JUPITER, Fla. — The chaotic start to spring training, with teams opening their camps and simultaneously making their rosters while the rules were still — still — being finalized has allowed teams like the Cardinals to add on the go, even if needed.
While making a requested addition on Thursday, they await instructions on a crucial absence.
To answer their annual search for a left-hander, Cardinals outfielder Corey Dickerson has signed a one-year, $5 million deal, a source has confirmed. The deal is still pending the results of an investigation and could be announced as early as Friday when the Cardinals begin their 15-game exhibition schedule. Dickerson, who has a career .845 OPS against right-handers, will be an option off the bench as a designated hitter, outfielder or left-hander, and he will complement the matchup makeup of the squad manager Oliver Marmol intends to field.
At the same time as they were reaching into the turbulent free agent pool for the fourth time since camp opened, the Cardinals were trying to finalize a plan for Jack Flaherty and his aching right shoulder.
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Flaherty, who started as an opening day a year ago, has not participated in any pitching practice as the team and his doctors determine the cause of the discomfort in his pitching shoulder and a treatment plan. Flaherty sought a second opinion, a second review of the shoulder scans, and Thursday night the team said it had no final decision to share them publicly.
“I’m feeling good,” Flaherty said as he left the stadium on Thursday.
He declined to say more until a plan is in place.
Internally, the Cardinals prepare for their pitching on parallel calendars — first, when Flaherty gets permission to attend abbreviated spring training and be available to them just after opening day, or second, when he opens the season on the injured list and an or two more starters are needed to replace it.
“I have no idea if he’ll be a week or a month old,” Marmol said Thursday morning. “And that’s the part that makes us a little bit anxious waiting for the news, is our ability to plan. At the moment we are planning two separate tracks. What does it look like and what is the timeline for him to break with us and how many outings does that actually get us compared to if he doesn’t break with us?
“We formulated both. Hopefully it’s not the one without him.”
The Cardinals were already planning to leave camp with more than five pitchers on the list and have a starter workload available. They have returning pitchers like Jake Woodford and Johan Oviedo stretching out as starters should the Grapefruit League innings permit. And they’ve added Drew VerHagen with a major-league contract and Aaron Brooks with a non-lister invite to also compete for openings on rotational or pitching staff. Alex Reyes would be on the same path if his spring hadn’t been distracted by shoulder pain. He received a stem cell injection on Wednesday, will set a recovery program on Friday and start the year on the injured list.
Reyes didn’t shed a hill in the offseason. Due to the lockout, he was unable to notify the Cardinals and receive instructions, so he accepted conservative training sessions until he could meet with the team and get input from his medical team.
Flaherty agreed the inability to speak to the team during the lockout played a part in his schedule and the concern the team had after he made a physical call last weekend. The right-hander said it was the first time the team’s medical officials “had their hands on me” and were able to examine the discomfort he was experiencing. According to the collective agreement, players have the right to get a second opinion, and many often do. The teams will also seek advice from specific experts, like the Cardinals did for Reyes, when it comes to causes and treatment options.
VerHagen was the first of the Cardinals’ three pitching new recruits in the first four days of spring training. They followed with the addition of reliever Nick Wittgren for the big league bullpen and slinger Zach McAllister on a minor league contract.
There are plenty of starters or versatile starters who remain available through free agency, including leftist JA Happ, who has expressed interest in a return to the Cardinals. Also included in this group are left-hander Drew Smyly and right-hander Michael Pineda. In exploring trades for pitching, the Cardinals have found other teams fixated on top prospects, like Matthew Liberatore, whom they are reluctant to switch.
Dickerson, 32, split the 2021 season between Toronto and Miami. Dickerson, a Gold Glove winner for Tampa Bay in 2017, hit .271 with a .408 slugging percentage and a .734 OPS in 2021. Of his 365 plate appearances, 312 came against righties and he hit .277 with a .419 slugging Percentage. In his career, he’s hit .288 with a .512 batting percentage against righties.
Dickerson pairs with second-year outfielder Lars Nootbaar as a left-hander who could spell out the starters or appear at DH. Nootbaar starts at DH when the team open Friday’s exhibition game. The Cardinals are also looking to give right-handed rookie Juan Yepez a long look at DH.
The market saw a shopping spree for left-handed complementary players over the past 48 hours. Joc Pederson, Colin Moran, Brad Miller and Eddie Rosario all signed before or shortly after Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals’ deal with Dickerson. Rosario, the reigning National League Championship Series MVP, re-signed with the Braves for two years and $18 million. Miller, the former Cardinal, turned a 20-homer season in Philadelphia into a two-year, $10 million deal with Texas. Pederson ended up in San Francisco on a one-year, $6 million deal, and Moran signed with the rest of the Reds on a one-year, reportedly $1 million deal.
Dickerson’s deal fits the short-term strategy the Cardinals favor and the splits they were seeking. Miller, Pederson, and Dickerson all have more than 2,500 plate appearances against righties in their careers, and of that small group, Dickerson has the highest OPS (.845) and slugging (.512).
“Corey’s a good hitter,” said Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado, a teammate and former collaborator in the Colorado system with Dickerson. “He could always score. That was his thing. … We kind of got through the minors together, so it’s cool to have him back.
The day’s description for the Cardinals’ ongoing purchases is “fluency.”
A team official described how the amount of available free agents combined with the limited number of spring days made last week feel like a scramble. It’s like being at a car auction but bidding on the parts to build the car as it rolls onto the road, engine idling.
Clarity on Flaherty and soon is necessary to go untraceable.
“The camp goes on,” Marmol said.
This is how the transactions are made.