Prior to Major League Baseball executives taking a short respite for their holiday celebrations, last week saw a flurry of roster activity that acts as an important prelude for what’s likely to follow in just a few short weeks.
With last Friday the deadline for teams to tender contracts to players under team control for next season, not to offer a deal to former top prospect and All Star closer Alex Reyes, releasing the oft-injured 28-year-old to free agency.
Outfielder Ben DeLuzio, who made a brief cameo for the Cardinals toward the end of last season, also was not offered a contract for 2023. The moves reduced the number of players on St. Louis’s 40-man roster to 37.
For Reyes, the decision to allow him to pursue free agency seemingly caps a in equal measures alluring and frustrating. After receiving a 50-game minor league suspension for marijuana use during the Arizona Fall League in 2015 — an offense that does not exist for players on a 40-man roster – Reyes debuted in 2016 as a 21-year-old with 52 strikeouts and only eight earned runs allowed in 46 innings of work.
Arm trouble, however, would follow. He missed the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and injured his shoulder in the midst of striking out ten consecutive hitters in a Triple-A rehab start in early 2018.
Injuries, lack of control for Reyes
His only big league appearance in 2018 would see him post four shutout innings in a start in Milwaukee before eventually yielding to the pain in his arm and missing the remainder of the year.
After a frustrating lack of control to open 2019, Reyes broke his non-pitching hand after punching a television in a minor league dugout, scuttling another year. The 2020 season saw him largely return to earlier form, and in 2021, he made his first appearance in the midsummer classic.
His velocity and command would dip toward the end of that season, though, and he would eventually throw his last pitch as a Cardinal to of the , who deposited it in the left field bleachers at Dodger Stadium in the bottom of the ninth inning in the Wild Card game, ending the season for St. Louis.
Stiffness and soreness in spring training 2022 would eventually reveal a frayed labrum in his throwing shoulder, and he spent the entirety of last season on a rehab path. With questions around his availability for 2023 and with Reyes due a slight raise on his $2.8 million salary, the club made the decision to cut bait, preserving both the cash and the roster spot.
Stratton, Mercado & more
Another potential candidate to be non-tendered, righty , instead agreed to a one-year deal at slightly below his projected arbitration award, thereby securing his roster spot. Stratton joins Ryan Helsley, , Jordan Hicks, and as incumbent righties in the Cardinals bullpen, creating a solid group that nonetheless would seem ripe for some turnover in trade as the winter wears on.
the signing of five minor league free agents, one of whom carries sufficient upside and familiarity for the club to cut bait with the one-dimensional DeLuzio. Center fielder Oscar Mercado, a former second round draft pick who was traded to Cleveland in 2018, agreed to a minor league deal that will provide him ample opportunity to demonstrate his value as an extra outfielder.
Mercado hit 26 home runs over the last four seasons for the Guardians and demonstrated strong defensive skills in center, even as he eventually struggled to maintain a high enough batting average for Cleveland to keep him on the roster. After a brief stop in Philadelphia, Mercado hit the market as a player eager to reclaim his value, and will at a minimum have the opportunity to start every day in the outfield for Triple-A Memphis in order to do so.
More about Hot Stove league
None of last week’s moves foretell any major, imminent changes for the big league team, but they do give shape to some of the flexibility the . With space on the 40-man roster, they’re able to sign free agents or perhaps even make their own Rule 5 selections without building in the cost of a corresponding move. And by firming up the right side of their bullpen, they can build a clearer concept of what surplus might look like in a trade.
Without an imminent labor deadline like existed last winter or a hard salary cap to push the action, it’s likely that MLB’s Hot Stove will resume its traditional pace, reduced to a simmer save for the hot few days around the Winter Meetings, which open Dec. 4 in San Diego.