Looking at Chris Carpenter’s future

Photo: UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Even though I stated I’m not qualified to talk about finances (as I did in my post about Albert Pujols’ contract), I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Cardinals money lately. Specifically, about money for Chris Carpenter.

Next to Albert, talk about CC’s contract (yes, CC is my nickname for him; no, I didn’t suddenly start talking about CC Sabathia) has become the trendy topic for those who really pay attention to the Cardinals (as opposed to the national sports media that are talking and talking and writing and speculating and talking and talking to create this Albert contract flapdoodle). This season will the final one of CC’s five-year, $63.5 million deal signed in December 2006, and the team holds a $15 million option for 2012. His salary for 2011 also is $15 million.

Those are big numbers, especially when looking at the Cardinals overall payroll – his salary this year will be the third-highest on the team, behind Matt Holliday ($17 million) and Albert ($16 million). And it’s foolish to even speculate what could happen with the option for 2012, since everything rides on CC’s 2011 season. He will turn 36 a month into the season, but age doesn’t necessarily matter as much as his injury history – multiple shoulder surgeries, multiple elbow surgeries, that giant leg tattoo.

But speculation is what bloggers do, right? So let’s suppose that Carpenter again has a relatively healthy season. His Cardinal career started with three straight healthy seasons in 2004-2006, where he made 28, 33 and 32 starts, so it’s not unprecedented. He made 28 starts in 2009, 35 last year. Given that, though, the more important numbers are declining a bit – Dennis explained all of this yesterday in his intriguing post at Pitchers Hit Eighth where he suggests that CC could return in 2012 as the closer (with that $15 million option restructured accordingly). But even an older, slightly less effective Chris Carpenter can still be a potent starter. Of course, another successful season just creates more of a dilemma when it comes to 2012.

What if CC’s 2011 season is comparable to 2010 (with fewer tantrums)? It doesn’t seem like the Cardinals could just let a pitcher of that caliber walk away for a $1 million buyout, especially given the leadership role he fills. But, with a large payroll on the horizon for 2012, can the Cardinals realistically afford $15 million for a CC who will turn 37 that April? Restructuring the option could be a viable solution, if that’s something CC would agree to. In the articles about him and his contract that came out of the Winter Warm-Up over the weekend, he sounded a little cranky: “If they want to keep me, they can keep me. If they don’t, I guess I’ll have to find another place to play. I don’t want to, but that’s the way this business works.” He specifically said he wants to stay in St. Louis and that he loves the fans, the stadium, the city, the people.

Speaking as a fan, thanks, CC – I love you too (except the tattoos). But even though he’s my favorite Cardinal and someone I admire for his determination and tenacity, I again have to separate my head from my heart over the issue of his future. I would love for him to stay a Cardinal for the rest of his career, and I would love for him to spin his leadership skills and knowledge into a career as the Cardinals pitching coach some day. But I don’t necessarily love the idea of paying him $15 million in 2012.

Apparently, my loyalty does have a price.

5 thoughts on “Looking at Chris Carpenter’s future

    • I think I’m just growing up as a fan. Ten years ago, I would have said that CC deserves to be a Cardinal forever and they should just do whatever to keep him. But now I am looking more at the big picture and, yes, am practical. And it’s not even my money!

  1. I will be at Spring Training in March for four games and hope to see him pitch. I like listening to what fans are saying and watching the players body language. I hope he comes to camp healthy.
    It is hard for me to separate my love for the players and the business of Cardinal baseball. Chris, Albert, &Yadi are the faces of the organization but you can’t win without a strong, productive support. I see Wainright, Holliday & Rasmus as anchors but we have to have money to get & develop young players too. Leg tatoo?

  2. Assuming the Cardinals sign Albert, that’ll be upwards of $40 million of a $100 million payroll devoted to two players. Throw in Kyle Lohse, and that’s more than half the payroll to only three players. You have to cut somewhere. And I don’t think Carp is going to do all that well in 2011. He’ll be okay, but he won’t be Carp.

    This organization had better kick its player development efforts into high gear, and forget messing around with the damn Proven Veterans(TM). Why waste $8 million on Berkman when you’d get about the same production for a little above the league minimum for Allen Craig? It’s that kind of short-term, foolish thinking that’s going to cause the Cardinals to have to face the same type of harsh financial reality as the state of Illinois — large cutbacks.

    So, after 2011, the smart move would be to allow Carpenter to walk to another team. The Nationals, maybe, since they seem eager to throw millions at Proven Veterans(TM).

    By 2013, with Kyle Lohse at long last off the payroll, the Cardinals will be able to afford to keep Wainwright and Jaime Garcia, and if Shelby Miller is ready, that’s one heck of a rotation starter.

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