A year after trusting in Dexter Fowler, get ready for the St. Louis Cardinals to give Matt Carpenter the exact same treatment this winter.
The St. Louis Cardinals, seemingly out of nowhere, are hamstrung by at least a couple of bad contracts. The sad thing about many of these contracts is that the majority of them looked good at the time of signing. The current chief of these contracts is the two year, $39M deal the team gave to Matt Carpenter before a disaster of a 2019 season.
With a .226 batting average, a .726 OPS, and just a .392 slugging percentage, Carpenter was bad all year except for a boost in the final month of the season. Losing his starting job to rookie Tommy Edman, Carpenter spent most of the second half on the bench and after being a staple at the top of the lineup, his future with the team seems like it should be in question.
Before we look at what the team will likely do with Carpenter in 2020, let’s venture back a year.
If you’ll remember back to the 2019 offseason, one name sticks out above all else. Bryce Harper. The marquee free agent of last year’s winter, fans were clamoring for the team to promise the then 26-year-old half the city’s net worth to stay with the Cardinals until he had grey hair.
The only thing standing in the way? One Dexter Fowler who was coming off a -1.4 WAR season in right field.
Another contract that is questionable, Fowler’s current five year, $82.5M deal looked especially bad after the 2018 season that he had. Batting just .180 with a .576 OPS, the then 32-year-old looked like a salary dump waiting to happen.
The formula seemed simple. Dump Fowler, sign Harper, and the lineup will be fixed and the dead weight will be cut. What did the team do instead? They doubled down on their investment and named Fowler the starting right fielder more or less in December.
At the time, fans were somewhat rightly pissed off, and I can’t say I wasn’t with them. We all want to believe the dream that our favorite team will go out and sign the top free agents year after year, but it’s just not true. Looking at the Cardinals historically under this ownership group, it becomes even more obvious.
So, the Cardinals let Harper pass them without much of an effort and Fowler started the season in right field. Up until the last month or two of the season, Fowler made good on the front office’s faith. Setting a career-high in homers and RBI’s, his 3.1 WAR swing is to be commended and his regained confidence at the plate and the ability to bounce back 100% came because of the faith the front office showed in him.
The quality of Fowler’s contract is still in question, but the team is at least getting some of their money out of him and his efforts shouldn’t go without praise.
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With all that said, a year later, what do we all think the Cardinals are going to do with Matt Carpenter and his contract? Go ahead and guess.
I would bet a fair amount of money that Matt Carpenter will be the starting third baseman on Opening Day of the 2020 season.
It likely won’t matter that free-agent upgrades in Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, or Mike Moustakas are on the market. All of them would be an upgrade, none of them will be in a Cardinals jersey. If the team does look to upgrade, it will be in the form of Edman moving into more regular time at third base. He is young, he is good, and most importantly, he is cheap.
Go ahead and stop your dreaming now. As much as Matt Carpenter and his contract shouldn’t keep the Cardinals from looking at a third base upgrade, there hasn’t been anything in the last decade that tells us that it won’t. They have a lot of money tied up in Carpenter and they are going to sink or swim with him.
Don’t think that this will 100% end in destruction though. As we have seen from Carpenter in the past, he is a great hitter. Players don’t just forget how to hit in one season. The effect of renewed confidence should also be noted as Fowler’s 2019 proves how effective it can be.
It is going to frustrate fans (and myself) to no end to see good players float on by the Cardinals as they sit with Carpenter at the hot corner, but it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t because fans shouldn’t expect any different.
Carpenter his one of the hardest working players the Cardinals have had and you better bet he will be working his butt off to fix whatever went wrong. I wouldn’t doubt him.
The team may not sink with a re-adjusted Matt Carpenter at third base, but it will be frustrating to see better players go by without an effort to sign them. For the Cardinals’ sake, hopefully Carpenter rebounds in 2020 and makes us all look stupid for doubting him after one bad year. He will be 34 when the 2020 season starts so the odds are stacked against him, but look no further than Josh Donaldson’s 2018 vs. 2019 to see that a bounce-back is possible even at this age.