Carpenter not ready to give up on starting

Cards veteran, displaced at third by Arenado, will try to hit his way into more ABs

February 26th, 2021

JUPITER, Fla. -- Along with the large bag of gloves the Cardinals' has brought with him to this Spring Training, he has brought some hope.

“If I'm pleasantly surprised with the DH before the season starts,” he said Friday, “I’ll welcome it with open arms.”

And confidence.

“I don't know if it's been established that I'm a part-time player just yet,” he said. “There's a lot of camp left.”

That’s the full range of clouded emotions and outlook Carpenter holds this Spring Training, the first in almost 10 years that he has entered without a clear starting spot.

The designated hitter -- not included in the latest round of health and safety protocols for the 2021 season -- would be a perfect fit for Carpenter. The Cardinals would love for him to be a contributor this season -- “If you hit, you play,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said recently -- but without a natural defensive position, how he does so is unclear.

The uncertainty was created most directly by the acquisition of Nolan Arenado. Heading into the final stretch of January, Carpenter was seen as the club’s starting third baseman. Arenado and his eight Gold Glove Awards own that role now.

As has been iterated by everyone around Carpenter since the trade, his reaction was nothing but positive. He affirmed that on Friday.

“We immediately got a lot better, and I was fired up to be a part of it,” Carpenter said. “It made it even better that Nolan and I have spent some time together and have a friendship even before this trade became public. We were texting each other before it even happened.”

Tommy Edman is set to take over at second base, a place Carpenter -- an All-Star there in 2013 -- has been preparing for defensively through Spring Training. The pair could platoon, which the Cardinals have been hesitant to do in the past, though Edman seems to be the clear favorite for regular starting time.

The Cardinals could also do this: With questions about their projected outfield’s offensive prowess, Edman -- a career rover in the field -- could tag back into the grass should Carpenter’s play at the plate force him into starting time. Edman said he has been taking some fly-ball practice in the outfield this spring, but his focus has been primarily on second.

Carpenter’s fit is one of the biggest questions the Cardinals have to address this spring and season, which is the last guaranteed year on his contract. They believe in the track record and pedigree, and that his contributions can be more than an impact bat off the bench despite his .216 average and 89 OPS+ over the past two years (179 games).

For his part, Carpenter said he worked on improving his bat speed this offseason, working intricately with Blast Motion technology for raw numbers on his progression there. Initial signs were positive, he said.

“My mentality for this entire season is, I know that if I hit like I know I'm capable, I'm going to help the team, plain and simple," Carpenter said. “I think we're a better team if I'm swinging the bat like I know I can.”

So you can add a palpably confident attitude to the packing list of the 35-year-old Carpenter this Spring Training.

Oh, and one more thing, as he teased earlier this winter: batting gloves.

“Yeah, you might see them, especially in some cold games,” Carpenter said. “There's definitely a chance that that happens.”