Carpenter deal solidifies core for Cardinals

By Stephen Nations

(KSDK Sports) -- The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that Matt Carpenter has agreed to a six-year, $52 million contract. The deal will keep Carpenter in Cardinal red through 2019 and has an option for 2020. For Carpenter, it is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and beating the odds. For the Cardinals, it is yet another move that shows that their front office should be the archetype for the rest of the league.

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Carpenter grew up in Texas and was a two-time all-state selection at Elkins High School, where he set the school record for career hits. After prep ball, Carpenter went on to Texas Christian University where he was a three-time all-conference player and finished in the top two on TCU's all time list for at bats, games played, hits, doubles, and walks.

He was drafted in the 13th round of the 2009 draft and needed just two full minor league seasons of being a .300 hitter before the Cardinals brought him up to the big club. Since arriving in St. Louis in 2011, Carpenter has gone from being looked at as a utility infielder to a franchise cornerstone. Last season he led all of baseball in hits, doubles, runs, along with being awarded an all-star selection, a silver slugger, and finishing fourth in the MVP vote.

So what kind of value might the Cards get for their $52 million investment? It's hard to say for sure. You would expect that Carpenter might have gotten $5-$6 million in arbitration at the end of this season.

The deal is back-loaded to the point where he will be making $28 million of the contract over the last two seasons alone. Considering the fact that the Cardinals likely just bought out Carpenter's arbitration-eligible seasons, it looks like the birds will pretty much be getting fair market value for their third baseman. It's not a steal of a deal, but it pays Carpenter what he's worth and makes sure he will be around a while with the rest of the core to keep the foundation of the organization strong.

Projecting what kind of player Carpenter might become is hard. He only has two full seasons under his belt, yet he will be playing his age-28 season in 2014 so he's definitely a late bloomer who you would expect to have a relatively short window of being a super-star type.

It would be asking a lot to think that Carpenter is going to repeat his MVP caliber 2013, but I don't think it's an outlier of a season either. There are a few comps for someone of Carpenter's talent level/age/experience in the last 20 years or so.

One recent one that jumps out at me is current Marlins warm-body, Casey McGehee. McGehee was a utility-infielder who didn't make it up until his age-25 season with the Cubs in 2008, but through his age-27 season, batted .288/.345/.460 over 282 games vs. Carpenter's .306/.381/.470 over 278 games. McGehee's average fell 60 points after his age-27 season and his HR/RBI totals fell from 23/104 at age-27 to 13/60 at age-28 before he was banished to the Japanese league for a year and is now trying to catch on with Miami this spring.

A more favorable comp, and the player that I've always compared Carpenter to, is Aaron Boone. Boone's career up to his age-28 season looks very similar to Carp's with a batting average of .288 and an OPS of about .775. Boone didn't get on base as much or score as many runs as Carpenter, but he did hit for more power. After Boone's age-27 season, he maintained a level of production that kept him in the upper-tier of third basemen through the age of 33.

I think that's a good way to describe what kind of value Carp will bring to the lineup over the life of his deal; not a perennial All-Star or MVP candidate, but a guy you have no problem writing in to your lineup everyday, who will provide solid defense and leadership. The Cardinals now have Craig, Carpenter, Wainwright, Holliday and Molina secured for foreseeable future and are in an enviable position with their young, cheap arms ready to guide them to sustained success. Put another point on the board for Mozeliak and Co. with this move.

Stephen Nations is an aspiring sports and Cardinals columnist. He will be contributing his commentary to during the 2014 season. You can follow him on twitter at @Nayshface.


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