Unless there’s a baseball (and medical) miracle, Chris Carpenter won’t pitch for the Cardinals this season. And he’s probably done for his career.
The Cardinals owe Carpenter a guaranteed $10.5 million this year and he’ll collect the money unless he relinquished it by formally retiring. I wouldn’t expect Carpenter to retire now. He’s so competitive, I can’t see him walking away until he is absolutely certain that there’s no hope of a comeback because of the nerve-related issues that prevent him from pitching. I could be wrong, of course.
The reality of Carpenter being paid $10.5 million this season has caused a mild outbreak of sourness on the Internet, with a small minority of fans calling Carpenter “greedy” and demanding that he retire and give the Cardinals a chance to put the money to better use.
Three things here off the top:
1. I don’t believe for a second that this view is held by a majority of Cardinals fans. I think we’re hearing these protests, primarily, from the percentage of the fan base that is resentful of the money being paid to pro athletes. This isn’t necessarily about Carpenter; this is about being jealous of athletes and their extraordinary salaries. This is nothing new. Grousing over player salaries has been going on since baseball players began receiving paychecks.
2. The Cardinals freely entered into this contract with Carpenter after the 2011 season, even though there were obvious risks with his pitching health. Carpenter was signed by the Cardinals in 2003 after being released by Toronto. He had shoulder problems and didn’t pitch at all in ’03; the Cardinals believed he’d rehab and become an above-average starter. It was a good investment.
But Carpenter virtually missed the 2007 and 2008 seasons with elbow issues. He worked hard to make it back and pitched well in 2009, 2010 and 2011. But Carp wasn’t getting any younger.
Obviously Cardinals ownership and management was aware of the gamble in reinvesting in him before the 2012 season. After Carpenter pitched the team to the World Series championship in 2011, Cardinals management was enthusiastic about taking the risk and gave Carpenter a two-year deal. He broke down again. That’s just the way it goes.
Carpenter isn’t a villain here; no one forced the Cardinals to gamble on his pitching health. They wanted to do it. And now they must abide by the terms of the contract. They’re obligated to do so. This isn’t even debatable. It’s a binding agreement. A guaranteed contract is a guaranteed contract.
3. You don’t like the system of guaranteed contracts. I don’t either. And here’s how much that matters: zero. But this system is in place because of a collectively bargained labor agreement between the MLB owners and the Players Association. Players receive their money whether they play well or poorly, whether they exceed expectations or underachieve, whether they are healthy or injured. The players, generally speaking, are underpaid early in their careers. Later, when they’ve built a resumé and they can use free agency as leverage, they cash in. Teams often overpay them. So why should Carpenter be any different?
Yes, Mark McGwire walked away from a big contract when he retired following the 2001 season, but that’s a rare exception. An outlier. I wouldn’t expect any other player to follow that path. I wouldn’t do it. Why should they? Why should Carpenter?
MLB’s revenue reached $7.5 billion in 2012; in 1995 the total revenue was $1.4 billion. Franchise values continue to escalate; in 2012 the average value of the 30 MLB teams was a record $605 million. And that value will be higher when new estimates come out. TV revenue is soaring. The industry is flush with money, and there’s no slowdown in sight.
If the Cardinals need the $10.5 million they’re paying Carpenter, then here’s an idea: increase the payroll. But the Cardinals aren’t panicking; they seem genuinely excited about giving their talented young pitchers a chance this season.
So let’s not invent a payroll crisis, OK? There is none. A team that goes through a quiet offseason and chooses to upgrade in low-key and low-cost fashion by signing a situational lefty (Randy Choate), an aging bench hitter (Ty Wigginton) and a backup middle infielder (Ronny Cedeno) wasn’t looking to spend a lot of money. And that hasn’t changed.
Let’s continue …
Yes, Carpenter was paid a handsome sum of money in seasons in which he did not pitch, or pitched very little, because of injuries:
$8.5 million in 2007.
$10.5 million in 2008.
$10.5 million in 2012.
$10.5 million in 2013.
That isn't good. But it's not as if Chris Carpenter is jaking it, or looking for reasons not to pitch. This guy dies inside a little when he can’t compete and help his team. And again, the Cardinals’ bosses willingly and happily gave Carpenter those deals. They took their chances.
It’s best to take a longer view of Carpenter’s salary history. The Cardinals received some outstanding bargain seasons from Carpenter, receiving elite performance for relatively little investment.
• In 2004, defying all expectations, Carpenter went 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA for a 105-win team. His salary that year was $300,000. That put him at the bottom of the team salary chart along with a couple of other players. In 2004 he made the same as Cody McKay and Hector Luna. And he made $150,000 less than Mike Lincoln, and $900,000 less than So Taguchi. He wasn’t paid as much as backup infielder Marlon Anderson.
According to industry-recognized metrics used by FanGraphs, Carpenter had a pitching value of $9.8 million in 2004. The Cardinals paid him $300,000.
• In 2005 Carpenter (21-5, 2,83 ERA) won the NL Cy Young award while being paid $2 million. The Cardinals won 100 games, and Carpenter allowed five runs in 21 postseason innings, winning twice; the Cardinals won all three of his postseason starts.
That $2 mill ranked 14th among Cardinals players, and 7th among Cardinals pitchers. That season Carpenter was paid less than Julian Tavarez ($2.6 million), for cripe's sake. Carpenter pitched 241.2 innings. Tavarez pitched 65.2 innings and was a setup guy. And in 2005, there were 139 MLB pitchers who made more money than Carpenter.
What kind of value did the Cardinals receive for their $2 million salary? FanGraphs puts Carpenter’s 2005 value at $23 million.
• In 2006 Carpenter went 15-8 with a 3.09 ERA and finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting. He went 3-1 in the postseason; the team won four of his five postseason starts en route to the 10th World Series title in franchise history. Carpenter was paid $5 million that season. A nice salary, sure. But in '06, he ranked 61st in salary among MLB pitchers. He ranked 7th in salary among Cardinals, and 4th among Cardinals pitchers. He made less than Jason Marquis.
What kind of return did the Cardinals receive for their $5 million? FanGraphs assessed Carpenter’s 2006 season at $19.1 million in value.
• So if we add up 2004-2005-2006 ... Carpenter made $7.3 million total in those seasons. During the three regular seasons he was 51-18 with a 3.10 ERA and threw 645.1 innings. His 5 postseason wins were the most by an MLB pitcher in the three years. In the three regular seasons combined he ranked 3rd in the majors in wins, 3rd in ERA, and 13th in innings.
In those three seasons the Cardinals had two 100-win seasons, two NL pennants and a World Series title.
Carpenter averaged $2.43 million in salary over the three years. His actual value for those three seasons? According to FanGraphs, his performance value was assessed at an average of $17 million per season.
• In 2009 Carpenter went 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA, the best ERA among NL starters. He finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting. The Cardinals won the division title. Carpenter was paid a terrific salary of $13.3 million, but 13 MLB pitchers made more than that.
According to FanGraphs, the Cardinals received $25 million in value in return for their $13.3 million.
The point is, this all balanced out.
When Carpenter came here in ’03, he had to rebuild his shoulder and his career. He wasn’t in position to command big money. The Cardinals made a low-risk investment that paid off in a huge way. And Carpenter knew that. He didn’t demand that the Cardinals rip up contracts and pay him a lot more, pay him more in line with the value they received in 2004, 2005, 2006.
Carpenter kept quiet and kept pitching. Why? Because he understood and accepted the system. He knew the Cardinals had control, and leverage. One day, he would have the leverage, and his salaries would jump accordingly. And that’s what happened. In 2003, the Cardinals paid Carpenter for his history, which wasn’t much. (The pay or the history.) But Carpenter began winning big, and winning the most important games, and evolved into the team’s best starter since Bob Gibson. And once Carpenter established a new history, and gained the advantage in leverage, his contracts jumped accordingly.
Carpenter didn’t complain when he was underpaid, and the Cardinals didn’t complain in seasons where they paid him a lot, only to have Carp knocked out by injuries. The Cardinals and Carpenter know how the system is. Sometimes it works in favor of a player, sometimes it works in favor of the owner. You take the good and the bad. That’s the deal. At times Carpenter was paid less than he "deserved" and in other seasons he was paid more than he "deserved." Actually, it worked out just fine.
In his 11 seasons (including this one) with the Cardinals (2003-2013) Carpenter will have been paid $91 million, or an average of $8.2 million per season.
Over that time the Cardinals were 5th in the majors in regular-season wins ... they won two World Series championships ... they won three NL pennants ... they made the postseason six times ... they won more postseason games (41) than any team in the majors. As a Cardinal, Carpenter won more postseason games (10) than any MLB pitcher between 2003-2012.
The Carpenter-Cardinals relationship worked out well for everyone, including fans that enjoyed seeing their team make the playoffs, and having Carpenter on the mound in a crucial October game, a presence that played a leading role in winning two World Series championships.
And some people are whining that Carpenter should give money back?
Such an opinion is preposterous on every level.
Thanks for reading …