Cardinals wrap up bench for opening day, continue to debate composition of 15-strong pitching staff | St. Louis Cardinals

JUPITER, Fla. — A series of moves on their last day in Florida with no game scheduled gave the Cardinals a glimpse of the position of the players and bench they will play on opening day.

The pitching staff remains up for debate.

“I think we could get on the wire by Tuesday,” said manager Oliver Marmol. “There’s a bit more we want to see. I think we can see this through to the end.”

The Cardinals are talking about starting the season with 15 pitchers in their 28-man roster, leaving five spots on the roster for designated hitters and benchers. The team selected infielder Brendan Donovan to Class AAA Memphis after an impressive camp and planned to officially add Cory Spangenberg to the Triple-A roster. That left 13 players on the active list and after the eight starters, the bench was defined by Albert Pujols, Corey Dickerson, infielder Edmundo Sosa, backup catcher Andrew Knizner and left-handed outfielder Lars Nootbaar.

There are three pitchers – Andre Pallante, Jake Walsh and Lefty Connor Thomas – vying for the 15th and final spot on the staff.

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Marmol gushed about Donovan’s camp, his words backed up by the best measure of how the team views young talent – playing time.

Donovan’s 32 at-bats led all Cardinals, and he got innings at all four infield positions during spring training. He hit .250 and hit .375. When the Cardinals need a lefty off the bench or a utility infielder, Donovan leaves spring training for that promotion.

“We were told we would love this guy,” Marmol said. “Certain guys are just winning players. You can put it anywhere. He has no fear.”

The Cardinals want to use the innings they have to continue reviewing fifth-starter candidates or bullpen composition that could affect that pick. Pallante and Walsh both pitched an innings in the simulated game the Cardinals orchestrated Sunday to give pitchers innings after Saturday’s rain. Pallante continues to trouble Batter with a circular saw cutter, and Walsh has impressed with his upper octave speed. Thomas, who is likely to serve on Monday, was the most efficient of the three in his four scoreless innings of groundballs.

Drew VerHagen and Jake Woodford are still auditioning for the fifth starter job, though they won’t have a Grapefruit League game for it, and the Cardinals are discussing creative alternatives to a traditional fifth starter. VerHagen, Woodford and starter No. 4 Dakota Hudson will all take on minor league sluggers in Jupiter on Wednesday morning before flying to join the team for Thursday’s opening day at Busch Stadium.

“You’re allowed to take 28 people and I want to make sure we take our best 15 guns,” Marmol said. “And then that will determine how they are used at that point. I want to make sure we don’t leave anything on this table as far as how best to get that fifth place.”

This decision could have a downstream impact on the Cardinals’ pick for last place. Walsh is the only one of the three players already in the roster, so picking Pallante or Thomas would mean a 40-man roster as well. This is a consideration given the short notice availability of a 15 person pitching staff. By May 1, the Cardinals must be reduced to a 26-man roster, and the rule limiting the pitching staff to 13 will go into effect.

Bader signs, O’Neill next?

The Cardinals announced a two-year extension with midfielder Harrison Bader and continue to negotiate a multi-year deal with Tyler O’Neill, which could mean he, too, will avoid arbitration.

O’Neill and the Cardinals have made progress in their talks, a source confirmed. O’Neill said he was comfortable with contract negotiations continuing into the start of the season. A date for his arbitration hearing has not been set.

Bader, 27, agreed to a deal that guarantees him $10.4 million over the next two years, including a $1 million signing bonus and a $4.7 million salary in 2022. His contract is set to mimic arbitration and will be increased for 2023 based on his record appearances in 2022. If he takes full advantage of the incentives, he could see his salary increase to almost $7 million for 2023 — if he hopes to strike a longer deal with to fathom the Cardinals.

“I definitely intend to extend my career longer,” Bader said. “I think the possibility or potential of (a hearing) being a distraction was something I wanted to avoid. … It solidifies the relationship with that organization (and) it’s one you want to keep going for as long as possible.”

Bader’s signing leaves O’Neill as the only Cardinals player before a hearing, and the club wants to avoid that with a contract lasting at least two years. The Cardinals are also discussing a new contract for reliever Giovanny Gallegos and whether one could be extended into his free-agent years. The Athletic reported that a three-year deal was under discussion.

ice cream & more

The Cardinals scrapped their plans to host a baseball feats tournament on Sunday, but didn’t cancel the ice cream truck. Saturday’s rain forced the Cardinals to overhaul their Sunday practice, and instead of the annual competition between players to see who would get ice cream, everyone did it. After Sunday’s simulated game, the Cardinals lined up for ice cream bars, waffles and cups of cherry ice cream. … Wade LeBlanc, the veteran leftist who stabilized the Cardinals’ rotation when he joined in June, told MLB Network he’s retiring. … Pittsburgh will start opening day right-hander JT Brubaker over the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright. The Bucs announced their choice on Sunday. Brubaker went 5-13 with a 5.36 ERA in 24 starts in 2021. Brubaker, 28, told Pittsburgh reporters of facing Pujols, Wainwright and Yadier Molina, “It’s great because I think I was still in high school when all three of them boys played together. Definitely not to date her.”

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