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Is there a role for Matt Carpenter?

photo Charles Le Claire - USA Today Sports

Remember 2018 when Matt Carpenter seemed to walk up to the plate with a big red S on his chest and a flowing red cape? Since September of 2018, THAT player is MIA!

It has been excruciating to watch Matt's decline over the last 2 1/2 years. In 2018 When Carp got hot, you felt confident when he came to the plate, 2019 not so much. Last year he barely outhit the pitchers, and this year, he is sporting a .114/.245/.318 slash. He does have 3 Hrs and 10 RBIs. Those who favor him playing point to his Exit Velocity and Barrel Rate and say he is just having bad luck. I have defended playing struggling hitters before (Bader and Fowler). The main reason is that no one can get better at hitting by sitting on the bench. You need to be in the game.

In Carp's case, he has had a multitude of chances to get his hitting going. His refusal to go the other way with ground balls. When they give him 60 feet between the LF line and the nearest fielder besides the pitcher, it is ludicrous that it seems he doesn't even try. His K-Rate is over 36%, and his OBP is .245. Those are the numbers that stand out. You can't hide him with the lineup the way it is currently performing. With Paul DeJong, Tyler O'Neill, and Justin Williams under .200, you don't have a spot for another sub - .200 hitter. Even President of baseball John Mozeliak is hedging his bets on Carp. In an interview with Ben Fredrickson published April 24th in the St Louis Post-Dispatch, Mozeliak had this to say;

“With the outfield coming back, you could see limited at-bats (for Carpenter) moving forward,” Mozeliak said. “I don’t think that’s a line that we have to cross today. Over the next seven to 14 days, it is going to have a way of playing itself out. You are trying to give someone an opportunity to get going. But as players become healthy and get back active on this roster, those at-bats are going to be more difficult to find if production isn’t there.”

Even though he hit, back-to-back 3 run pinch hit Home Runs. The production is not there as a starter. He is hitting .094/.231/.188, 4 RS, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 4 BB, 13 Ks.

Since the return of Tyler O'Neill to the starting line up to today (4/24- 5/1), Matt Carpenter has only been seen as a pinch hitter.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

6 Games, .400/.600/1.333, 3 RS, 2 HR, 6 RBIs, 1 BB, 1 K.

Overall as a pinch hitter/sub, he is .167/.286/.667, 3 RS, 2 HRs, 6RBIs, 2 BB, 5 Ks.

Now, could this be his role with the team for the rest of the year? The Left-hand bat of the bench to couple with Justin Williams that would give Mike Shildt options? So which Matt Carpenter are we going to see from now on? Particularly now, with Harrison Bader back, Bader being back is what Mozeliak was referring to by limited at-bats.

With a healthy quartet of O'Neill, Bader, Carlson, and Williams plus Austin Dean, the need to insert Tommy Edman into the Outfield is not a necessity. So there will only be the occasional day off to spell Edman or Goldschmidt. Quite frankly, some of those starts at 2B will go to Edmundo Sosa. When Jon Nogowski comes off the IL, then the ABs get even MORE limited for Carpenter as Nogowski will be the backup for Goldschmidt.

Why not release him and be done with it?

Well, that is possible if it were not for the $19.5 million price tag. When you consider that we are already paying approximately $14 million for Dexter Fowler to play elsewhere. I do not think that Jon Mozeliak or Bill de Witt III would be keen to add to that. On that note, the Cardinals have only themselves to blame.

At the same time, it was admirable to want to keep a legacy player. They jumped the gun on securing him. When Carpenter was offered the extension, he was in the final guaranteed year of his contract, but the cards held the option for 2019. The Cardinals essentially picked up the 2019 option then offered him a two-year deal through the 21 seasons with a vested option for 2022.

the original details were:

2022 option is worth $18.5 Million and vests with 1,100 plate appearances across 2020-2021. including 550 PA in 2021. Now those numbers were altered due to the short season last year. There was an adjustment due to Carpenter's 169 PAs last season actually crediting him 456 PAs toward his vesting. This means he now needs 664 PAs this year to the vest, which even has a starter would be somewhat of a feat.

  • If the option doesn't vest, it becomes a $12M club option with a $2M buyout

  • 2022 Club option Plate Appearance Escalators (2021) $500,000 for 350 $1M for 400, 450, 500, 550, 600, 650

As mentioned before, with a full contingent of outfielders and the prospect of a healthy Nogowski and a young player like Sosa needing ABs, Carp's role may come down to batting for the pitcher. So at this point, the vesting question is not a sticking point.

What remains to be seen is IF there is no CONSISTENT marked improvement offensively, will the front office be willing to cut losses and replace him? That answer we may not know for a month or even two. As the minor leagues are just starting, the team has no real idea who is ready and available on the farm. You don't want to bring up someone who is not ready, and by the same token, you don't want to stifle a player's development by having him sit the bench. There could be the scenario where they release Carp and trade for an existing bench bat from another team. All in all, I don't see an answer till at least June.

Thanks for reading.

See ya soon

545 views2 comments


Don Glenn
Don Glenn
May 04, 2021

I agree Derek. It will quite easy to do so since he needs 664 ABs.


Derek King
Derek King
May 04, 2021

Personally, I think the organization will keep under that AB threshold, so his contract doesn't vest. It's much easier to swallow $2 million than another $12 million on the option.

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