By Rob Rains
The Cardinals moved a step closer to finally being able to leave Milwaukee on Tuesday and resume their schedule with no new positive COVID-19 test results among players and staff members.
If there are no new positive tests on Wednesday, the team will be cleared to fly to St. Louis, where workouts are planned on Wednesday and Thursday before the season would resume on Friday night against the Cubs. The team has been isolated in their hotel rooms in Milwaukee since last Friday morning, when the first positive COVID-19 cases were reported.
The team previously had disclosed that seven players and six staff members had tested positive for the virus since last Friday, and the names of six of those seven players were released by the team on Tuesday with the permission of the players, including All-Stars Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong.
Molina actually announced earlier in the day that he had tested positive, posting the information on his Instragram account. He said he was “saddened to have tested positive for COVID-19, even after following the prevention recommendations.”
Statements from Molina and DeJong were released by the team, with DeJong saying, “I am disappointed to share that I have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, even though I followed team protocols. I will approach my healing as I do all other things in my life – with education, commitment and persistence.”
The other four players who consented to have their names released by the team were pitchers Junior Fernandez and Kodi Whitley and infielders Rangel Ravelo and Edmundo Sosa. The identity of the seventh player has not been released.
Six staff members also tested positive, according to the team.
All of the players will have to be sidelined for a minimum of seven days, then must have two consecutive COVID-19 tests which are negative and pass a cardio exam before they will be cleared to play.
Exactly how long it will be before those players can return could vary, depending on whether the player is asymptomatic or is showing symptoms of the virus.
In either event, the Cardinals know they will have to make several adjustments to their roster if the season is going to resume on Friday night. The Cardinals placed Molina, DeJong, Sosa, Fernandez, Whitley and Carlos Martinez on the injury list on Tuesday.
The biggest players the team will have to replace, of course, are Molina and DeJong. With Matt Wieters and Andrew Knizner already on the roster, the Cardinals have two choices about who to take over the catching duties.
In DeJong’s case, the Cardinals had Tommy Edman play several games at shortstop during spring training in preparation for giving DeJong more time off this season, so it would make sense for him to slide into that spot now. Matt Carpenter could move back to third base from serving as the DH, and there would still be plenty of players to chose from to serve in that role.
Part of the rules governing this shortened 60-game season called for the 30-man roster to be reduced to 28 effective on Thursday and MLB announced on Tuesday that will happen.
So instead of having to add seven players before Friday, the Cardinals would only have to add five to get the roster to 28 players.
Here is a look at some of the possibilities:
Brad Miller, who was on the injured list to open the season because of a heel injury, filled one of the spots when he was activated on Tuesday. Before he was injured, Miller also was expected to be used often as the designated hitter.
To replace Fernandez and Whitley, the two most obvious choices in the Springfield camp are Alex Reyes and Genesis Cabrera, both of whom are on the 40-man roster. Even though both missed much of the summer camp after testing positive for COVID-19 they should now have had enough time to be ready to join the team, especially if they will be used out of the bullpen.
To replace Martinez, the Cardinals probably will want to add another pitcher, and the two most likely candidates should be Zack Thompson or Johan Oviedo. Neither is on the 40-man roster, but that roster is currently at 39 players, so there is one open spot. They could fill his spot in the rotation with Austin Gomber, or perhaps move Kwang Hyun Kim into the rotation from the closer’s spot. He was stretched out as a starter during summer camp.
The Cardinals also could open up two more spots on the 40-man roster if needed by moving John Brebbia and Miles Mikolas, both of whom will miss the season, to the long-term injured list.
The choice for the final of the five spots which the Cardinals will need to fill might be their most interesting decision. Outfielder Dylan Carlson, their top prospect, is in the Springfield camp and enough days have now passed that he would not receive a full year of service time if he was promoted.
Carlson is not on the 40-man roster, but the bigger question is since none of the players who are being replaced are outfielders, would the team decide to bring him up now? Their stated preference since summer camp began, and even before that in spring training, was that they didn’t want Carlson to reach the major leagues unless he was going to be an almost full-time player. They also have said often, dating back to last winter, that they want to get a good look at Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas, which they really have yet to do since the season was interrupted because of the virus outbreak after only five games.
Harrison Bader has struggled in those games, however, so that also has to be considered and at least while DeJong is out, the Cardinals could find more at-bats for a player by using him as the DH.
If the team elects to keep Carlson in Springfield, the most logical choice as the fifth roster addition would appear to be infielder Max Schrock, who was on the taxi squad for the trip to Minneapolis and Milwaukee. He also would have to be added to the 40-man roster.
As part of Tuesday’s announcement that rosters will drop to 28 players on Thursday, MLB also said that the rosters will remain at 28 players for the rest of the season instead of going down again, to 26 players, in two weeks. They also said the number of players on the taxi squads will increase from three to five when teams are on the road.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports