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Cardinals Notes: O’Neill, Yepez, Romero, Flaherty

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The Cardinals announced this morning that they have placed outfielder Tyler O’Neill on the 10-day injured list with a right foot sprain. First baseman Juan Yepez was recalled from Triple-A in the corresponding move. The sprain presumably brings O’Neill’s 2023 campaign to a close, given the limited time remaining on the regular season schedule.

Despite rampant speculation early in the season that the club could deal O’Neill following an incident back in April where he was benched by manager Oli Marmol for a perceived lack of hustle, no such trade materialized before the trade deadline on August 1. That could be thanks at least in part due to O’Neill’s difficult first half. The 28-year-old made it into just 29 games with the Cardinals prior to the All Star break thanks to a low back strain, slashing just .228/.283/.337 with a 34.3% strikeout rate in those first 99 trips to the plate this season.

While his season started off on a rough note, O’Neill has looked greatly improved at the plate in recent months. His .233/.329/.445 slash line in 167 plate appearances since returning from injury shortly after the All Star break is far more palatable than his early season numbers. His strikeout rate has plummeted to just 19.8% over that period, while his walk rate has ticked up to 12.6%, a considerable jump from the 7.1% rate he posted in the first half. With that improved discipline at the plate and the ability to play center field, O’Neill could be a valuable player to the Cardinals as he heads into his final year of team control in 2024, whether that be as a trade chip or as a piece of the club’s outfield next year.

With Lars Nootbaar and Jordan Walker presumably locked into every day playing time, O’Neill will have to fight for playing time with the likes of Yepez, Dylan Carlson, and Alec Burleson for playing time in the outfield and at DH, assuming trades aren’t made to clear the club’s outfield logjam. Thanks to O’Neill’s injury, Yepez will get his first extended opportunity this season to showcase his skills at the big league level. After a solid rookie campaign with the Cardinals where he batted .253/.296/.447 in 76 games, Yepez has made just 46 plate appearances in the majors this year, slashing a lackluster .214/.283/.381 in that limited playing time. That being said, Yepez has gotten on a heater at the Triple-A level in recent weeks with a .305/.356/.481 slash line over his past 45 games. If he can keep that sort of production up at the big league level in the final weeks of the season, Yepez could re-establish himself as a contender for more playing time in the majors headed into 2024.

More from St. Louis…

  • The Cardinals will be without left-hander JoJo Romero for longer than initially expected, as noted by MLB.com. Marmol told reporters yesterday that Romero, who went on the injured list earlier this month due to knee tendinitis, is “still working on strengthening his knee” and that the current plan is for him to throw another side session today before determining when he’ll return to action. Romero has taken on a high leverage role in the St. Louis bullpen in the weeks since the club moved on from closer Jordan Hicks at the trade deadline, and the 27-year-old lefty has thrived in his new role. In 17 innings of work (12 appearances) since recording his first save, Romero has posted a 3.18 ERA with a microscopic 0.79 FIP. That incredible figure is thanks to a whopping 35.8% strikeout rate against a minuscule 3% walk rate during that time frame.
  • St. Louis parted ways with right-hander Jack Flaherty at this year’s trade deadline, dealing him to the Orioles in a buzzer-beating deal that brought back a trio of youngsters. That deal coming to fruition was far from a guarantee, however. As reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal earlier this week, the Cardinals nearly came to an agreement with the Rays to send Flaherty to Tampa, though the deal collapsed in the medical review stage of the process. Since then, the Rays lost left-hander Shane McClanahan to Tommy John surgery, further weakening the club’s starting rotation. While it’s worth wondering if Tampa’s interest in the pending free agent could carry over into the offseason, it should be noted that Flaherty has struggled badly since joining the Orioles, with a 7.11 ERA in seven starts for Baltimore.

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