St. Louis Cardinals: Predicting the 26-man roster one month out

JUPITER, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 19: The St. Louis Cardinals huddle during a team workout at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on February 19, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 19: The St. Louis Cardinals huddle during a team workout at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium on February 19, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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St. Louis Cardinals
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 05: Matt Wieters #32 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts to a Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers double to score Max Muncy #13, to take a 6-0 dodger lead, during the fourth inning at Dodger Stadium on August 05, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Catchers

The Cardinals will go with a two-man catching corps in 2020: Yadier Molina and veteran Matt Wieters. These are the same catching corps they opened with last year.

Wieters was upgraded considerably from the $200,000 minor-league contract with incentives he labored under in 2019 to a $2M guaranteed contract with $1M in incentives for 2020. When the Cardinals go to great lengths to onboard somebody, either through trade or by paying top dollar to a free agent, their history is to use that player, not have him sit.

Wieters’ substantial guaranteed salary, plus heavy use so far this spring (more at-bats than DeJong, O’Neill, Goldschmidt, and Wong) gives us a key to the Cardinals roster thinking: Wieters is not here to be a third-string catcher or a break-glass catcher for Yadier Molina.

The four-time former all-star is here to get in games: either to spell Molina and thereby prolong the latter’s career or be the valuable switch-hitting pinch hitter that he is: offering a late-inning power threat from both sides of the plate.

But neither do the Cardinals want to have top prospect Andrew Knizner mold away on the bench. I do not believe the Cardinals will use a roster spot, even with the new larger 26-man roster, on having a third-string catcher.

It is not that Knizner has performed that poorly (though his spring slash line of .182/286/364 is not exactly screaming “play me”). It is that he has a future, but they do not want to mismanage that future the way they did Carson Kelly.

There is another reason I believe that the front office may want to have Knizner spending a full season in AAA Memphis. And it is a reason derived from having spent some time in Jupiter, Florida watching the Cardinals in action on the back (practice) fields. It is that Yadier Molina’s heir apparent may well come from one of the nine (count ’em) non-roster invitees to camp this year, and not Knizner.

With Yadier Molina giving every indication he will play at least through the end of the 2021 season, it would make Knizner 27-years old before he ever tips his mask to the crowd as the Opening Day catcher at Busch Stadium.

Meanwhile, Ivan Herrera, who has opened my eyes at camp this spring would be 21-years old on Opening Day 2021, the same age as Yadier Molina began his reign as starting catcher. Herrera, by the way, was the mlb.com #5 prospect in the Cardinals organization and even #4 in Fangraphs, which puts him two places higher than Knizner.

Hererra has impressed in live action this spring as well. On February 26 against the Houston Astros, Herrera figured prominently in a 7-5 besting of the Team America Loves to Hate. In the top of the fifth with the bases loaded, Herrera ripped a base hit past Carlos (ROY, All-Star) Correa to drive in two runs and aggressively take second base on the throw to the plate.

The Cardinals will go with two catchers, at least at the beginning with a light schedule. Once the hot summer kicks in, they may want a third-string/emergency catcher, but it won’t be Knizner, whom I believe the Cardinals want to have fulfilled the entire season at Memphis so that he can become off-season trade bait. A third-string catcher, if it is needed, will come from one of the many deep-roster catchers.

Knizner, I believe, will not do much at Busch this year at all, except an occasional showcase-cameo from the Memphis shuttle. He may even be traded at the trading deadline to a team needing catching help. This is all barring an injury to Molina or Wieters. And Yadi seems to spend at least one short spell on the Injured List every year.

Either way, Knizner needs maximum reps. And will always need reps until such time as he is either traded or gets the shot at being the everyday Cardinal catcher that his scouting report says he deserves.