Breaking TA 7/30/22: Cards Trade Sosa for Depth Reliever, Recall DeJong and Dak is Back

The Cards have reinstated the unvaccinated players and just announced a new trade today:

7/28/22: Returned IF Corey Spangenberg, who had been selected as a COVID-19 injury substitute, to AAA Memphis. Returned C Ivan Herrera and OF Conner Capel, who had been added as COVID-19 injury substitutes, to AAA Memphis. Activated C Austin Romine, 3B Nolan Arenado and 1B Paul Goldschmidt from the Restricted List. 40-man roster now full.

The rules allowed the Cards to remove Spangenberg from the 40-man roster without placing him on waivers and also allowed the club to send Herrera and Capel back to Memphis without using one of the five allowable options this season.

7/30/22: Traded IF Edmundo Sosa to the Philadelphia Phillies for LHP JoJo Romero, and assigned him to AAA Memphis. The 40-man roster is still full. Recalled SS Paul DeJong from AAA Memphis. Optioned RHP James Naile to AAA Memphis. Activated RHP Dakota Hudson from the 15-day IL.

Edmundo Sosa has been in the Cardinal organization for what seems like forever. Signed for future service as an international free agent out of Panama when he was 16 years old, he broke in as a 17-year-old with the Cards’ Dominican Summer League club. He was added to the 40-man roster in November 2016 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and after 11 plate appearances with the major league club in 2018 and 2019 combined, he had already exhausted all three traditional minor league options. It turned out that he was eligible for a fourth minor league option for the 2020 season. The Cards optioned him in 2020 spring training before the pandemic canceled the rest of the spring and delayed the start of the 2020 season until July.

Sosa made the 2020 opening day roster because Brad Miller was on the injured list. Sosa didn’t get into the first five games of the season, then the Cards had a COVID-19 outbreak in the clubhouse, resulting in the postponement of several Cardinal games. That outbreak claimed Sosa as a victim, he was placed on the COVID-19 Related IL on August 4th. Sosa was activated from the COVID-19 Related IL on August 27th and optioned to the Alternate Training Site, but never returned to the active roster that season and was left off the post-season roster.

There were rumblings going into the 2021 season that either Max Moroff or Jose Rondon, two non-roster invitees to spring training, would squeeze Sosa out of a roster spot by the end of spring training, but it ended up not happening. Sosa rarely played for the first month-and-a-half of the 2021 season. But on May 11th, 2021, Freddy Peralta hit Paul DeJong in the side with a changeup, and DeJong would go on the injured list three days later. Sosa took over as the starter, wowed with his defense, and showed a remarkable ability to get hit by pitches. DeJong was activated on June 11th and returned to the lineup. At the time, Sosa had a .270/.369/.360 slash line. with 6 walks to 20 strikeouts, and was hit by eight pitches. As a starter, Sosa slashed .286/.375/.390 over 88 PA with a .350 BABIP. DeJong, on the other hand, had slashed .177/.277/.371 as a starter, with a .176 BABIP and 7 homers over 141 trips to the plate. At this point, Tommy Edman was playing a lot of right field and Matt Carpenter and his .184/.319/.337 slash line was still seeing considerable time at second base. In mid-August of 2021, DeJong had to rest a few days with back tightness, and by the end of August, he had lost his shortstop job to Sosa. Sosa missed time with wrist issues during the month of September, but recovered and started the wild card game against the Dodgers.

DeJong hit 19 homers in 2021, but slashed .197/.284/.390, and only had a .216 BABIP, which was far lower than anything he had ever done. Sosa, on the other hand, slashed .271/.346/.389. Sosa didn’t show much power and didn’t walk much either, but he showed blazing speed and stellar defense at short. There was much discussion in the community that Sosa might actually be the better option going forward at short, given the pitch-to-contact nature of the Cards’ pitching staff. Both the front office and the new manager, however, believed that the best version of the 2022 Cardinals would have DeJong as the starting shortstop. DeJong, however, found himself optioned to AAA Memphis on May 10th, 2022, after posting a .130/.209/.208 slash line and a 30% strikeout rate without any corresponding power.

At the time of DeJong’s option, Sosa was on the COVID-19 Related IL. When he returned, he played a little short but found himself day-to-day with an ankle injury. After Sosa came back to full strength, the club decided not to make him the full-time shortstop. Instead, they moved Tommy Edman from second to short and promoted Nolan Gorman to take over the second base job against right-handed pitching. Sosa became a platoon shortstop, and since May 15th, has started at short in every game against a left-handed starting pitcher except two. He’s also received scattered starts at short or third when either Edman or Nolan Arenado rested. In all, he’s slashed .189/.244/.270 this season over 25 starts at short and 6 starts at third. He only walked about 3% of the time, and had a 29% strikeout rate, which was a career high for him when he played for an extended period.

Meanwhile, DeJong has slashed .249/.313/.552 with 17 homers over 230 trips to the plate with AAA Memphis. I’ll talk about the return for Sosa in a bit, but I agree with JP when he said that this trade was just to open up a spot for DeJong. Sosa has long been known as a slick fielder, who can pick it at short, third and second. But before DeJong was selected, manager Oli Marmol defended starting DeJong at short with his low offensive output due to his good defense. Fans and metrics disagree about DeJong’s defense, but Sosa was not doing well in a part-time role, and when DeJong is right, he’s far superior to Sosa on offense, especially in the power department. DeJong is much more valuable than Sosa as an option on the bench, assuming that DeJong has recovered from his stroke. There’s still a lot we don’t know about how DeJong is going to be used. Tonight against a right-handed starter, the Cards decided to put Gorman at DH, start DeJong at short and slide Edman over to second. Is DeJong now the starting shortstop and Gorman our new DH against righties? Or will DeJong be a platoon shortstop like Sosa was and mostly start against lefties going forward? Or will Gorman be part of an upcoming blockbuster trade with a certain team in a certain town that’s not part of the 50 states? Is Brendan Donovan a bench player now? We just don’t know. Right now, it’s safe to assume the club wanted DeJong to play and decided to unload Sosa, who is out of minor league options, for something that might help the club a tad down the line. And the club didn’t want to option Brendan Donovan because—guys, check your reports, or I’m gonna point at Pete—he gets on base. With Sosa not a sure thing to make the roster next season, it was probably best to get a potentially useful player for him now instead of the $50,000 waiver price later.

One other thing to note about DeJong is his contract and service time status. DeJong signed a 6-year, $26 million contract extension before the 2018 season that locked him up through the 2023 season. He’s making $6 million this year and is set to make $9 million next year. The club also holds a $12.5 million option for 2024 with a $2 million buyout, and a $15 million option for 2025 with a $1 million buyout. That’s awfully expensive for a back-up player, but there’s no way the Cards could have gotten anything for DeJong in a trade unless they ponied up a bunch of cash. DeJong also had accrued 4 years and 160 days of major league service before today. If he’s on the active roster for 12 more days this season, he hits 5 years of service, which means that he could no longer be sent to the minor leagues, whether by outright or optional assignment with his consent. It ultimately means that he’s got the right to say “Fuck you, pay me.” A 5-year man has the right to refuse both an option and an outright assignment. He also has the right to elect free agency if outrighted, but the right to refuse is better. If a player elects free agency, he forfeits his salary with no termination pay. But a player in DeJong’s shoes at the 5-year mark could say. “I’m not going to the minor leagues, but I’m also not electing free agency, so fuck you, pay me. You can also release me, but you still have to pay me. Or you can trade me, in which case, someone else still has to pay me.” The upshot is that before long, if DeJong falters in the majors again, the Cards will at best be stuck with an expensive backup for the rest of this year and next, or worse, be on the hook for another $12 million after this season while watching him play for another club for the league minimum.

The return for Sosa is lefty JoJo Romero. Romero was drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 draft by the Phillies out of an Arizona junior college. The club paid him an $800,000 signing bonus, which was $242,400 over the slot. He was a starter in his minor league career, and won Player of the Year honors for the Phillies’ AA Reading club in 2018, despite suffering a season-ending oblique injury in late July of that year. Romero’s 2019 was considered a step back, as he suffered from both walk and home run issues. He was converted to the bullpen during the 2019 Arizona Fall League campaign, and pressed into service for the Phillies in mid-August of 2020 as the club suffered from both COVID issues and a bad bullpen. His fastball jumped up a few ticks in the process. He held opponents hitless and scoreless in 6 out of his 12 appearances, including his first 4 outings, but got rocked to the tune of a .375 BABIP overall.

Romero was selected to start the 2021 season, but was recalled on April 11th. His stint didn’t last, as he was only able to pitch in 11 games before going on the injured list on May 6th and he had Tommy John surgery on May 25th. While he was healthy, he kept the ball down, but his walk rate spiked and he allowed 4 homers in just 9 innings pitched. Romero opened the 2022 season on the 60-day injured list again, started a series of rehab assignments on June 14th of this year, and was activated on July 15th. He did fine in the July 16th game, but in his next outing on July 22nd, he allowed hits to 4 out of the 7 batters he faced, including a homer and gave up 3 earned runs in one inning. He was selected two days later. He’s only had one AAA outing since that option, and that was yesterday, when he pitched just one-third of an inning.

Although Romero has thrown five pitches over the years, he’s practically ditched his four-seamer and slider, and tries to keep the ball down with a sinker/change combo with an occasional cutter. At one time, he was a mid-tier prospect thought to either be a back-end starter or a multi-inning reliever that could me more than just a LOOGY. But he hasn’t done even a decent job at getting right-handers out since 2018, and now that he’s coming off of Tommy John surgery, it’s unknown what we should expect. The good news is that he’s only burned one minor league option so far, so the club can farm him out both this year and next to see what he’s got.

Finally, Dakota Hudson returns from the injured list to start tonight’s game. That gives the Cards a 4-man rotation and a 9-man pen. James Naile has been optioned to AAA Memphis to make room. Hudson had one minor league rehab start for AAA Memphis on July 24th, in which he pitched 5 innings, walked 3 batters, struck out 6, threw 2 wild pitches and allowed 5 hits and 1 run.

ROTATION

Wainwright, Nicholas, Hudson, Pallante

BULLPEN

Cabrera (L), Fernandez, Gallegos, Helsley, Hicks, McFarland (L), Naughton (L), Oviedo, Thompson (L)

BENCH

Romine, Dickerson, Gorman/DeJong?, Pujols/Nootbaar/Donovan?

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