St. Louis Cardinals: A Worst Case Response to Matt Carpenter’s Injury

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

Matt Carpenter has yet to return to full strength for the St. Louis Cardinals. How would the team respond to a worst case scenario?

A little more than a week ago, news broke that St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter would not play in the World Baseball Classic due to a stiff back. Normally, a spring injury described as stiffness wouldn’t raise major concerns.

Since Carpenter’s back injury was linked to his oblique, the situation raises some flags. Remember that Matt Carpenter missed about a month to a torn oblique last season, and was a shell of himself at the plate after returning. Given that history, the injury is no small issue. Add in the nagging nature of oblique injuries and there’s plenty of reason for concern.

So what if Matt Carpenter’s injury plagues him all year, and if he even spends time on the disabled list? How would the St. Louis Cardinals respond?

If Carpenter is sidelined early in the year, the team might look to free agency. Unfortunately, that scene is pretty barren. Justin Morneau is probably the best first baseman remaining unsigned, and he had an uninspiring 92 wRC+ in 2016. Additionally, he hits from the left side, so having him on the roster with Matt Adams would be redundant.

If the St. Louis Cardinals choose to look for a solution internally, the best option would be a platoon. For all of his struggles, Matt Adams has been a very good hitter against right-handed pitching in his career, evidenced by his career 122 wRC+ against RHPs. Defensively, he has been about average, posting an Ultimate Zone Rating of 2.0 at first for his career.

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Against southpaws, the Cardinals could turn to either Jedd Gyorko or Jose Martinez at first. Martinez has spent limited time at the position during his time in the Minor Leagues while primarily playing the corner outfield positions. Gyorko has only sixty-five innings at first in his MLB career, but the versatility he showed last season bodes well for his ability to handle first on a limited basis.

Offensively, Martinez has been a strong hitter in his decade-long Minor League career, especially over the past two seasons at AAA. However, he has yet to prove anything at the MLB level. That said, he’s off to a hot start in Spring Training this season. Gyorko, on the other hand, has established himself as an above-average option versus lefties, with a career 113 wRC+ split.

While none of the options are Matt Carpenter, it looks like the St. Louis Cardinals already have two options that would be above-average at the position if utilized correctly. In fact, Gyorko’s 113 career wRC+ versus lefties barely falls short of Carpenter’s career 116 mark. While the difference is greater between Adams and Carpenter against righties, Adams is more than capable of filling in.

Operating under the assumption that Adams and Gyorko produce at their average levels and combining the two, the St. Louis Cardinals might have a first baseman who produces a 118 wRC+ on offense and plays average-or-better defense. Only five teams had such a first baseman in 2016 for those keeping score at home.

Next: 2017 St. Louis Cardinals Preview

At this point, no one is expecting Carpenter to miss any regular season games due to this injury. Yet, even if he did, the St. Louis Cardinals look to be in great shape to withstand the loss.