Could Luis Perdomo be St. Louis Cardinals’ Biggest Loss of the Year?

Aug 9, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Luis Perdomo (61) delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 9, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Luis Perdomo (61) delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Not too many people are faulting the Cardinals right now for losing out on Jason Heyward and John Lackey, but did they drop the ball by letting Luis Perdomo get taken in the Rule 5 Draft?

While the St. Louis Cardinals faced a solid amount of scrutiny last winter for allowing arguably their top hitter and top pitcher from 2015–Jason Heyward and John Lackey–to defect to the division rival Chicago Cubs, there hasn’t been much complaining about those losses lately, as Hayward’s struggled to a disappointing .683 OPS with only six homers this year, while Lackey has been inconsistent and is now on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

The Cardinals lost another player this offseason who has thrived in the majors recently, though, and that loss has largely gone untalked about. Righthander Luis Perdomo, who spent the first five seasons of his professional career in the Cardinals organization, has been dominant lately as a member of the San Diego Padres’ rotation. His greatest accomplishment to date came on Sunday, as he threw a complete game in the Padres’ 3-1 victory over the Miami Marlins, needing just 99 pitches to get through the game.

Despite appearing in the 2015 Futures Game and earning a spot in the Midwest League All-Star Game, Perdomo was left exposed in the Rule 5 Draft (which allows MLB teams to pluck other teams’ minor-leaguers who have achieved a certain level of experience, provided that those players spend the next full season on the major-league roster) by the Cardinals this offseason. He was selected by the Rockies in the draft, then immediately flipped to the Padres for future considerations.

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After making the Padres’ 25-man roster, Perdomo got off to a predictably erratic start in 2016, as he posted a 10.97 ERA and 2.63 WHIP in 10 2/3 innings of relief in April. Those struggles continued in May, and though he made his first major-league start in a one-off opportunity on May 14, he allowed runs in all six of his appearances, only one of which lasted more than six appearances.

Since Perdomo gained a long-term rotation spot in June as Andrew Cashner was placed on the DL, though, he’s been much better. He was still getting into the swing of things in June, and as a result, his numbers as a starter might not look that great at a first glance: a 6-6 record, 4.71 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, and .295 opponent batting average.

As July came around and the young starter gained confidence in his sinker while decreasing his reliance on his four-seam fastball, slider, and splitter, though, he’s become much more consistent. Since the All-Star break, Perdomo is 4-3 with a 3.73 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and .272 opponent average while throwing an average of 6 1/3 innings per start.

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He’s been at his best over his past two starts, throwing a total of 16 innings while allowing just two runs (one earned) on 11 hits and three walks. Despite the fact that major-league teams often choose to develop Rule 5 guys in the minors again after they pluck them from lower levels and keep them in the majors for a year, those kinds of performances will earn Perdomo a serious shot at being part of San Diego’s rotation at the beginning of the 2017 season.

Despite the fact that Perdomo ended last season in High-A and posted an unremarkable 5.13 ERA over five starts at that level, it’s still very possible that he could have ended up pitching in the majors for the Cardinals this year if he’d stuck around. After all, Luke Weaver spent the entirety of his 2015 season at Palm Beach, and Alex Reyes spent most of the season there before being promoted to Double-A on July 22. Weaver has averaged just five innings per outing over three starts, while Reyes threw 4 2/3 in his starting debut on Saturday. One would think that the Cardinals are itching for a starter with the endurance and pitch efficiency that Perdomo has developed this season.

Back in December, the Cardinals believed that Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney would provide rotation depth, and it’s fair to assume that they weren’t planning on having Weaver and Reyes as parts of the big-league rotation by the time that August rolled around. Still, though, it’s fair to question their rationale in deciding to leave Perdomo exposed.

The Cardinals failed to protect Perdomo from the Rule 5 Draft last November when they neglected to add him to their 40-man roster. Adding Perdomo to the roster definitely would have been doable–there were just 36 players on November 19 (the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5), and only 34 by the time the draft took place.

In addition, there were players who remained on the 40-man but almost certainly could have been outrighted to the minors without consequence, thus providing another spot for Perdomo. 29-year-old infielder Dean Anna has still received just one big-league at-bat during the nearly two seasons that he’s been on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster, and he wasn’t even recalled after rosters expanded last September. 30-year-old reliever Mitch Harris had a 5.40 ERA over the second half of last season, and the Cardinals had plenty of other in-house relief options.

Luis Perdomo San Diego Padres
Aug 28, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Luis Perdomo (right) celebrates with Padres catcher Derek Norris (left) after their 3-1win over the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

With Anna having been passed over numerous times for promotions this season–even as roster-filler guys like third-string catcher Michael McKenry were called up–it’s difficult to see why the Cardinals have kept him on the 40-man. And though Harris may have gotten another chance in the  Cards’ bullpen with all the injuries that have occurred over the second half, he’s missed the whole year with an injury of his own, one that required season-ending elbow ligament repair surgery.

Then again, since the only major-league teams that can afford to stash lower-level minor-leaguers–or any Rule 5 pick at all, for that matter–on their 25-man roster are usually teams that are wholly non-competitive, it was a semi-reasonable gamble for the Cardinals to leave Perdomo off the 40-man. After posting less than spectacular numbers in High-A, he didn’t exactly fit the profile of a surefire major-leaguer.

Next: Which Players Will Cardinals Add to the Roster in September?

It’s difficult to place a massive amount on the Cardinals for letting Perdomo go, since he was just a prospect–one in a minor-league system that was thought to have a ton of good pitching prospects, no less–and prospects are always unknown quantities. But in a season where the team has struggled so much for starting pitching consistency, it hurts to have let a guy go who’s looked as good over the second half as Perdomo has. Though the Cardinals don’t seem to be regretting the losses of guys like Heyward, Lackey, and Steve Cishek, it’s safe to wonder if Perdomo might go on to be their most devastating loss of the 2015 offseason before it’s all said and done.