Cards' non-tender moves open path for Herrera

November 18th, 2023

ST. LOUIS -- On the same day that the Cardinals announced as their Minor League Player of the Year, they also cleared the way for his Major League career to begin in earnest.

When the Cardinals made the decision to non-tender veteran catcher at Friday’s deadline, it meant that the backup catching duties behind standout Willson Contreras would almost certainly fall to the 23-year-old Herrera, who had a breakout season at Triple-A Memphis in 2023.

A Cardinals franchise eager to use its financial resources this offseason to dramatically upgrade its pitching also non-tendered veteran right-handed pitchers and , as well as Minor League first baseman/outfielder .

Those moves brought the franchise’s 40-player roster to 36 just as the free-agent signing period is starting to pick up steam. The Cardinals plan to pursue “pitching, pitching, pitching” this offseason, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has said repeatedly.

Herrera, who briefly made his MLB debut in 2022 and got another short stint at the big league level in '23, slashed .297/.451/.500 with 27 doubles, 10 home runs, 60 RBIs, 66 runs and 11 stolen bases across 83 games at Triple-A Memphis this past season. The Panama native ranked among Cardinals Minor League leaders in average (fifth), on-base percentage (first), slugging (fourth), OPS (second), walks (fourth), and doubles (fifth) with a minimum 135 plate appearances.

Herrera was the only MiLB player this season to register a .450 on-base percentage and .500 slugging while making at least 375 plate appearances, and the first Cardinals Minor Leaguer to accomplish that feat since Triple-A outfielder Gene Roof in 1981.

Hudson, the 34th overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft, moves on despite a career 38-20 record with the Cardinals and a stellar 21-5 mark at Busch Stadium. He went 16-7 in 3.35 ERA in 2019, but Tommy John surgery cut into his next two seasons. He was 8-7 in '22, but his ERA ballooned to 4.45. He was 6-3 this past season after starting the year with Triple-A Memphis, but his ERA soared to 4.98 and the opposition hit .283 against him.

Knizner, 28, hit a career-best 10 home runs in 2023, but his biggest contribution was the work he did with Cardinals pitchers by feverishly preparing and poring over scouting reports before each game -- whether he was slated to start or not. He had a .216 batting average and a .621 OPS over five seasons with St. Louis (2019-23).

Yepez, 25, made his MLB debut in 2022 and hit .253 with 13 doubles, 12 home runs and 30 RBIs. His biggest moment as a member of the Cardinals came in October of that season, when he knocked a pinch-hit two-run home run in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Phillies to break a scoreless tie. In 2023, Yepez did not make the Opening Day roster and hit .183 with two homers in 28 MLB games.

Woodford, another former first-round pick by the Cardinals, was 2-3 with a 6.23 ERA in an injury-marred 2023. He split time between the bullpen and starting staff in his career with the Cardinals, going 10-7 with a 4.29 ERA.