Matt Carpenter may be one of baseball’s lowest-profile stars, but after signing a six-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals this past spring, he will have plenty of time to raise awareness.
Having turned 29 years of age the day before Thanksgiving, Carpenter was a bit of a late bloomer. The five-year college player at TCU after Tommy John surgery was drafted by St. Louis in the 13th round in 2009, and reached the Majors midway through the 2011 season as a third baseman.
Playing six different positions for the 2012 Cardinals, Carpenter cobbled together 340 plate appearances. Continuing a proficiency he displayed in the Minors, where he had a career on-base mark of .408, Carpenter extended his past into his present by logging an impressive .392 OBP. He finished sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Blocked by 2011 World Series hero David Freese at the hot corner and with his club needing help at second base, Carpenter successfully initiated an on-the-fly position change for 2013. Not only did he prove his mettle with the glove, the left-handed hitter went on to lead the league in hits, falling just one short of 200. Carpenter also paced the circuit in runs scored and doubles.
In recognition of his emergence, Carpenter was recognized with his first All-Star selection, a Silver Slugger Award and a fourth-place finish in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.
More importantly, St. Louis validated the performance with a long-term contract offer to a player who had barely two years of major league service at the time. This March, the two sides came to terms on a heavily-backloaded deal that will keep Carpenter in a Cardinals uniform through at least his age 33 season, 2019.
The base commitment is $52 million over six years. Carpenter received a $1.5 million signing bonus, $1 million in 2014, and then salaries of $3.5 million, $6.25 million, $9.75 million, $13.5 million and $14.5 million. In 2020, the Cardinals will have an $18.5 million option on his services, with a $2 million buyout. He gets a $500,000 payment if traded anytime through 2017 and $1 million if dealt during the remainder of the contract.
Carpenter would have been first-time arbitration eligible this fall, so the new deal covers his first two years of free agency, or third if the option is exercised. The dollar amounts roughly approximate what he might earn during those seasons, reduced by the risk the club assumed in making the full commitment up front.
With Freese traded away to the Angels, the Cardinals moved Carpenter back to his long-time position of third base for 2014. While many observers expected an even more comfortable hitter at the plate, this season did not start that way.
Carpenter got out of the blocks slowly – very slowly. A month and a half into the schedule, his line was a pedestrian .256/.356/.319/.675. In the time since, Carpenter improved his season line to .272/.375/.375/.750, snagging another All-Star Game invitation along the way. Still, that OPS is down over 120 points from 2013 and 75 points lower than his 2012 debut.
With five contract years to go with Carpenter, the Cardinals have to hope the 2013 version of the third baseman is what they will see the rest of the way. After all, he received the long-term extension that Freese did not.
While these kinds of long-term deals relatively early in careers have proven to work out well for the club in the past, nothing is certain. Jaime Garcia and Allen Craig serve as recent reminders of the potential pitfalls.
For Carpenter, only time will tell.
Latest posts by Brian Walton (see all)
- The Case Against a 30-Man MLB Roster - April 30, 2017
- Cardinals Hall of Fame Class of 2017 to be Announced Friday - April 27, 2017
- Talking Cardinals Prospects on KFNS - April 20, 2017