I engaged in a civil, but limited to 140-character Twitter discussion Monday afternoon with @stlcardscards. His initial post, which drew my attention, was the following (“him” refers to Aledmys Diaz).
“The Cardinals risked losing him through the DFA process so that they wouldn’t have to put Kozma in AAA.”
@stlcardscards wanted Greg Garcia in St. Louis during the season and he felt that the team should have designated Cardinals reserve infielder Pete Kozma for assignment instead of Diaz. (Kozma is out of minor league options, so could not be sent down without being exposed to irrevocable waivers.)
After a number of exchanges between us, in a later Tweet, @stlcardscards stepped back from what appeared to be the initial “either-or” implication. His clarification was that he felt that Kozma should have been first on the club’s DFA list, but that the Cardinals did not expose him for fear of losing him.
“correct. Not either-or, but at the time Kozma was, to me, the most obvious pick off the 40 man. They had 40 options, Koz best.”
I disagree with the linking of the two – Kozma and Diaz. I also highly question that Kozma was the best DFA choice at the time.
However, I do agree that the Cardinals appeared to be averse to the risk of losing Kozma via waivers. Had @stlcardscards stopped there, there would have been no debate – at least with me.
As an aside, whether or not I agreed with the team on their Kozma stance is irrelevant. Though especially with the benefit of Garcia’s good play in September and the subsequent decision to leave Kozma off the Division Series roster, going back and wondering why the change was not made sooner than the final month is understandable.
One thing seems clear. Neither infielder would have been a factor in the NLDS loss to the Chicago Cubs, but maybe the damage was done earlier.
Perhaps an emergence of Garcia as a viable reserve option during the summer could have led to more rest for Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong down the stretch. Yet I wonder whether Mike Matheny would have used Garcia much more than he used Kozma before September, anyway. It wasn’t just a fear of using Kozma. The manager certainly did not often put Mark Reynolds at third, shifting Matt Carpenter to second to relieve Wong, either. In addition, Garcia is not nearly as good of a defender at short as Kozma, which may limit his future.
Let’s now drill into the Diaz-related points.
The Cardinals exposed Diaz to waivers on July 8th to make room on the 40-man roster for first baseman Dan Johnson. What I felt was the real mistake is that the organization earlier specifically decided not to work Stephen Piscotty out at first base this spring since they had signed Reynolds as a free agent.
When Matt Adams was hurt, the Cardinals still did not try Piscotty at first with Memphis until after Johnson was in St. Louis. They wasted over three weeks on Johnson, who was DFAed himself at the end of July for the next interim first baseman tried, Brandon Moss. Piscotty had been called up to St. Louis for the first time a week earlier, but had not yet earned regular at-bats. His MLB debut at first base was on July 26th.
Wouldn’t it have been better if Piscotty was ready to be promoted as a first baseman on July 8th (or even better, earlier) and the Cardinals skipped the Johnson trial entirely?
Back to Diaz. When the then-Springfield shortstop was DFAed, he was batting just .236 and then (and still) carried a Major League contract that had two and a half years remaining. It was not a great surprise he went unclaimed by the other 29 organizations. At that point, it would have been laughable to suggest Diaz could move up to Memphis to backfill for the proposed loss of Kozma on waivers.
Since then, Diaz is a changed man, not only hitting amazingly well at Springfield in August, but also keeping it up in a brief season-ending trial at Memphis. In addition, the Cuban earned a spot in the Arizona Fall League, where he is currently competing. With the late-season improvement, Diaz probably would not clear waivers today, but even so, he remains months off from demonstrating the consistency and readiness to help in St. Louis, in my assessment.
Specifically to my main point of contention with @stlcardscards, if the Cardinals wanted to demote Kozma at any time in 2015, they had plenty of other 40-man roster options than just Diaz.
Specifically, here are the six other Cardinals who were DFAed this season, five of them occurring after Diaz. Any one of them could have been scuttled for Kozma, instead, if the club wanted to do it. It is pretty clear none of them has a future in St. Louis.
- April 21: Outfielder Gary Brown (claimed)
- July 21: Infielder Ty Kelly (claimed)
- July 30: First baseman Dan Johnson (unclaimed)
- July 31: Reliever Marcus Hatley (unclaimed)
- September 9: Swingman Nick Greenwood (unclaimed)
- September 21: First baseman Xavier Scruggs (unclaimed)
My bottom line is that there is no more a tie between Kozma and Diaz than between Kozma and Kelly or Kozma and Johnson or Kozma and Hatley, etc…
The Cardinals may soon have a real chance to link the two, however. Kozma is a candidate to be non-tendered for 2016. Perhaps his spot could be used to return Diaz to the 40-man roster and protect him from December’s Rule 5 Draft.
The identity of the Cardinals’ reserve middle infielder next season is anyone’s guess at this time.
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