By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – Jedd Gyorko can look around the Cardinals’ clubhouse and see very clearly that there are going to be some tough decisions coming in the next two weeks in setting the team’s roster for opening day.
One of those decisions could become personal.
Gyorko, after working on fielding ground balls on the astroturf field and taking batting practice in the cages, said Tuesday he has not been focused on that possibility as he tries to merely get himself ready to resume playing games.
He has been out since March 3, when he hurt his leg running out of the batter’s box on a single.
“I haven’t really had time to think about it lately,” Gyorko said of the roster battles. “All my efforts and concentration has been on my calf.”
One of the remaining steps for him to get back on the field will be running at full speed. Once he passes that test, perhaps in the next few days, Gyorko should be medically cleared to play.
Having a week of games would be enough time to get ready for the season, Gyorko said, adding that if he felt he needed more at-bats, “I can go out on a back field and get 15 in one day if I really wanted to.”
Gyorko’s spot on the roster became cloudy as soon as the Cardinals acquired Paul Goldschmidt from Arizona and moved Matt Carpenter to third base. With Kolten Wong set to play the majority of the time at second, finding at-bats for Gyorko other than as a pinch-hitter could be tough.
Gyorko, 30, said he doesn’t really view the situation differently than it has been in the three years he has been with the Cardinals.
“Is it that different compared to the last 3 years?” Gyorko said. “I haven’t really had a starting spot at the beginning of any season I’ve been here and still managed to get 400 or 500 at-bats. I’m just going to be prepared whenever the opportunity presents itself. That’s all I can do.
“I’ve always accepted any role that’s given to me. I’ve always said from the time I oet here I want to win. If where I am at right now helps the team, let’s do it.”
The Cardinals have not decided, or at least have not said publicly, whether they intend to open the season with seven or eight relievers. That decision affects how many bench players will make the team, either four or five.
One of those spots will go to the backup catcher and one is certainly reserved for Jose Martinez. Whether there are four or five bench spots, the competition for the last spots would appear to be among Gyorko, Tyler O’Neill, Yairo Munoz and Drew Robinson.
The team would like to keep O’Neill, and Munoz was a pleasant surprise last year in his first year with the organization. Robinson, acquired from the Rangers for Patrick Wisdom, has the benefit of hitting left-handed and also can play virtually any position on the field, as can Munoz.
Robinson does have options, however, which becomes important when setting the roster. Sending him to Memphis, however, would virtually guarantee the Cardinals would have an all right-handed bench unless Matt Wieters, a switch hitter, is the backup catcher – and how many times would the Cardinals want to use him as a pinch-hitter?
Doing the math, it is easy to see that Gyorko might be the odd-man out.
This is the final year of Gyorko’s contract, which includes a club option or a $1 million buyout for 2020. He is due to make $13 million this season, although $5 million of that is being paid by his former team, the Padres.
Does Gyorko expect to hear his name in trade rumors as opening day approaches? It’s out of his control.
“There’s some tough decisions to be made up top,” he said. “It always works itself out in the end, and we’ll see how it all plays out. … Obviously I don’t have any say. As we get a little closer next week we will see what they are thinking.”
Here’s a look at how the other roster battles are shaping up with less than two weeks left in Florida:
Starting rotation: The spot that was supposed to go to Carlos Martinez before he came up with a weak shoulder as spring training was beginning appears to be Dakota Hudson’s to lose. What started out as a competition between as many as five pitchers is really down to just two, Hudson and John Gant. Hudson, who will start again on Wednesday, has allowed two runs in 7 2/3 innings this spring, has struck out six and has not walked a batter. The Cardinals believe they know what they can expect from Gant from the games he started last year, but Hudson appears to have a much higher upside.
Bullpen: This is where the decisions could become really interesting. Only two pitchers, Andrew Miller and Jordan Hicks, have spots locked up. There will be a second lefthander, but odds are growing slimmer by the day that the job will go to Brett Cecil, who despite his weight loss, has still been ineffective this spring. Chasen Shreve is out of options and Tyler Webb is still in the running. The team is grooming Alex Reyes as a reliever, at least to start the season, and the other right-handers will come out of a group of Gant, John Brebbia, Dominic Leone, Mike Mayers and perhaps Chris Beck, signed as a minor-league free agent who has quietly been very effective this spring. Both Reyes and Gant pitched a scoreless inning in relief against the Braves on Tuesday.
Complicating the decision is the fact that Shreve, Gant and Mayers are out of options and it isn’t likely the Cardinals want to be that tied down in their relief corps, where they value being able to bring pitchers up and down frequently from Memphis. Throw Martinez into this mix, if not by the start of the season perhaps by the end of April, and the picture is even more jumbled.
Backup catcher: It seems logical that the Cardinals would not have signed the 32-year-old Wieters this spring if they did not expect him to be Yadier Molina’s backup. An oblique injury to the other candidate for the job, incumbent Francisco Pena, has set him back but he hopes to be cleared to play again in a few days. Both Wieters and Pena are on minor-league contracts with opt-out clauses, so if Wieters wins the job, it’s unknown if Pena would agree to go to Memphis or ask for his release to pursue a backup job with another major-league team.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
AP Photo courtesy of KSDK Sports