Recently, Matt Carpenter signed a 2 year extension with a vesting option for a 3rd year based on 1,100 plate appearances combined in 2020-2021 seasons. As I try to be an increasingly voracious reader since I began blogging for twobridsonabat.com, I read several brief takes of this extension and I had a hard time finding someone who didn't feel like it made sense. The sportswriter that I have read the most and respect the most in my life, Bernie Miklasz, wrote in support of the extension. So for the last week I've been trying to figure out what I don't like about it and I guess also second guessing myself in wondering why so many others seem to be on board. Maybe I was the one missing something?
First, let's just make sure the details are clear. Before the extension, Carpenter had a team option for 2020 that would have paid him 18.5 million. What this extension does is essentially pick up this team option while tacking on another guaranteed year in 2021. However, if Carpenter amasses 1,100 plate appearances in 20-21 combined, he automatically opts in to another year in 2022. If he does not, the Cardinals would buy him out of the 2022 year for 2 million. Finally, at the start of 2020, a no trade clause takes effect. Okay, now that these details are established, let's examine.
First and foremost, while I understand the recent trend in baseball of locking up your most valued assets with extensions, generally this applies to younger players than the 33 year old Carpenter. With Carpenter, I would have favored a wait and see approach. We hear all the time that in the end, baseball is a business. If Yadier Molina suddenly fell of a cliff and next year, the last of his current contract, he hit .180 and looked old and creaky behind the plate, the Cardinals aren't just going to sign him for another year just as a tip of the cap to the memories. So, with Carpenter, what would be wrong with the approach of ensuring he is still a productive and healthy player this year, picking up his option that was already in play, and then during his option year if he remained productive the club could then approach he and his agent about an extension. This strategy would allow time to feel out the situation and the club had him under contract until the end of next season. How many times in baseball have we seen the outlook on a player change drastically in 2 years time? Ever hear of Baltimore Oriole Chris Davis? In 2015-2016 combined davis hit 84 homeruns and drove in 201 runs. Two years later, he was practically a punchline and seen as one of the worst contracts in baseball, and that was before his recent 0-60ish streak he went on at the start of this season. Now, I'm not suggesting Carpenter is Davis, different kind of hitter, but I mention Davis as a prime example of the way things can change very quickly, especially when talking about 34-35 year old big leaguers. What, were the Cardinals afraid Carpenter would leave them in free agency after the 2020 option year? You know, because the market for a 34 soon to be 35 year old (at the end of his former contract) who really is ideally a DH has just been flourishing of late, teams are dying to give big money away for guys like that. So my main argument, to summarize, is “What's the rush?”. You had Carpenter under contract until the end of 2020. Why not see where you are then and adjust and react accordingly. The loyalty argument doesn't hold up when we are reminded in other ways again and again that baseball is a business. There are a few other points that give me pause:
Matt Carpenter has been a durable player in his career, it would be difficult to argue otherwise. However, he has had oblique and back issues in recent years and you have to figure those won't improve with age.
Carp is not your ideal defensive 3B, he's probably best at 1B but Goldschmidt will be there for years beyond even Carpenter's career. Playing 3B could actually influence the durability and injury factor. Could he play LF? The eventuality of the DH coming to the NL could play a role here as a counter to this concern, but do we really know for sure that the NL will be moving to a DH anytime soon?
Minor League Talent
Two of the Cardinals top 10 prospects in their system are young 3B that the organization loves, Elehuris Montero and Nolan Gorman. While probably not ready next year, they may be ready to make an impact by 2021. Won't they be blocked somewhat by Carpenter? This point could be cleared up by the DH as well or Carpenter's potential ability to play LF. Still, it belies the point of taking a wait and decide when you have to approach. What if Montero and Gorman by 2021 are primed for the big time but have no natural fit on the roster? It could create an awkward situation.
I have enjoyed Matt Carpenter as a Cardinal. He's a professional in every sense of the word. He's moved around the diamond with seemingly never a complaint while all the time putting up very good numbers. You could make the case with all things considered in today's era of baseball that he is the best leadoff hitter in all of MLB over the past 6 years. This is not a critical article of Matt Carpenter. Rather, I am wondering why the club felt compelled to rush to this conclusion when a more patient approach, in my view, would have been more logical and “better business”.
Thanks for reading, there'll be a podcast recap out tomorrow from the latest twobirdsonabat.com production.