Last week, the Philadelphia Phillies shocked the baseball world by signing Cliff Lee. What made the signing so shocking was that it was thought to have become a two-team race for the southpaw. The New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers were in a bidding war. It was assumed that by the end of the week, Cliff Lee would be with one of those teams, and, more than likely, with the New York Yankees.
But Lee decided to sign with Philadelphia and join, arguably, one of the best rotations in MLB history. The signing of Lee had an impact on the Cardinals fortunes in 2011. The goal of winning the NL pennant and the World Series became a lot tougher. But the day after the signing a rumor began to swirl that could have even bigger ramifications for the 2011 Cardinals.
Though there was never any official statement purporting so, there was talk the New York Yankees might be willing to trade for Chris Carpenter. An arm like Carpenter might help ease the blow from missing out on Cliff Lee. He could, in theory, be a great compliment to Sabathia at the top of the Yankees rotation. In return, the Cardinals could possibly acquire some young talent that could help either the lineup or the rotation in years to come. And, most importantly, they could free up some cash for Albert.
There are, of course, an up side and a down side to a trade of this magnitude. Let’s start with the down side of moving Chris Carpenter out of St. Louis.
Anyone who is a Cardinals fan knows how much Chris Carpenter means to the team. He is the quintessential veteran “ace”. He is the foundation of the rotation. When Carpenter is at his best, the Cardinals are in the thick of the pennant race.
Since joining the Cardinals staff in 2003, Carpenter has posted a staggering record of 84 wins and 33 losses. This puts him in the top 3 of all time Cardinals Win-Loss percentages. In the seven years he has pitched for the Cardinals, he has posted an ERA of 2.98. He has pitched 17 complete games, including 8 shut outs.
In those seven years, Carpenter has been a Cy Young candidate three times. In 2006 he finished third in voting. In 2009 he finished second, right in front of St. Louis Cardinals co-ace Adam Wainright. His best finish, of course, was in 2005 when he finished first in Cy Young voting with a 21-5 record and a 2.83 ERA.
The value of Carpenter goes well beyond the numbers and awards, though. His leadership on the staff has been irreplaceable. He has acted as mentor for others on the pitching staff. And, as we saw last year, he has been a clubhouse leader when others have lacked focus.
The impact Carpenter has had on the team is undeniable. With him, the Cardinals have competed for and won division titles, NL pennants, and World Series. Without him, the Cardinals have floundered in mediocrity.
But, as 2010 showed, nothing lasts forever. The numbers put up by Carpenter last year were disappointing by his standards. In 2010, Carpenter posted a 16-9 record with a 3.22 ERA. That is certainly nothing to scoff at. But, more disturbingly, Carpenter gave up 21 home runs in 2010. That is in comparison to the 7 he gave up in ALL of 2009. Even more alarming is number the earned runs Carpenter gave up in 2010, 84. That’s 36 more than the 49 he gave up in 2009.
Again, these numbers are not horrible. But they are not the numbers we are use to Chris Carpenter, the super ace, posting. He is certainly capable of bouncing back. He has posted less than stellar numbers in the past, only to come back stronger the next year.
But, Carpenter has one thing going against him he did not have in the past; his age. During the 2011 season Carpenter will turn 36. He is getting close to that unfriendly age of 40. Which doesn’t bode well because he also has had issues with durability in the past. He missed the end of the 2004 season with a nerve problem in his right biceps. More damaging was when he missed most, if not all, of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with elbow issues.
When considering trading Carpenter, perhaps the most tempting benefit is the amount of money the Cardinals could free up. In 2011 Carpenter is set to make $15 million. That is the kind of money that is desperately needed to help keep the Albert Pujols from leaving via free agency.
That being said, there are no guarantees the Cardinals will be able to resign Albert Pujols. And with that possibility, perhaps it is wiser to go “all in” with what you have now. The division rival, Milwaukee Brewers, have certainly done so.
The Brewers just shipped a handful of young and talented players to the Royals in order to obtain a proven ace in Zack Greinke. With that kind of arm in the division the Cardinals are going to need all the help they can get in their starting rotation. And unless the Cardinals fall out of the race early, I suspect Chris Carpenter will remain a Cardinal.
Hopefully, helping push the Cardinals to the post season once again.