The St. Louis Cardinals' addition of Matt Carpenter probably wasn't on your offseason bingo card this year.
Friday's news of Carpenter signing a one-year deal worth $740,000 was shocking. According to multiple news sources, Carpenter was a target for the Cardinals for his leadership. And that adds to the shock factor.
John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, told media Paul Goldschmidt and manager Oli Marmol pushed for the signing of a Carpenter-like player who knows about the winning culture the Cardinals employ — the Cardinal Way, if you will. Mozeliak expressed concern that Goldschmidt was the lone leader in the clubhouse last season, which was a lot of pressure to put on one person.
Yes, that is a lot to put on one person. But it's safe to say Goldschmidt was not the lone leader available to the Cardinals clubhouse last season, and it's not fair to make that statement. But it does add color to the glaring clubhouse issues from 2023.
The 2023 edition of the Cardinals lacked Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols. They were each a significant presence in the clubhouse. However, Goldschmidt was one of many leaders on the 2023 team. The team had Nolan Arenado, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Willson Contreras, and Tommy Edman. All of whom had their own issues throughout the season.
Goldy and Arenado were each struggling, so they weren't on their A-game for being leaders. Arenado acknowledges his struggles during 2023 in a recent Q&A session with The Athletic's Katie Woo. As Arenado explained, the team had several young players. Combine this with a group of veterans who were all struggling to find consistency, and it's a recipe for the troubles the team endured all season. Even Wainwright dealt with many issues to make it through his final season.
It will be good to have other guys around to help the 2024 edition of the Cardinals. The return of Lance Lynn will be good as he provides a respected voice of a guy on the 2011 World Series championship team. Sonny Gray brings a proven veteran arm who wants to play for the Cardinals. Kyle Gibson is another veteran who desires to play for St. Louis.
Adding Molina as a club advisor and Daniel Descalso as a bench coach will improve clubhouse morale.
Will it prevent the multitude of issues created by Marmol publicly criticizing players for not hustling? Adding their presence, along with Goldy, Arenado, and others, should be enough to quiet Marmol's' unnecessary drama.
The new additions are what the Cardinals need. But the team still needs starting and relief pitching additions, amongst other things. So why add Matt Carpenter?
The reason given is leadership.
While Arenado agrees that having Carpenter back will be good from a leadership standpoint, that skill does not come to mind when considering Carpenter. In his previous time with the team, he seemed to do his own thing and didn't take direction from coaches. He appeared to be out for himself and exemplified what Marmol didn't want in the guys who played for him this season.
Last season, Carpenter played for the San Diego Padres. That was a team that needed leadership. The Padres, now managed by former Cardinals skipper Mike Shildt, traded him to the Braves, who released him. If he was such a great leader, wouldn't Shildt want that for his team, or does he know Carpenter isn't that guy? Could ongoing tension with Shildt and Carpenter have contributed to this perception? Maybe so!
He's more of a veteran presence than a leader. It would be better if they honestly said they brought him back on a low-cost contract for his final season in the league to play where he started. He will be a bench player available for younger guys to pick his brain for tips. He has always been friendly with Marmol, who needs another friend to hold him accountable this season. That's honest and more understandable than the leadership line.
This move is more about keeping Marmol in check this season. He's just another buffer for Marmol and the players. It will be interesting to see how this is handled as the season progresses. Will they allow him to hold the roster spot from a deserving youngster much like Taylor Motter last season? Will players trust Carpenter, or will he be a Bud Norris-like figure, acting as a snitch or bully for Marmol? That would be shocking, but so is signing Carpenter for leadership, and with Marmol, you don't know what to expect anymore.
This move also underscores how bad last season was for the Cardinals and how fluid things are going into the 2024 season. More moves are likely with so many things still needed pitching-wise. Rather than making moves to improve, some of their moves are to keep Marmol in line and the clubhouse culture strong.
Spring Training is just a few weeks away. Get your popcorn ready, Cardinals fans. This is going to be an interesting season indeed.