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Injuries save St. Louis Cardinals front office from tough decisions

About half way through the Grapefruit League Schedule, it appears that injuries may be making most of the toughest decision the St. Louis Cardinals seemed to face when camp started.

Who will be the odd man out of the starting rotation, which seemed to have seven legitimate candidates in Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal and top prospect Alex Reyes?

Reyes blew out his elbow before spring games even started and had Tommy John surgery. So, scratch him off the list of possibilities. Rosenthal was shut down after he started to experience some health issues. An MRI turned up no structural problems, just inflammation. But that has been enough to keep him from getting the spring innings he needs to make a case for being a member of the rotation.

Fortunately for the Redbirds, Wainwright and Wacha, who suffered through health problems of their own last season, have looked like they’re back into fighting shape this spring. St. Louis ought to feel confident that the five starters who remain standing are all quality candidates who deserve their jobs. The problem is that the Birds don’t enjoy the depth that they had a couple of weeks ago. If Wacha or Wainwright suffer a setback, that could be an issue. Plus, Lynn will be in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and we don’t know how much endurance he’ll have after a lost 2016 season.

The bullpen had an even bigger logjam than the rotation.

Matt Bowman, Jonathon Broxton, Brett Cecil, John Gant, Tyler Lyons, Seung Hwan Oh, Rosenthal, Jordan Schaefer, Kevin Seigrist, Miguel Socolovich, Sam Tuivailala and Luke Weaver came to camp hoping to win a roster spot. That’s 11 men for seven jobs.

Rosenthal’s health issues seem to have bumped him from being a rotation contender to a likely bullpen arm – although his lingering layoff is starting to make me concerned he might not be ready for the start of the season even in the latter role.

Seigrist has also been limited this spring by arm soreness. But he’s starting to work his way back.

While those two are in the “maybe” column at this point because of health issues, Schaefer is out of the picture. The outfielder/lefty reliever needs elbow surgery and is likely lost for the season. So, scratch him.

Bowman, Broxton, Cecil, Rosenthal, Seigrist and Oh seem to be locks for major league jobs if they’re all ready to go. Lyons and Socolovich are guys the Cardinals would like to keep – but they’re both out of options, which means if the Birds try to send them to the minor leagues other teams might claim them. Lyons is coming back from an injury that ended his 2016 prematurely. But he’s probably the most likely replacement right now if one of the top five starters would go down to injury.

Weaver would be seventh on the depth chart. But I’d imagine the Cardinals would like to send him to Class AAA Memphis where he could start every day as opposed to making him a bullpenner with the big league club.

In addition to playing a role in sorting out the relief pitching picture, Schaefer’s injury will likely make choices simpler in the outfield.

While he was shifted to the mound because he isn’t much of a hitter, Schaefer is excellent defensively. So, if he was to make the roster, ability to play all three outfield spots would have been a factor. Schaefer’s absence probably means that Jose Martinez and Tommy Pham are left in the mix to be the reserve fly chasers.

The injury on the infield that could make a difference is the back trouble starter Matt Carpenter has struggled with.

Carp, who was penciled in to play first base this year after spending most of last year at third and time before that starting at second, hasn’t been able to get back on the field after back trouble prevented him from playing in the World Baseball Classic this spring.

That problem solidifies Martinez’s roster hold because he can also play first base. Will it cause future problems if Carpenter is out for an extended period and Matt Adams makes the most out of reprieve from having his job taken away?

It looks like the last roster decision could come down to Pham or Adams. If Carpenter is hurt, the Cardinals could keep both of them until he comes back. Choosing Adams puts St. Louis in a jam because he can only play one position. But Pham seems to be the less valuable of the two at the plate. I’d send down Pham if the choice was mine to make and hope that Adams plays so well that he creates some trade interest.

Projected 25-man roster:

Starters: Carlos Martinez, Wainwright, Wacha, Lynn, Leake

Relievers: Oh, Rosenthal, Seigrist, Cecil, Broxton, Lyons, Bowman

Infield: Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Aledmys Diaz, Jhonny Peralta, Jedd Gyorko, Greg Garcia, Adams

Outfield: Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty, Jose Martinez

Catchers: Yadier Molina, Eric Fryer