Cards reunite with Carpenter on one-year deal

January 19th, 2024

The last time spent a chunk of his offseason working with former Cardinals teammate Matt Holliday, the lefty slugger breathed life back into his MLB career by hitting 15 home runs in 47 games with the Yankees in 2022.

With Carpenter once again working with Holliday this winter and showing signs of the bat speed and exit velocity that made him a three-time National League All-Star earlier in his career, the Cardinals were willing to take a chance that the 38-year-old slugger could summon his magic at Busch Stadium again.   

Carpenter, who was a part of some of the Cardinals’ most recent deep playoff runs in his 11 seasons with the club, signed with St. Louis on Friday. Carpenter, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $740,000, starred with the Cardinals from 2011-21 before spending the past two seasons with the Yankees and Padres. Following a dismal 2023 season in which he hit .176 over 76 games with San Diego, Carpenter was traded to the Braves before being released.

“[The workouts] with Holliday are something that we had interest in and something we wanted to learn from,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “When players are working out, you can get some hearsay and, ‘What did you see?’ That type of thing. But we were also able to look at some hard data and we got a sense of, ‘Is his bat speed back and is he showing the ability to increase his exit velocity?’ Both of those looked like they were trending in the right direction.

“And the one gift that Matt Carpenter always has is he knows how to see a baseball and he can still take a walk. That’s still a great skill, and we are encouraged with where his swing is.”

The Cardinals created a spot on their 40-player roster early Friday morning when they transferred right-handed reliever James Naile to the KIA Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization for cash considerations.

In recent days, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak stated publicly that they were looking to add another reliever. However, the club instead pivoted to Carpenter, who will give the Cards a veteran left-handed bat off the bench and occasionally at the designated hitter position. He will likely be in a battle with Alec Burleson and Luken Baker for the final spot on the 26-man roster.

Mozeliak said the club underestimated the value of losing the veteran presence of players like Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina following the 2022 season, and those voids might have played into the past season’s collapse. He felt that too much of the leadership responsibilities fell onto the shoulders of stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, and Carpenter can help with that going forward. Mozeliak also mentioned that manager Oliver Marmol was pining for the addition of Carpenter because of the leadership qualities he will bring to the clubhouse.

“I feel like last year, [Goldschmidt and Arenado] were left having to pick up a lion’s share of that leadership and being able to spread that around more is important,” Mozeliak said. “As we were looking at who this person could be, Carp understands exactly the Cardinal way of doing things and he understands the group of players that we have because he's not that far removed. Looking at our veteran presence now, I think he’ll be a great addition from a leadership standpoint.”

Carpenter, 38, was an NL All-Star in 2013, ’14 and ’16 and garnered NL MVP votes in 2013, ’15 and ’18 as a member of the Cardinals. He was a member of the Cards’ last World Series team (2013) and appeared in seven games as a rookie during St. Louis’ 2011 World Series championship season.

Carpenter has a career slash line of .260/.367/.451 in 1,452 MLB games with 175 home runs and 644 RBIs.  He led the Majors in runs (126) and hits (199) in 2013, and his MLB-best 55 doubles that season are the third-most by a Cardinals player.

Mozeliak didn’t deny that nostalgia played a role in the Carpenter signing, and he is hopeful that one of the best players in recent team history can retire as a Cardinal -- be that after the 2024 season or beyond.

“Obviously, he’s going to be playing for us and I can’t predict what the world will look like in 2025, but we’ll see,” Mozeliak said. “But obviously he had a pretty robust career when he was with us prior to this.”