A few players are locks to not be with the Cardinals next year. I thought I’d say an early goodbye before they officially become free agents.
Of the 45 players on the 40 man roster right now, we can be reasonably certain of several players who will not be returning to the Cardinals. In theory, they could come back, but all available evidence says they will not. And just by the very nature of having 45 players on the 40 man – and with the 60 day injured list becoming invalid once the offseason kicks into gear – they need to shed at least five players anyway.
So, I thought I’d do a farewell post for those players. I am only doing players I’m 99% convinced will not be returning. Any players who might come back will not be featured in this post. I’d feel pretty silly writing up a farewell post for someone who doesn’t even leave. I’ll use an example of someone who probably isn’t returning but could: Seth Elledge. Mostly because I don’t know if he qualifies for free agency or not. Cot’s says: “A player becomes eligible to sign with any organization as a minor league free agent when he has played six full minor-league seasons with the club that drafted him.”
Elledge has not played six full minor league seasons. He was drafted in 2017, so that makes five seasons. However, the Cardinals did not draft Elledge. I wonder if that matters. But it’s not like he qualified for minor league free agency in the years following the trade, so I think if nobody claims him, they could just keep him in the minor leagues for another year. But I don’t know if that’s the Cards intent. Nor if a DFA speeds up the process towards free agency. Which is why he’s not here, because there’s enough doubt that he may become a Cardinal in the future.
Enough about Elledge. Let’s get to the premise of my article.
He honestly deserves his own post, but I’ve written about him a lot in the past and I don’t have 1,000 new words to say about him. I also assume I’ll write something about him in the future when I have a new angle.
Carpenter was designed in a lab to be underrated. The first step was raising expectations too high. His first two seasons made some fans think he was a high average guy (.294 and .318 seasons) – but BABIPS of .359 and .346 were always unsustainable. The second was being the best player on a mediocre team. And third was just his style of play – an ultra-patient approach resulting in a sky high OBP. He was a leadoff hitter without speed who seemingly had a mediocre average and because he led off, didn’t really accumulate RBIs like you expect of your power hitter. (Though he did post 100+ run seasons three times).
Part of the reason Carpenter’s quick decline was so hard to see coming was because Carpenter was a hitting chameleon. When he came up, he understood his approach in the minors – leading to ridiculous numbers such as a 15.7 BB% and 12.7 K% in AAA in 2011 – probably wouldn’t work in the majors. So his first two seasons in the majors don’t really resemble who he was in the minors nor in any season after – kind of a contact-oriented approach. Hit the ball to all fields, hit a lot of doubles, walk a lot for a normal player, not much for someone with Carpenter’s patience.
But I don’t really think Carpenter was ever going to be a .350 BABIP guy, which is why he changed to an ultra-conservative patient hitter. His third season more resembled his minor league stats. He walked a then career high 13.4% of the time and struck out just 15.7% of the time. His average dropped 46 points. His OBP only dropped 17 points. The problem was he had no power. He went from 55 doubles to 33. In the postseason, he tried something and ended up hitting four homers in nine games, after hitting 8 homers in 158 games in the regular season.
The change stuck. After 25 homers in his first 1,766 plate appearances, he hit 28 homers in 665 PAs in 2015. That’s insane. And he continued hitting 20+ homers for the next four seasons, including a career high 36 in 2018. And 2018 was the end of his run. But what a run it was. From 2013-2018, Carpenter was worth 27.3 fWAR, or 4.6 fWAR per season. He placed 4th, 9th, and 12th in MVP voting in three of those seasons, and made the All-Star team in three of those seasons (oddly, he did not make the team in one of those MVP years).
I was highly disappointed with his farewell game. He got a mild ovation in his first AB and nothing after. And it’s a shame. So I hope he gets a proper farewell ovation as a visiting member of another team. Hopefully, Busch Stadium specifically really did sap his power and he can find a park where a few of his deep flyballs actually go over the wall. I never thought I’d root for you in another uniform, but I really do want to see you get an actual standing ovation before you retire at Busch Stadium.
Weirdly similar trajectory to Carpenter. He too suffered from too high of expectations. Unlike Carpenter, who played out of his mind to get those high expectations, he never did have a Cy Young level season. That’s an unfair burden on a player and ignores what he actually did – for a four year stretch he was one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball. Which can be weird to think about now, what with him being extremely inconsistent.
From 2015 to 2017, he was worth 3.3 fWAR, 3.2 fWAR, and 3.2 fWAR. He was pretty much on track for that again in 2018, but he got injured. An injury that seems to have more or less been the beginning of the end. He got moved to the bullpen and stayed effective for a short time. He had a 1.2 fWAR season of the pen in 2019 in just 48 innings, which gave him the ammunition to move back to the rotation. And it just didn’t work out.
Unlike Carpenter, Martinez’s decline seems a lot more explainable: injuries. He never really looked the same after his 2018 injury. While his bullpen stats were good, they weren’t good in a way that would have translated to the rotation. He missed part of 2019 too and only made 21 starts in 2020 and 2021 combined.
If he’s willing, I think he can find a second life in the bullpen. Even the diminished Martinez was reasonably effective out of the bullpen. I see no reason he wouldn’t at least be a serviceable member of a pen with moments that make him look dominant. And hell, maybe he does have a dominant year in the bullpen out of him. But it won’t be with the Cardinals.
Well Andrew, you have potentially done one very good thing for the Cardinals, but it’s a lesson I’m not real sure you’ll appreciate: never sign free agent relievers. He may have been the straw the broke the camel’s back. They didn’t learn the lesson after Greg Holland, nor Brett Cecil. But they made no free agent reliever signings in 2020. We unfortunately can’t make any conclusions about them not doing it in 2021, since they weren’t signing anybody.
So farewell Miller. Kind of wish I had any positives of him pitching, but aside from that initial season, he didn’t do much damage. He had a genuinely good 2020 – though only 13 innings – and was so not trusted in 2021 that he never actually blew any saves and got just four holds in 36 innings pitched. He had a good career though and few will hold his Cardinal career against him. Cards fans might.
J.A. Happ/Jon Lester
I would venture a guess the majority of fans place their odds of coming back at significantly higher than 1%. It just… makes absolutely no sense to bring either back. For one thing, they aren’t very good. They pitched pretty much the same with the Cards as their previous teams – just in front of a way better defense and one of the most favorable parks to play in as a pitcher. And yes, that would suggest some kind of ability to repeat that next year but why not just sign a better pitcher and get even better results than either of these guys will get?
So farewell Happ and Lester. You helped change the course of the season. You both deserve some credit for the 17 game winning streak that I will likely not see again for a very long time. And even though it’s not reflected in the WAR totals, I think we can say both are partially the reason the Cards even made the playoffs. Which would have been bananas to think about when we were all making fun of the Cards for these moves back at the trading deadline.
Kim would not have been on this list a couple months ago. And not because I expected them to resign him, just it was possible. But he wasn’t very happy with the move to the bullpen and I think that pretty much sealed the deal. He also became less effective in the process.
But he was a genuinely fun player to watch. He showed all of his emotions out on the field. There was never any doubt how he felt when he missed location or was unhappy with an ump’s called or hit a swinging bunt for a hit. It’s a shame his career as a hitter is so short-lived. He was one of the more enjoyable pitchers to watch hit. He wasn’t all that successful, but if he made contact, he would run his hardest. And was surprisingly fast! I do wish we could have gotten two full seasons of him as a starter like the plan was, but alas I’ll have to settle for the 28 starts he gave us.
You forgot about him, didn’t you? We’ll always have his first week in Memphis, when he was hotter than any hitter has ever been. In 34 PAs, he walked six times to three strikeouts. He also had 14 hits, including three doubles and four homers. He had a line of .538/.647/1.115. He then got promoted and promptly struck out every time he batted. Crazy how difficult the major leagues are. One week, you hit anything thrown at you. The next week, you are the coldest hitter in baseball.
But hey you got MLB money for four and half months. Hopefully, this isn’t your last MLB chance. Your next one will not be with the Cards though.
Again, I just don’t see it. If LeBlanc never played for the Cards, nobody would ever want to sign him. But some might argue LeBlanc represented a change in the Cards season. He predated Lester and Happ. He somewhat inexplicably got good results while he was in the rotation, and helped stabilize it from what it was. For all we know, Michael Girsch and John Mozeliak saw his success and said to themselves: “well let’s try this again on two other old, past their prime pitchers.” You heard it here first: LeBlanc is the 2021 Cardinals MVP for that reason.
Congratulations Miller! You have reached 4 years of service time. That is not an actual milestone or anything, it’s just very, very unlikely for him to have reached it. He was drafted in the 16th round of the MLB Draft back in 2008 – pretty long odds right off the bat. He didn’t make AAA until he was 26 and his debut season there went horribly (9.82 ERA in 11 innings). He debuted at 27 in the majors and wasn’t very good in that season. He pitched his entire age 30 season in AAA. He has never been in an MLB bullpen for an entire season. He has quite literally always had to spend some time in AAA, typically nearly half the season. But he has an earned an MLB paycheck for the equivalent of four seasons, which means he’s made at least $2 million.
Anyway, yeah he was just roster filler this year and I doubt he returns.
And that’s it. I think any of Brandon Waddell, TJ Zeuch, or Johan Quezada might be DFA’d. i suspect Zeuch is returning, Waddell isn’t, and I have no idea on Quezada. He didn’t have good numbers, but he also spent the majority of the year injured and had barely pitched in two years. They all have a greater than 1% chance of returning. Justin Williams seems unlikely, but there’s some degree of chance they’ll try him in a bench role one more time. I don’t think so, but it’s not out of the question. Same for Austin Dean. Dean has a better shot because he can be sent to the minors