After the St. Louis Cardinals signed infielder Matt Carpenter to a one-year deal, many fans have expressed concerns that the signing was merely for sentimentality or another farewell tour. However, these criticisms are unfounded and Carpenter's presence will not be very impactful at all. While Carpenter will probably be a future Cardinal Hall of Famer, he is not seen by the organization the same way as Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, or Adam Wainwright.
If Carpenter performs poorly, the Cardinals will let him go. John Mozeliak made it clear that his future with the team depends entirely on his performance, and an Opening Day roster spot is not even guaranteed. Carpenter needs to prove that he has something left in the tank this Spring Training.
In the likes of Ali Sanchez, Tres Barrera, Jose Fermin, or Taylor Motter, Matt Carpenter is the 26th man on the Cardinals roster and won't get much playing time to begin with. Paul Goldschmidt will be the everyday first baseman, but when he's resting Alec Burleson or Brendan Donovan can also cover first. Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, and Tommy Edman can all play second base. And Nolan Arenado, Brendan Donovan, and Nolan Gorman can all play third base. The depth at each position is too great, so if Carpenter struggles, he simply won't play.
The Cardinals haven't had trouble benching legends in the past. In the first half of 2022, Albert Pujols was sitting nearly every game against right-handed pitching and even considered retirement when he wasn't playing well. He only started playing every day in the second half because his legendary run warranted it. In 2023, even with the Cardinals out of the playoff race, they discussed pulling Adam Wainwright from the starting rotation. They had nothing to play for but still considered benching a legend because his play was so poor. The organization clearly values winning over sentimentality.
It's also clear that Carpenter is being brought in more as a leadership role. With the final position player spot on the roster largely being unneeded, it's much better to have someone who can benefit the team off the field like Carpenter rather than wasting it on someone like Jose Fermin, someone who wouldn't play and also wouldn't be a clubhouse voice.
Just appreciate Matt Carpenter on the Cardinals while we have him one last time. It's not going to be a big role, and prime Carpenter is probably long gone. He won't be the difference between a championship or a playoff berth this season. For a 26th man, this is probably as fun as it'll get. Carpenter won't get a farewell ceremony like Waino, Yadi, or Albert, but we can all just relax and enjoy the ride in 2024.