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On Pham, Kelly, Roster Cuts and the Cardinals Disabled List

Not always are the cuts from Major League spring training camps driven solely by performance. Sometimes the calendar is a candidate’s enemy. One factor rarely discussed during the spring are rules that govern player movement.

One of these rules is a set date each spring after which a club can no longer option out an injured 40-man roster player.

I thought about a potential application of this situation on Friday, when outfielder Tommy Pham was helped off the Roger Dean Stadium turf during the team’s game against the Miami Marlins. While his quad strain is not believed to be major, you never know, especially considering the patient is the oft-injured Pham.

During the regular season, the situation is clear. If a player is injured while in the majors, he has to go on the Major League disabled list, receiving MLB pay and accruing MLB service time. Early spring training does not count, but later in camp, it does. My understanding is that March 20 is this year’s cut-off date.

In other words, if a player is injured before March 20, the club can option him to the minors even if still injured. If necessary, he would then open the season on the disabled list of the minor league team, not that of the Major League club.

But if the player is injured later in camp, he is protected from being optioned out just because of his injury status and accruing less pay and Major League service as a result. In the case of a serious injury, such as a Tommy John surgery, a full season of MLB pay and an entire year of service time could hang in the balance.

My understanding is that this situation is only applicable to players with no prior Major League service time, however. During the period Pham was called up last September, he accrued 21 days of major league time, so he would not qualify.

Here is where this could apply, though. It would not be surprising to see most all of the 40-man players in big league camp with no MLB service time optioned out by March 20th.

Four of the five relevant Cardinals players have no realistic chance of making the big-league roster, anyway. Still, the club will likely clear them out of camp to avoid a late-spring injury forcing them to artificially keep the player on the big-league DL to open the regular season. The four are catchers Ed Easley, Cody Stanley and Michael Ohlman plus shortstop Aledmys Diaz.

The fifth player is far more interesting. Second baseman Ty Kelly has been seeing a lot of playing time to date this spring. There are several reasons. One is that he is new to the system. Another is that he switch hits. Yet another is that Kelly is versatile defensively. Maybe one other reason is a desire to get a very good look at him before March 20.

Based on his play to date, the 26-year-old seems to have a legitimate shot at making St. Louis’ bench to open the season – perhaps even more so if Pham’s injury lingers.

In fact, through Friday’s action, Kelly is just one at-bat off the team lead with 17. He is also starting again on Saturday – in left field. To date, Kelly has five hits, including the club’s only triple, and four walks for a credible line of .294/.429/.412. He has scored three runs, has two RBI and four strikeouts.

If he keeps up this rate of performance, Kelly could earn the right to remain around much longer than March 20th, MLB DL risk or not.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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38 Responses to “On Pham, Kelly, Roster Cuts and the Cardinals Disabled List”

  1. Brian Walton says:

    Not 15 minutes after I posted the above, Ohlman was among the first roster cuts announced by the team. Others, all NRIs, are Mike Mayers, John Gast, Steve Bean and Alberto Rosario.

    I added an article going into detail on these moves here.

  2. blingboy says:

    With MiLB games starting late nest week, along with the March 20 date mentioned by Brian, the seldom used guys will get to see regular game action.

    I took a look back at the roster prediction articles on the main site, specifically STL and MEM. In light of events, it seems maybe Pham instead of Grichuk as STL 5th outfielder, and Jacob Wilson to MEM instead of SPR. That raises the question of who doesn’t get a MEM infield spot.

    The Ty Kelly question raised by Brian is interesting, especially since Reynolds inclusion on the 25 man would reduce bench defensive versatility. That is partially offset by Reynolds purported ability to still play 3B, alowing Carp to move to 2B if an in-game situation called for it. Reynolds has had more than a token number of starts at 3B the last couple of years, but I don’t know if the Cards have been working him there much.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Still three weeks to go. Your statement assumes Pham is healthy and picks up where he left off. Grichuk is not dead yet. Leads the team in homers and is holding strikeouts and walks even. BA just .231, but OPS is way over 1.000.

      From my pre-camp predictions, Wilson’s improved chances of making Memphis come at the expense of Diaz, who I am surprised has been almost forgotten this spring. I would sure rather see him getting ABs over Dean Anna, for example. If Kelly makes STL, that would really help Wilson’s odds of opening at Memphis. Wilson’s solid play is helping, too.

      Regarding Reynolds, he can cover for Carpenter at third, I suspect, but the suggestion by some that he can handle corner outfield, too, seems a stretch. Even if Kelly is not on the roster, Kozma could also come in at third if needed now and then.

      • blingboy says:

        Do we want to play with a 23 man roster day in and day out? Saddle Mike with a short bench day in and day out?

        There will only be one middle infield capable guy on the bench, probably Kozma, since somebody has to be able to back shortstop. It is like having only one reserve catcher. That guy really can’t ever come into a game, just get a start here and there. The bench would then be effectively reduced by two guys, the reserve catcher and the reserve middle infielder.

        That is why Reynolds ability to play 3B is very important. It is also probably why Kelly is getting so many looks in the OF. Is he being looked at in place of a traditional 5th outfielder? That does not seem any more unlikely than the Cards wanting to go with what would amount to a short bench every day.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Soon as I pooh-poohed Reynolds in the outfield, here he is in RF today.

          Just curious what you think they will do with the roster.

          • blingboy says:

            First, I assume nothing unexpected on the injury front, and no big changes in performance from what we are seeing so far.

            Then, I think Holliday, Jay, Heyward, Bourjos, Carpenter, Peralta, Wong, Adams, Reynolds, Kozma, Kelly.

            I think some kind of trade involving one of Jay, Bourjos, Pham is going to happen. Don’t know who or when. Likely it will be when some need arises at the ML level unless Mo gets an offer he can’t refuse.

            Also, the longer Wilson continues to be virtually an everyday starter, the more certain he will open at Memphis. There is just too much smoke there for there not to be fire. Someone will just have to get out of the way.

          • blingboy says:

            I really do think Mike would like to go with Grichuk rather than Bourjos.

        • Brian Walton says:

          P.S. You seem to be implying that having a no-hit middle infield reserve is something new, a takeaway. If the reserve could hit, he wouldn’t be a reserve. No matter what happens, I doubt we’ll miss Daniel Descalso, a player who received 1,200 plate appearances over the last four years.

          • blingboy says:

            What I see as something new is a sole reserve middle infielder who is not really available for in game use for the same reason the reserve catcher isn’t available. That means Mike has zero middle infielders available for in game use. Every game, all season long. No pinch hitting. No pinch running. No double switching out a middle infielder. Sometimes a guy gets tweeked and is taken out ‘as a precaution’. So do you do that and go the rest of the game with no middle infield capable reserve.

            Even a no hit middle infield reserve like Kozma is useful, even apart from exceptional defense, unless he is confined to the bench and unusable.

    • crdswmn says:

      I would be surprised if Pham made the team over Grichuk, though I believe it would be best for Grichuk’s development if he played in Memphis. The infielder spot is really up for grabs and much I think depends on how much the org wants to keep Kozma in the organization. There has to be a backup SS readily available in case of injury to Peralta, and I doubt Diaz is an option right now. That leaves Kozma in the majors or Anna in Memphis. Kozma is a better defender than Anna, but that might not make much difference considering they kept Descalso on as a back up SS even though he was terrible at it. Kelly can’t play SS, so if he gets the bench spot and Kozma goes on waivers, Anna will have to be it.

      I am rooting for Kozma personally, but I get why the org might want Kelly.

      • Brian Walton says:

        I agree with you on Pham/Grichuk, at least at this point.

        I see the infield situation differently, though the IF and OF are definitely related. I believe that unless something dramatic happens, Kozma will be on the team. Then the question is whether the last spot is an outfielder or an infielder who can also cover in the outfield.

        (I will explain further in my next post.)

        • crdswmn says:

          Well obviously the latter scenario would be my preferred one. I am in agreement that Kozma/Kelly as a reserve OFer is not attractive. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Matheny insisted on an extra outfielder besides Bourjos.

          Kozma’s complete lack of a bat is the one thing that keeps Kelly in the conversation.

          • Brian Walton says:

            Well, you seem to see the competition being Kelly vs. Kozma. I do not. I see it as Kelly vs. fifth OF.

            • crdswmn says:

              No, I would prefer that Kozma be on the roster. I want you to be right that Kozma is a sure thing. But if Kelly hits, and Pham and Grichuk also perform well, the pressure will be to dump Kozma and keep Kelly and one of Pham/Grichuk. Do I think it is likely? Not particularly, but I can certainly see it as a possibility.

              • Brian Walton says:

                I am not expressing a personal preference about Kozma. I am reading the tea leaves. Of course, anything is possible until it is proven not to be, but I believe that Kozma’s chances of making the initial roster are very high no matter what Kelly does. If you want to compare, as of this moment, Kelly is batting a whopping eight points higher – .294 to .286.

                • crdswmn says:

                  I didn’t think you had a preference for Kozma. I understand why you think he is lock for the roster. It makes a lot of sense. But Kelly is an unknown, so it’s not clear that his bat won’t be better than Kozma’s, as we all know Kozma’s is bad. So the temptation to see if Kelly can do something as opposed to going with the sure bad bat, is there.

                  I know fans will not be happy if Kozma makes the team. Not that that matters, of course. Matheny makes poor decisions, and I can’t get past the idea that he will make even more. But he seems to like Kozma, he is a known quantity, so maybe that will matter more. For once, I hope Matheny stays true to form and goes with what he knows.

                  • blingboy says:

                    So far the Cards are taking a good look at Kelly in the OF and not at all at SS. There is no evidence that he is being considered as the middle infield/SS capable backup instead of Kozma.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      Because Kelly has played exactly one game at SS in his career—in A ball. He can’t play it. OTOH he has played 27 games in RF and 96 in LF.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      With just two sentences, bb more eloquently explained than I did why Kozma and Kelly are not in direct competition – an inability to play shortstop on the part of Kelly – or anyone else in reasonable consideration other than Peralta and Kozma.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      Oh I know that. Like I said in an earlier post, if Kozma is gone, the only option to replace Peralta is Dean Anna, who would have to be brought up from Memphis. All the more reason to keep Kozma, but I am just saying that Matheny could prefer Kelly (which would be a poor decision, but that is typical Matheny). I believe you are right that it will be Kozma, but nothing would surprise me where Matheny is involved.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      Though I suppose it’s possible that both Kozma and Kelly could make the team (as you have said) with Kelly as the 5th OFer (yuck). I just see Matheny not wanting to give up Grichuk.

                    • blingboy says:

                      There is an outfielder Mike would probably rather give up than Grichuk. Mo would have to go along with it though.

  3. blingboy says:

    What about the fact that a lone reserve middle infileder, like a lone reserve catcher, would effectively not be available for in game use? It would argue in Kozma’s favor since he is of little use as a pinch hitter. He could just sit there with Cruz.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Fair point. In any of these scenarios with them on the team, Cruz would be the last bat used and Kozma would be second to last, anyway.

      If there was an injury to a middle infielder, starter or reserve, they’d immediately bring up a replacement from Memphis so any real crunch would only be for part of a game.

  4. Bw52 says:

    Enough Pham-foolery.Too many OFs……………… banjobat ragarm Jay.Put your best CF out there and roll with him using Grichuk as backup OF.If Kozma gets nod over Kelly there will be no Leftty bats on the bench at all.Maybe its time to consider a 11 man pitching staff especially since Belisle can be long man.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I put the left-handed hitting situation into context recently. Please check it out if you haven’t read it.

      How Lefty-Heavy Might the 2015 Cardinals Be?”

      I highly doubt an 11-man staff would be considered. Elsewhere on this blog the other day, we discussed the challenges of getting the starting pitching enough rest. Obviously, a major part of the answer is more innings from the pen.

    • crdswmn says:

      The Cards aren’t going to trade Jay (not that I would shed a tear if they did). Bourjos is having to re-learn how to swing with a healthy hip, and Jay hasn’t had a ST AB yet. Have to keep all your options until further into the season so no OFer is going to be traded right now. Pham is a sentimental pick for a lot of people, but the Cards don’t operate on that basis. I don’t see him making the roster over Grichuk barring something unforeseen. He will be a reserve in Memphis in case needed.

      I don’t think having an all righty bench is that big of a deal since there are so many lefties in the starting 8. Some of those lefties will get days off and be on the bench.

      • blingboy says:

        “Bourjos is having to re-learn how to swing with a healthy hip,”

        He’s not hitting because he’s healthy? OK, l’ll play along.

        Lets hope he’s a fast learner.

        • crdswmn says:

          If you had a bad hip for 5 years or more and adjusted your swing to compensate for the discomfort, those adjustments become habit. There is muscle memory involved, as well as other mechanical issues that become a part of your brain training (I don’t know what else to call it). So it takes time after the obstacle (the discomfort) is removed for your brain to train it’s way into a different habit.

          I am sure a neurologist or a physical therapist could explain it better than me, but it’s a real thing.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            I am reading a terrific book on neurology and accept the argument. The brain is plastic and malleable. It can learn new ways of thinking. But it may not happen immediately but be a progressive process..

        • JumboShrimp says:

          Funny stuff, I let it pass.

          Oddly enuf, something like this happened with Brendan Ryan. Going into the 2009 or 2010 season, Brendan chose to get an operation on a sore wrist, to get rid of the pain. Mo for some reason was opposed or annoyed. Since that operation, Ryan has never hit well. This is the rare example of a player fixing a pain, yet his hitting went down the drain. If this happens with Bourjos too, it will be very strange.

          • crdswmn says:

            Brendan Ryan’s situation is a little different. He has untreated Attention Deficit Disorder. He doesn’t take any medication for it because he has bad side effects. ADD is a chemical malfunction in the brain, so neurological function is different than Bourjos’ would be. So you can’t really compare the two.

            Bourjos may overcome his learned habits or he may not, but 20 or so PAs is way too soon to make a judgment as to that likelihood.

            • JumboShrimp says:

              Brendan Ryan had a surgical procedure on his wrist prior to IIRC the 2009 season. The Cards did not like the timing of the operation or him having it. This was a surgery Ryan received and apparently of which you are unaware. We agree a wrist operation has nothing to do with brain chemistry.
              The reason Ryan’s surgery is akin to Bourjos’ is because it was intended to relieve chronic pain. This sounded positive. However, thereafter, Ryan became much less effective as a hitter. We will hope the same thing does not happen to Bourjos owing to his relieving chronic pain in a hip.

              • JumboShrimp says:

                Ryan injured his wrist during the 2006 minor league season and to correct my prior posts, received his operation on the wrist during February 2010. The Cards probably did not like this timing, since this timing kept him out of spring training for some weeks.
                During 2009, Ryan averaged around .300, whereas his hitting was poor during 2010 and following the season, the Cards signed Theriot and unloaded Brendan for Cleto. The Cards then won a world series in 2011 with Theriot and Furcal splitting the season at SS. Ryan has never hit well for average since his wrist operation intended to relieve chronic pain. Go figure.

                • Brian Walton says:

                  Are you guessing again or have you read something that connects Ryan’s poor hitting with these supposed lingering wrist issues? If they are present, they certainly have not affected his throwing.

                  I did a quick search because I was curious. I did not locate anything related to the wrist, but I find an ESPN article from spring 2014 in which Ryan blames his low batting average on Seattle coaches wanting him to try to hit for power. His resulting adjustments did not work, as he hit a career-low .167 last season.

                  Bottom line, it seems extremely highly unlikely that whatever caused Ryan’s poor hitting, that Bourjos’ case would be related in any way. The only obvious connection is that they were Cardinals players who had surgeries on different parts of their bodies.

                  What seems implied here is that Bourjos’ slow start in just six spring games has some predictive value. It clearly does not.

                  Anyway, it seems to me if you want to worry about someone trying to come back from wrist surgery, it should be Jay, not Bourjos.

                  • JumboShrimp says:

                    You may be blending me with Blingboy and Bourjos about which there has been a lot of chatter.

                    My comment was primarily about the unusual case of Brendan Ryan, whose career statistics are here.

                    Ryan averaged .292 at the minor league level. During 2007 and 2009, years when the Cards called him up to fill-in at SS after injuries, Ryan averaged similarly, .289 and .292. His performance was much like it was in the minors.
                    In February 2010, Brendan elected a wrist operation mentioned at his entry at Wikipedia. The operation aimed to relieve chronic pain.

                    Ever since, Ryan has not been able to hit for average, whether in St Louis in 2010, and thereafter in Seattle and lately with the Yankees.

                    This is a reason why baseball is interesting. Unusual things happen. Like a guy getting an operation to relieve chronic pain and instead of hitting better as we might anticipate, his hitting drops off the table. Ryan was once a very effective hitter for average across many years in the minors and his first couple of seasons in the majors. Since the elective surgery of early 2010, his hitting skills have nosedived. He is still a terrific defender, enabling him to make millions of dollars. But the exciting hitting oddly declined and has never returned.

                    • JumboShrimp says:

                      The operation was surgical removal of dead tissue from the wrist. The wrist is much involved in hitting. So it is plausible a wrist operation chosen by Ryan, against the wishes of the Cards, could have backfired in some subtle way. Just because a surgeon is willing to operate does not guarantee positive results in a baseball sense.

                      Brian thinks there should be a news article that should explain Ryan’s poor hitting. He found one in which Ryan blamed atrocious hitting on coaches of the Mariners wanting him to power up. This is far fetched explanation. In the minors, Ryan never hit more than a few dingers per year, why would coaches want to turn him into Nomar Garciaparra?

                      One of the advantages of leaving one town for another team is you get to blame prior coaches. Its an attractively easy out. Is it plausible he would say, yeah, my wrist was weakened by injury and operation, so I am not biologically able to hit as I did in the minors?

                      Ryan became less effective at hitting for average starting in 2010, after a wrist operation. He has still been a great defender, so has had a job and been paid millions of dollars. He has had a greatly fortunate life, despite the problem with hitting.

              • crdswmn says:

                Since I was discussing Bourjos having to re-train his brain to swing differently than he was used to pre-surgery, I took your post as comparing a similar situation in Brendan Ryan’s attempts to hit again after his surgery.

                If you don’t want your posts misinterpreted, perhaps you should be a little less all over the place with them, as is your habit.

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