Cardinals weigh which prospects to protect
Deadline approaching to keep eligible players from Rule 5 Draft
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals are prepared to do some more massaging of their 40-man roster next week, as clubs face a Tuesday deadline to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 Draft.
After making a series of roster moves at the start of the month, the Cardinals are operating with two openings on their roster. Whether they will create more by next week will be decided through this annual exercise in risk and projection, which requires the team to weigh the chances of a prospect being chosen by another team with the value of roster flexibility.
This year's Rule 5 Draft will be held on Dec. 13, the final day of MLB's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. Players who signed at 19 years or older become eligible after their fourth professional season. Those 18 years or younger are eligible after five.
• Decision time: Which prospects get 40-man spots?
The cost of plucking a player from another organization is relatively low, but to retain that player, he must stick on the active roster for a full season the following year. Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.
That's how the Cardinals snagged reliever Matt Bowman in 2015. However, they've also felt the sting of this Draft, losing Luis Perdomo and Allen Cordoba to the Padres in consecutive years.
Last year, the Cardinals opted to protect four players. Two of them -- Tyler O'Neill and Austin Gomber -- ended up contributing in the Majors. Of the other two, Oscar Mercado was dealt to Cleveland at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, and Derian Gonzalez finished the season in Double-A.
There are more than 50 players in the organization who would be eligible for next month's Draft if not protected, including these six currently ranked as top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline:
RHP Ryan Helsley (No. 4): A dark-horse candidate to rise to the Majors last year, he instead spent much of the season sidelined by shoulder fatigue. The 24-year-old features a power fastball and swing-and-miss curve that still have the Cards high on his potential to contribute in a big league bullpen soon.
2B Max Schrock (No. 11): Acquired along with Yairo Munoz when the Cards dealt Stephen Piscotty to Oakland, Schrock, 24, spent last season in Memphis. Though his offensive numbers (.249/.296/.331) were underwhelming, Schrock fits the Cardinals' need for left-handed bats and offers some defensive versatility.
Genesis Cabrera (No. 13): Tampa Bay sent Cabrera to the Cardinals in July as part of the deal for Tommy Pham. The lefty has started most of his career, but he has been pitching in relief in the Dominican Winter League this offseason. That could be the role that carries the 22-year-old Cabrera to the Majors quickest.
Junior Fernandez (No. 14): He has been an intriguing prospect for years because of a fastball that nearly reaches triple digits. But he has stalled in his advancement due to lack of command and inconsistent secondary pitches. At 21 years old, Fernandez still has time to put it all together.
Ramon Urias (No. 20): The Cardinals signed Urias out of the Mexican League and pushed him as high as Triple-A last season. Urias, 24, profiles as a utility infielder capable of playing both middle infield positions. He has constantly hit for average and shown a mature approach at the plate.
Wadye Ynfante (No. 23): He hasn't advanced beyond short-season A ball yet, which makes it highly unlikely that he'd be at risk of sticking on a big league roster next year. The Cardinals are still intrigued by the plus-speed and athleticism that Ynfante, 21, could bring to the outfield.