ST. LOUIS — Perception can be a fickle beast in the world of sports.
One bad season and a player can be deemed unnecessary and obsolete. It doesn’t matter how good he was in the previous 5-6 seasons. The title of this modern sports novel is “What have you done for me lately?”
Case In Point: Matt Carpenter, third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Carpenter collected MVP votes for the 2018 season, but a skid that started towards the tail end of that season and continued into the beginning of this past September erased those memories from the minds of most fans.
A two-year contract extension, prompted by the Cardinals a year ago, preceding the downfall surely didn’t help, but hindsight is ruthlessly 20/20 in this invigoratingly emotional yet sometimes chaotic game.
Here’s the deal. I’m not ready to give up on Carpenter. You could lay out the swing and miss rate, strikeout rates, inability to go oppo, and a tireless need to take strike threes all you want-but I’ll remain bullish on a comeback.
Dexter Fowler looked like a charity case after a miserable and utterly ghost-like 2018 season, yet he was granted the opportunity to change the story. While he finished the 2019 season in a massive offensive slump, he found redemption overall.
Why can’t Carpenter?
He’s a better overall ballplayer than Fowler. Each of them are nearing mid-30’s with high price tags who invite fan scorn more than most Cardinals. When has Fowler collected MVP votes or put up 5-6 Wins Above Replacement? Never is the answer. Carpenter has three top ten MVP finishes and averaged a 4.0 WAR from 2013-2018.
But this isn’t about Fowler and Carpenter; it’s about Carpenter and a free agent third baseman.
This week, as the hot stove warms up, Mike Moustakas has come up in talks related to the Cardinals.
He’s a pure bred slugger who doesn’t offer much defense at their base, yet is coming off a pair of nice seasons split between Kansas City and Milwaukee.
Moustakas gives you power, hitting 101 home runs over the past three seasons. He doesn’t hit a lot of doubles, accumulate a high average, or get on base. He slugs homers, something that will surely reduce inside Busch Stadium’s vaulted walls. That’s the only thing he does very well. Go deep.
Moustakas’ best season WAR wise was in 2015 when he put up a 4.4 WAR and .817 OPS. Last season, he contributed a 3.2 brefWAR to those two teams. For his career, his OPS+ (100 is average) is 101. He’s just not a remarkable talent.
Carpenter is better than Moustakas. Heck, for as bad as Carpenter was in 2019, he nearly gave the team a Win Above Replacement. Carpenter’s best years may be behind him, but if 2019 was his worst, I’m willing to bet a bounce back is in order.
Age wise, Moustakas turns 32 next season while Carpenter sits at 33 until a year from now, so there isn’t a lot of difference there.
Outside of what Carpenter can do and Moustakas could possibly do, there’s the cost. Carpenter makes $18.5 million this season and the same for 2021. Moustakas, who worked as a bargain producer the past two seasons, turned down an $11 million option from Milwaukee this week.
Do you really want to pay two third basemen over the age of 30 a combined $30+ million per season? Only an insane person says yes.
As good as he was in 2019, Moustakas overall isn’t better than Carpenter. They are both defensively-challenged, left-handed-hitting sluggers, but career wise and just as recent 14 months ago, Carpenter could get on base at a high clip and carry a team. Moustakas has never carried a team.
The $11+ million needs to go to left field or the rotation. Let Tommy Edman keep Carpenter honest and send Moustakas back to Milwaukee or elsewhere.
The Cardinals have bigger fish to fry than employing two expensive and unremarkable third basemen.
Don’t let one disappointing season turn off the light on Carpenter, who may have something left. Look at what Adam Wainwright did against all odds this past season.
Matt Carpenter isn’t done yet, and more importantly, he isn’t going anywhere.
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