they optioned last year’s RBI leader Stephen Piscotty to Memphis earlier this month.

A strong minor league assignment led to increased starting opportunities last week.

This comes even with outfielders Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk and Jose Martinez collectively averaging nearly a .300 batting average, three home runs and twelve RBI each in August.

The overcrowding would limit potential call-ups to situational roles like pinch-running or late inning fielding. Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra have both shown they could offer these qualities through their big league experiences this year, but the organization has to consider if calling either up for limited action may stunt their growth as ball players more than finishing a full season in the minors.

One area that could actually benefit from roster expansion is the bullpen, as the Cardinals have four relief losses since Trevor Rosenthal was placed on the disabled list on August 17th. Only three relief pitchers from Opening Day are still on the active roster, showing how much of a rotating door the bullpen has become.

The St. Louis Cardinals have already relied heavily on minors arms, promoting Luke Weaver to start for two different stretches and recalling Mike Mayers, Ryan Sheriff and Josh Lucas for brief opportunities in the past month. Adding many more pitchers may complicate roles current pitchers have embraced since Rosenthal’s injury.

The other intriguing factor in promoting talent is what the Cardinals could take away from Memphis (AAA) and Springfield (AA) rosters competing for minor league championships.

Memphis has already established itself as the winningest team in the franchise’s history, as an affiliate as the Cardinals and have not played in the MILB postseason since claiming the American South Division title in 2014. Springfield is in a similar boat after an impressive 15-9 stretch in August. They are tied with the Tulsa Drillers in the Texas League Standings heading into Monday.

While the goal in a deep talent organization is to work these players toward the top, possibly deterring these championship runs only makes sense if the Cardinals are confident these players could immediately contribute to a deep playoff run at the big league level.

Otherwise the team could hinder its affiliates and prospects from understanding the excitement of a playoff chase and how those experiences could translate for possible Octobers at the big-league level.

As the weekend comes around, the team could see names like Bader, Sierra and Lucas make it up to the majors once again. It’s possible the team could help prospects like Edmundo Sosa and Rowan Wick to September big-league debuts, and perhaps Aledmys Diaz could make a long-anticipated return from the minors.

Whether few or many prospects are recalled, it should not surprise fans either way. St. Louis’s approach to its September call-ups situation will tell more about the team’s direction for this season than any other turning point so far.

Next: St. Louis Cardinals: Team Ignored August Upgrades

St. Louis’s first opportunity to recall potential September call-ups comes with a road series against the San Francisco Giants that begins on Thursday.