How does Carpenter fit into Cardinals' plans?

February 18th, 2021

Matt Carpenter is bringing two things with him to Cardinals camp -- a big bag of gloves and an open mind. After the team's acquisition of Nolan Arenado, how Carpenter, 35, fits into the team's plans became a question. Now the club is trying to figure that out.

“What you need to see from him in this camp is obviously his willingness to wear multiple gloves,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said on Thursday.

Carpenter, originally pegged to be the starting third baseman in 2021 after making 29 starts there in ‘20, played some first base last season and was an All-Star at second in 2013 (as well as at third in ’14 and ‘16). He hasn’t seen the outfield since 2014, and that doesn’t appear likely to change now.

“He would, and he could [play outfield], but I don't expect any internal dialogue that it’s going to be a possibility,” said manager Mike Shildt.

So that’s one glove Carpenter doesn’t need to worry about.

Carpenter would be a natural fit for the designated hitter role, but without a universal DH in the latest health and safety protocols, the Cards aren’t preparing for that. They still believe Carpenter will contribute, and given his track record, that’s likely to be in the batter’s box no matter where he lines up defensively -- or maybe even as part of a platoon or off the bench. Carpenter has struggled at the plate over the past two seasons, slashing .216/.332/.372 across 179 games. Before that, though, he was getting on base at an elite percentage.

St. Louis has an opening at the leadoff spot, where Carpenter has made the majority of his starts (759). If he can find a home in the field and sees a return to his batting form of yesteryear, that’ll be a natural role. If the DH comes to fruition, even better.

“There’s an old adage in baseball. ‘If you hit, you play,'” Mozeliak said. “And so I think we have to approach this camp being very open-minded to that.”

Mozeliak reached out to Carpenter before the trade for Arenado became official. The response he got was positive, since “[Carpenter] appreciated the talent that we were acquiring,” Mozeliak said. And Mozeliak, in turn, was reaffirmed by Carpenter’s personal outlook.

“His relationship with Nolan makes this maybe a little easier,” Mozeliak added. “So right now, I think his approach to this camp is to be open-minded. And I know he worked extremely hard this offseason to prepare for this season. And he's really excited to show us where he's at from a physical standpoint, and probably one of his favorite places to stand anywhere is in the batter's box.”

But Carpenter is not the only one affected by the blockbuster trade.

Nolan Gorman, the club’s No. 2 prospect, had been seen as the third baseman of the future. But with Arenado now signed through 2027, he, too, saw a cloudier future.

No matter. Mozeliak said that Gorman requested an early arrival to camp so he could get reps in at different positions, namely second base and a corner outfield spot. He’s been working with coaches Jose Oquendo and Stubby Clapp.

“Initial reaction of seeing him, even at second base, has been really encouraging now,” Mozeliak said. “Net net, I think he looks really good from a physical standpoint. He looks flexible, looks like it's moving well, and so I think everything he did this past offseason to prepare has actually put him in a pretty good spot to show some versatility.”

Hicks solid in first showing

The Cardinals are taking their time assessing what they have in righty Jordan Hicks, who hasn’t appeared in a game since June 2019. Early returns, however, are promising.

“All the feedback from the pitching coaches, [and from] Jordan, was favorable,” Shildt said. “Ball was coming out really clean, had life to it. We'll see how he recovers today, but a very positive first day for Jordan Hicks, no question about it.”

Shildt said on Wednesday that it’s way too early to cast Hicks into the closer role -- or any role -- for 2021. The club has confidence in the number of back-end relievers who already have closing experience.