Matt Carpenter’s $52 Million Contract Extension
The St. Louis Cardinals and their 2Bman Matt Carpenter reached agreement on a six-year $52 million contract extension that buys out his three arbitration years and his first two free agent seasons. What I find interesting about the signing is that Sports Illustrated’s Cliff Corcoran thinks its a great move by the Cardinals, while ESPN.com’s David Schoenfeld focuses on the fact that the major predictive models of future performance suggest that Carpenter will never be as good again as he was in 2013. They could both be right, or they could both be wrong.
In looking over Carpenter’s career record, including his college years, its really an open question on what he’ll do in the future, because his career has been extremely atypical.
Carpenter was a 13th round draft pick in 2009 at the advanced age of 23, because he suffered a major injury (he needed Tommy John surgery after tearing his elbow tendon) his junior year of college, which cost him all but eight games of the 2007 season. He’d hit well as a college sophomore, but lacked power and apparently had a poor work ethic and diet.
The surgery gave Carpenter religion, so to speak, and he cleaned up his act after recovering. He got an extra year of college eligibility as a result of the injury. He apparently went undrafted after his second junior year campaign at age 22 despite hitting .283/.381/.522; and as a 23 year old senior, he batted .333/.472/.662, which earned him a minute $1,000 signing bonus from the Cardinals.
Carpenter hit well enough in the minor leagues to move up steadily, but no so well as to predict his break-out 2013 season. His best minor league performance was hitting .316/.412/.487 in 105 games at AA Springfield at age 24. Further, in his first four seasons he was primarily a 3Bman and played only five games at second base in total.
Like his hitting, Carpenter’s play at second in 2013 was a revelation. While fangraphs says his second base defense was slightly below average, his raw defensive numbers are impressive, as he turned a league-leading 97 double plays in only 132 games and making only nine errors.
Typically, players who establish themselves as major league regulars at age 26, as Carpenter did in 2012, don’t go on to have great careers. However, Carpenter’s career progression was heavily impacted by his 2007 injury, which basically cost him two seasons of development as Jason Kubel‘s knee injury injury in late 2004 did. Almost every year since 2007, Carpenter has shown steady and marked improvement.
Also, Carpenter doesn’t need to hit as well as he did in 2013 to continue to be a valuable player for the Cardinals. If his 2013 defense at 2B is for real, future on-base percentages over .340 and slugging percentages over .400 will make him an extremely valuable middle infielder in light of the fact that Busch Stadium in St. Louis is clearly a pitchers’ park.
On balance, the above makes me think that the deal is good gamble by the Cardinals. The main risk is simply that Carpenter’s sample sizes both as a major league hitter and as a major league 2Bman are so relatively small.