Should Cardinals' Matt Carpenter eye a coaching role instead of playing this season?

The veteran infielder has an opportunity to still be a part of the team while allowing the young players to thrive in St. Louis.

Aug 28, 2023; St. Louis, Missouri, USA;  San Diego Padres designated hitter Matt Carpenter (14)
Aug 28, 2023; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; San Diego Padres designated hitter Matt Carpenter (14) / Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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The history of MLB players who retired mid-season only to become coaches or front-office staff members in baseball isn't extensive. Plenty of big-name baseball players retired mid-season including Roy Halladay, Justin Morneau, Mike Mussina, Sandy Koufax, Ken Griffey Jr., and Barry Zito. For one reason or another, each of these stars of the game called it quits before finishing out their ultimate season in professional baseball. They did not, however, become a coach or executive immediately after retiring. Rather, these players waited a year or more to return to the sport that they loved.

The list of people who retired and then became coaches or executives at the end of the same season is equally as brief. David Ross of the Chicago Cubs retired at the end of the 2016 season and immediately joined the Cubs' front office as a special assistant to baseball operations. The veteran catcher was integral in Chicago's pursuit of the World Series in 2016. Ross eventually became manager of the Cubs.

Paul Molitor retired at the end of the 1998 season, and he joined the Twins' coaching staff in 2000 as a bench coach. While he didn't join the coaching staff immediately after his retirement, he joined Minnesota's coaching ranks soon after retiring from the sport.

Matt Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals have the chance to be the first organization to have a player retire midseason only to become a coach on the field or an executive in the front offices while still in the same season.. Carpenter's leadership and experience are the two primary reasons he was extended a contract this offseason. Players such as Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, leaders in their own right, have spoken glowingly about the need for a voice like Carp's in the locker room.

The downsides to signing Matt Carpenter, however, include the fact that he is 38, that he is blocking prospects from potentially debuting this year, and he has not been good offensively in a few years excluding his brief time with the Yankees in 2022, but even that season showed cracks. While his OPS in 2022 was still .840 away from Yankee Stadium, it is nearly half of what his OPS was at Yankee Stadium. As a left-handed hitter, he was able to thrive while hitting toward the short porch in right-center field.

The last season Matt Carpenter had an OPS+ above 100 (league average) was 2018, his near-MVP season. Carp's OPS+ last year was only 81, meaning he was 19% below average offensively. In addition to his offensive struggles, Matt Carpenter's defensive viability has decreased with each year. He was only a designated hitter or first baseman last year, and he hasn't logged significant innings at second base or third base since 2020. His defensive value is neutral according to Outs Above Average at first, and he has been a negative defender at all other positions in recent years.

Carpenter's value comes more in his off-field contributions than his on-field abilities at this point in his career. It is possible that by the end of May, there will be young infielders in Memphis who are ready to be called up to the majors. It is equally probable that Matt Carpenter has struggled at the plate and in the field. Due to these fears, transitioning Matt Carpenter from a player to a coach or front-office executive in 2024 makes some sense.

His experience and voice are invaluable to the team; his bat and glove are replaceable. Carpenter can join Yadier Molina and others as special assistants to John Mozeliak. Perhaps he can even become a hitting coach in some capacity midway during the year. Regardless of his role post-playing, it is vital that Matt Carpenter remains in the Cardinal organization.

Signing Matt Carpenter this offseason also allows him to retire as a St. Louis Cardinal, the organization he started his career with and where he spent his best seasons.

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