For each of the last two winters, the St. Louis Cardinals bestowed a 40-man roster spot on a free agent signee that led me to scratch my head as to why.
Let’s back up 11 months.
Coming off a decent 2013 season at the Triple-A level for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a strong winter ball campaign in his native Dominican Republic, Castro, a 31-year-old career minor leaguer, was signed by St. Louis to a surprising major league contract last December 11.
Castro reported to Cardinals big-league spring training, but was rocked and quickly re-assigned to minor league camp. Before the players left Jupiter, the right-hander was removed from the 40-man.
Though Castro opened the 2014 regular season in the rotation of Triple-A Memphis, by June he was in the bullpen, and in early August, his contract was sold to Oakland. Hence, Castro’s Cardinals career quietly ended with no regular season innings pitched for St. Louis.
Maybe I am being hard on Anna by the comparison, as he does have his supporters.
Take Fangraph’s projection model, called Steamer. It suggests that Anna would deliver 1.9 fWAR over 600 plate appearances next season. In all fairness, they also acknowledge that level of MLB activity is unlikely for the infielder.
Still, to say I am surprised is an understatement.
After all, Anna will turn 28 before Thanksgiving and the former 26th-rounder has enjoyed a generally-unremarkable career to date. Most recently, he batted .207 in Triple-A last season and was dropped from the 40-man roster of two different organizations in the final three months of the 2014 regular season.
Sure, he had a Pacific Coast League batting title in 2013 in a hitters’ park in Tucson. Parent San Diego was so impressed they traded Anna to the Yankees two months later for an A-ball reliever with a career ERA of 4.39.
After a brief MLB debut in pinstripes to start the 2014 season before a return to the minors, Anna was claimed off waivers by the Pirates. A month later, the Bucs dropped him off their 40-man, but this time, he went unclaimed, opening the door for free agency this fall.
As I said at the time of his signing by St. Louis, my best guess (hope?) is that Anna is penciled in to help cover the losses of Jermaine Curtis, Luis Mateo and Greg Miclat at Triple-A Memphis rather than as a replacement for fellow left-handed hitter Daniel Descalso.
The Cardinals have the means to add a much more proven infielder than Anna. Here is hoping they travel that path.
If Steamer proves right instead, I won’t be steamed. I will be stunned, though.
Addendum: On Thursday night, just before the Rule 5 protection deadline, the Cards acquired yet another infielder – second/third baseman Ty Kelly – via trade from Seattle. Kelly’s best attribute is his on-base proclivity (career .387 mark), though his agility limits his potential at second as does a lack of power for third.
Like Castro the winter before, Kelly joins a 40-man roster for the first time. The 26-year-old does have just under 200 games of Triple-A experience.
Perhaps Kelly and Anna will compete for the right to replace Descalso or maybe they will strengthen Memphis up the middle in 2015. I am still hoping for the latter.
The unanswered question is whether the Cardinals’ negative experiences with Ty Wigginton and Mark Ellis the last two years altered their direction such that Anna and Kelly are “Plan A” or will the club will add a more proven middle infielder for the 2015 Major League roster?
Given non-tenders will not be disclosed until December 2nd, it may take a while for this to play out. Looking out a little further, I would be very surprised if both infielders remain on St. Louis’ 40-man at this time next year.
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