#3 - Delaying Jordan Walker's service time clock
I know, I know. It's one of the most frustrating aspects of roster management. No player should be stopped from playing on the biggest stage as a way of messing with their service time, but it is a reality within the game of baseball. I do not think this will be the driving factor for St. Louis like it has been for other clubs, but I do think it will play a part for sure.
If St. Louis waits to call up Walker until midway through the season, they will delay his eventual free agency from after the 2028 season to after 2029, which is significant when talking about a player of Walker's caliber. If Walker ends up being one of the best players in baseball, he'll hit free agency at just 27 years old, which will line him up for a massive contract. This is something the Cardinals have to consider, and one reason why I think they should consider extending him within the next calendar year.
The Cardinals could even "double dip" a little bit here as well and get Walker's production down the stretch in 2023, and have him still be Rookie of the Year eligible in 2024. Gunnar Henderson, Corbin Carroll, and Francisco Alvarez, who rank above Walker on MLB.com's top 100 prospects,
all made their big league debuts last season, but will now have a full season to produce for their club and potentially win Rookie of the Year.
While you may think that defeats the purpose of holding back Walker since he would then occur the lost service time, it would give the Cardinals a significant track record at the Major League level before exploring an early extension with him, if that is something the club is interested in doing.
If the club had a clear hole in the outfield right now, this should not even be a conversation, but since the club has options and Walker is so young, it's fair to consider these factors as well as on-the-field performance.
At the end of the day, Walker is an excellent young man, and he is going to do everything in his power to force the Cardinals' hand this Spring. The front office wants that. They want Walker to be the kind of player that makes them reshuffle their roster because he is too good to leave off of it. If Walker does so, and the club still doesn't give him a spot, then we will have a different conversation. But if Walker is kept down in Triple-A briefly to begin the year for these three reasons, then it's hard to blame them.
But should Walker prove he is on the cusp of stardom already, one of their outfielders or DH options is clearly underperforming, or an injury occurs, we should see Walker starting the Cardinals against the Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day.