St. Louis Cardinals: What to do when Matt Carpenter returns
With a struggling veteran returning on Friday, the St. Louis Cardinals have a bit of a tough choice to make. Who do you play, the Rookie or the Vet?
Matt Carpenter‘s struggles during the 2019 season haven’t been a secret. The year started a lot like last year, where he had a horrid first couple months, except this season, there have been zero months where Carpenter looked like the MVP candidate like he did last year. Clearly, this puts the St. Louis Cardinals in a tough situation.
It was a tough situation when they kept sending Carpenter out there every day and watched him put up a sub-.700 OPS and just 10 homers. That was till a rookie named Tommy Edman was recalled. The 24-year-old utility infielder has lifted the load off of Matt Carpenter’s back since his callup after the first week of June.
With a .261 average and a .759 OPS, Edman has been solid overall but has already performed in a few big-time situations. By Baseball Reference’s “High Leverage” situation stat, Edman has batted .320 with a 1.146 OPS with 12 RBI’s in those situations over his first month and a half in the bigs. Edman also is hugely underrated from a speed standpoint as he ranks in the top 2% in the league in sprint speed.
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Edman has also been a stud on the defensive side of the ball. It has been a bit of a small sample, but he already has 3 DRS at second base and has been at least average at third. He has yet to make an error. Carpenter has been pretty much dead average at third base which I will take based on what some of us feared coming into the year.
There doesn’t seem to be much debate about which of these two players are the better contributors, and bWAR agrees (Edman: 0.9, Carpenter: 0.4). The problem is, the Cardinals have to deal with the fact they just signed Carpenter to a 2 year/$39M deal and he has been such a stud over his career, I’m sure they feel they owe him plenty of playing time.
Carpenter has been on the IL with a right foot contusion since before the All-Star Break and I have written about how this was a merciful landing spot for both Carp and the Cardinals because it makes the decision of who to play easy. The problem is, Carpenter has started his rehab assignment and is due to return on Friday.
It was a humble move to take a rehab assignment at all, as he hadn’t earlier in the year, but still, the fact remains, the Cardinals have a player in Edman who is, at best, a Ben Zobrist-esque player, and at worst, a speedy, good defending utility infielder.
So how should the Cardinals handle the situation when Carpenter returns?
I will first say that if Edman is the player sent down for Carpenter, there should be a riot in downtown St. Louis. Edman has 100% earned at the very least a bench spot for the rest of the year. The player sent down should be either Rangel Ravelo, Tyler Webb, or even Harrison Bader.
As far as playing time goes, the Cardinals are likely going to give Carpenter the bulk of the playing time at third base. The likelihood that the Cardinals would give up on an investment the size of Carpenter’s is slim to none (see: Dexter Fowler circa 2018) and the fact remains that he is still less than a year removed from leading the entire league in homers. The stud Carpenter has to be in there somewhere.
At the same time though, you have to find a way to keep Edman in the lineup at least half the games. With Kolten Wong, Edman and Carpenter, the Cardinals have plenty of players that can play third base or second. It won’t necessarily be easy, but that’s up to Mike Shildt to find playing time for everyone.
I would say a 60/40 split with Carpenter and Edman at third and a 70/30 split with Wong and Edman at second base would get all three enough playing time to stay sharp and get the most out of everybody. Get it done Shildt.
Carpenter isn’t going to get traded, he isn’t going to be DFA’d, so fans might as well give him a shot to figure his stuff out. Ben Zobrist didn’t blossom into the stud he has been for years until about his age-28 season, so if there’s any chance for Edman to hit that ceiling, he needs to keep getting playing time. It may not be pretty to watch Carp for a while but just remember back to last June/July/August to see his ceiling again.