The Cardinals are hurting, competing with a roster debilitated by injuries and losing altitude in the NL Central.
The team Injured List currently has eight residents including starting pitchers Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas, relievers Jordan Hicks and Kodi Whitley, shortstop Paul DeJong, and center fielder Harrison Bader. And let’s not forget starting pitcher Dakota Hudson, who will miss the entire season as he rehabs from elbow surgery.
The Cardinals have taken some hits, and suffered key losses.
Not to be cold-hearted about this …
But welcome to the club. It’s crowded. Really packed.
And there are no occupancy limits.
The widespread injury outbreak has many MLB teams scrambling for help and fearful of the future. Will this get worse? Probably so. After a short-season 2020 and a pandemic that disrupted the routine and training of the players, the consequences were predictable. But the depth of the injury plague is exceeding those predictions.
According to Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark of The Athletic, and I quote:
As of May 31, there were 244 players on the injured list across the sport, an average of more than eight per team. There wasn’t a single day all last season when that many players were on the IL at once.
Those 244 players on the IL represent a scary 29-percent spike if you just compare that with the 61-day mark of the last full season, in 2019.
But measured another way, if you total up all IL placements, 103 more players wound up on the IL (non-COVID division) at some point in the first 61 days this season (385) than in 2019 (282). That’s up more than 30 percent.
And if you want to include the COVID-related IL, it’s a jump of more than 50 percent compared with the first 61 days of 2019, without even including vaccination-related stints.
The number of pitchers who made IL visits in the first two months was up 47 percent compared with 2019.
The Cardinals know all about that.
“Clearly we feel pretty good about where we were going but the IL continues to grow and that’s part of the frustration of this year,” said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak.
But the Cardinals haven’t been rocked as much as some teams. On Friday I checked the injury accounting at Baseball Prospectus and this is what I found. And this is just among National League teams. Here are some of the most glaring examples. Keep in mind that these numbers are likely outdated by two or three days:
— The Cardinals have had 16 players on the IL this season. And they’ve missed 368 days.
— Cubs: 21 on the IL; the players have missed 425 days.
— Brewers: 20 players, 610 days missed.
— Dodgers: 17 IL players, 586 days missed.
— Giants: 22 players, 528 days missed.
— Padres: 23 players, 814 days missed.
— Mets: 19 players, 564 days missed.
The Cardinals are hardly alone in feeling the pain — and feeling a bit helpless in the search for viable solutions.
Just take a look around the NL Central. You could build a terrific All-Star team among the players that have spent time on the IL this season.
STARTING PITCHERS: Jack Flaherty, Corbin Burnes, Sonny Gray, Wade Miley, Brett Anderson, Jake Arrieta, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Williams, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson.
RELIEVERS: Jordan Hicks, Kyle Crick, Andrew Miller, Alec Mills, Justin Steele, Dan Winkler, Rowan Wick.
CATCHER: Yadier Molina, Omar Narvaez, Manny Pina.
FIRST BASE: Joey Votto, Colin Moran.
SECOND BASE: Kolten Wong, Nico Hoerner, Jonathan India.
THIRD BASE: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Mike Moustakas.
SHORTSTOP: Paul DeJong.
OUTFIELD: Christian Yelich, Tyler O’Neill, Ian Happ, Lorenzo Cain, Joc Pederson, Harrison Bader, Nick Senzel.
EXTRA BENCH HELP: OF Jake Marisnick, INF David Bote, OF-INF Nick Senzel, INF Matt Duffy, INF-OF Phillip Evans.
It’s tough out there …
Mozeliak and his MLB brethren are getting busy earlier than usual.
“It’s really about trying to create some depth,” Mozeliak said. “You look at all the people who are currently on the injured list and then you look at the Triple-A club where a few of those players who are on the 40-man (roster) are injured, too.
“Our hands are a little bit tied at the moment. It’s not as though you have two or three guys at the Triple A who are just knocking on the door to help us at the big-league level.
“Roster creativity is going to be something that we have to take a deep dive in. If there are ways we can add some depth, not only to the big-league club but to the system in general, that’s something we’re going have to explore. And that’s something that’s going to start right away.”
I must point something out here.
The Cardinals didn’t address their depth in a meaningful way last offseason.
Sure, they made the huge trade for All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado — but that was about it.
Unless you’re serious about including utility guys Jose Rondon and Max Moroff, (and why would you be?) the Cards didn’t make moves to strengthen their bench by adding major-league talent at a low free-agent price.
Same with the outfield. Same with the bullpen. Same with the depth-caliber starting pitchers.
There were many bargains out there, late in the offseason. The Cardinals didn’t worry about it. They went with what they had.
Others — like the division rivals Cubs, Brewers and Reds — took advantage of the low salaries created by a surplus of guys looking for jobs.
Despite industry-wide assumptions about the coming barrage of injuries, the Cardinals declined to purchase insurance. And that’s put them at a disadvantage now.
They’ll have to find a way to add talent at an extremely challenging time; the activity leading to the late-July trade deadline will almost certainly occur in a seller’s market.
Virtually every contending team is concerned and anxious about their thinning rosters. They’re about to enter a marketplace that has limited stock, and a short supply of top-shelf talent. Trade overpays for talent seem inevitable. Good luck.
Thanks for reading …
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