Go ahead and take another Cardinals starter off the market before he even gets there. St. Louis has signed current third baseman Matt Carpenter to a six-year extension worth a reported $52 million. The contract also contains a club option of $18.5 million for the 2020 season.
The 28-year old Carpenter broke out in a big way in 2013, finishing fourth in the NL MVP race and hitting .318/.392/.481 with 11 home runs. His 199 hits were tied with Adrian Beltre for the most in baseball, and his 7.0 fWAR was sixth in baseball.
But the thing that makes me wary about Carpenter's value going forward is that his high fWAR total was based in part on the lower replacement level for second base. The average MLB second baseman hit just .257/.316/.376. At third base, Carpenter's position for 2014, that replacement level slightly jumps up to .256/.317/.398, meaning that Carpenter's stats will look a little less impressive when compared with the average at his new position.
For a quick comparison, Adrian Beltre hit .315/.371/.509 at third last year for the Rangers with 30 homers – essentially swapping out Carpenter's on-base advantage for a power advantage. Beltre was only a five-win player in 2013, with essentially equal defensive numbers compared to Carpenter and inferior baserunning statistics. So is Carpenter going to just be a five or six win player for the Cardinals as a third baseman? That's still obviously an amazing deal for an average of less than $9 million per season, but it's not the all-world production you might expect from a guy who was fourth in the NL MVP voting last season.
I'm also a little wary about Carpenter's ability to repeat his performance going forward. He had that breakout 2013 season at age 27, and while he admittedly got a late start on his pro career, I'm not overly optimistic about Carpenter's production past the next two or three seasosn. We'll see what ends up happening, but this contract reminds me more of Allen Craig's five-year, $31 million contract (a shorter, cheaper contract for an older, less-established player) than a contract like say, the mammoth deals handed out to Buster Posey, Freddie Freeman, and David Wright in recent years.