Cardinals Throwback Thursday: Chris Carpenter Edition

What was expected was made official yesterday afternoon, with the announcement of Chris Carpenter’s retirement. Even though we haven’t seen him pitch on a big league mound since October 2012 and attempt to pitch anywhere since July when he was in Memphis, it’s still a sad day.

CC-2But we all knew it was coming — probably no one as much as Chris himself.

That’s why it was great to see him with the team this season after his own comeback attempt ended in late July. He was there, on the road and at home, with his watchful gaze focused on his young teammates — here he is in Pittsburgh on Sept. 1, watching Joe Kelly — offering advice and encouragement and likely preparing for a coaching future. And what a crop of kids he had the chance to view up close and mentor this season.

Yet it certainly looked like he was just enjoying being part of a team one last time as a player too.

CC 9-1There were tweets from Derrick Goold and others about him taking grounders in the infield during batting practice. In Pittsburgh on Sept. 1, he was very much interested in just where the hot dogs the Parrot was shooting into the crowd ended up — as you can see here. (Yes, he really was that serious about watching flying hot dogs.) But even that was cool to see. Taking in the experiences, enjoying the moments especially since the Cards didn’t know then it wouldn’t be their last trip to PNC Park for the year. (And, yes, I did watch the game that day … but also obviously spent time watching Chris. How could I not? He was right there.)

Chris Carpenter is no doubt the player we’ve written most about here at AMF, and I already said much in a tribute to him following his ceremonial first pitch before Game Two of the NLDS against the Pirates in October in “On Chris Carpenter, Baseball Moments and Storybook Endings.”

So here’s a look back at some of his Cardinals highlights via pictures (yes, some you’ve seen before … perhaps many times!)

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Carp Not Sharp In Rehab Start

Chris Carpenter pitches Saturday at AutoZone Park in Memphis Saturday. Redbirds second basebman Kolten Wong readies himself.  -- Miranda Remaklus

Chris Carpenter pitches Saturday at AutoZone Park in Memphis Saturday. Redbirds second basebman Kolten Wong readies himself. — Miranda Remaklus

It wasn’t what he wanted.

It wasn’t what the crowd at AutoZone Park in Memphis wanted either.

Chris Carpenter made his second rehab start in the minors this season on Saturday. And it wasn’t good.

Carp pitched 3.1 innings, gave up nine hits and four earned runs. He threw 74 pitches, 49 of which were strikes. Yeah… see? Not good.

So… it was extremely hot and humid Saturday in Memphis. I mean… it was moist out there, y’all. OK? Now. I’m not using this as an excuse for Carpenter. Have you seen this man sweat? I knew he would be able to handle the oppressive heat in Memphis. It’s quite similar to St. Louis’s summer heat… but maybe just a little hotter because of it being closer to the equat … errr…  further south. It would give him a good test for St. Louis.

I am saying that this could be why the Redbirds lost 8-1. The guys played a double header the night before and they didn’t drink enough Gatorade. There isn’t enough Gatorade. Honestly. Continue reading

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.