Poll: Chris Carpenter’s Future

The month of February hasn’t been kind to the Cardinals. First they failed to reach an agreement with Albert Pujols on a long-term contract, then they lost Nick Punto for up to 12 weeks with a hernia, and then they lost Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery. That’s enough bad news to last St. Louis the season, nevermind Spring Training.

In the wake of Wainwright’s injury, it’s been speculated that Chris Carpenter could become available in a trade at some point should the Cardinals fall out of contention. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that Carpenter wouldn’t stand in the way of a deal (he can veto any trade thanks to his ten-and-five rights), and Joel Sherman of The New York Post suggested the right-hander could be a fit for the pitching-starved Yankees.

As great as Carpenter is, he’s neither young nor cheap. He’ll turn 36 in April and his contract guarantees him $15MM this season, after which a $15MM club option ($1MM buyout) comes into play. With Pujols’ impending free agency hanging over their heads and two more seasons until Kyle Lohse‘s $12.2MM annual salary comes off the books, it’s possible the Cardinals will look to shed Carpenter’s salary and use that money towards keeping their superstar first baseman. It’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the nine-figure contract Pujols will command, but every little bit helps.

Carpenter has pitched to a 2.74 ERA with 6.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and a 52.7% ground ball rate since coming back from Tommy John surgery in late 2008. He’s shown no ill-effects from the procedure, throwing at least 192 innings in each of the last two seasons. If made available, teams would be lining up to acquire him, and not just the Yankees either. However, it’s possible that Carpenter would want his 2012 option picked up in exchange for agreeing to a trade, which could his limit market.

It seems unlikely that St. Louis would look to trade pitching – quality pitching at that – after Wainwright’s injury, but moving Carpenter would have to at least be considered if they fall out of contention at some point. The potential return in the form of young players and cash savings could be too good to pass up.

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