Chris Carpenter signed a two-year $21-million extension with the Cardinals this week. That sounds better until you realize that the team already had an option on Carpenter worth $15 million. Somehow they managed to finagle an extra cheap year out of their ace for another $6 million. How much might the oft-injured pitcher have made on the open market?
Let’s focus on the last three years. Projection programs like those years, and fate has been good to Carp since 2009. In those three years, he’s averaged over 200 innings and a SIERA right in line with his career number in the category (3.51). Every year, he’s struck out about seven per nine, walked around two per nine, and coaxed about half his contact on the ground. To lend perspective to the matter, two qualified pitchers in baseball will hit those benchmarks this year. If you relax the ground-ball requirement to 45.6% (Carpenter’s current percentage), the number ‘zooms’ to four.
Look past ERA and he’s been steady. Look past the rising BABIP and you see a steady four-win pitcher. Even if you impose the half-win deterioration from there, and give him three and a half wins next year and three the next, that’s six and half wins for the price of four. Back-of-napkin math says he left just short of $15 million on the table.
Of course, it’s not that simple. First there’s the fact that the three-year window is very kind to Carpenter. Look back past that window and you see just over 20 combined innings in two years and a dark period in his life. He’s had three elbow surgeries and a labrum surgery (SLAP). He’s missed over 700 baseball days since his career started in 1997. The last time the veteran managed 600+ IP over three consecutive seasons, he promptly went and missed two full seasons. Once before that he was healthy for three straight and then tore his labrum. Now this isn’t quite fresh fish either: Carp is 36.
How would this play out in the actual market place? That’s the hardest question to answer. Search for active pitchers over 36 that have managed 180+ innings and an ERA+ over 100, and you get Tim Wakefield, Hiroki Kuroda, R.A. Dickey, Miguel Batista and Derek Lowe just misses the cut. There’s not really much to be learned here from a contracts perspective.
It’s too bad that Lowe missed the cut because he might be the best comparison. He was 35 when he signed his deal with Atlanta for four years and $60 million. Sure, their statistical profiles are different, and Lowe’s health probably helped him tack more years on the end. It’s likely that no-one would give Carpenter four years. Or three years.
But two? There are plenty of competitors that would pony up for two years. And you’d have to think it would be close to $30 million if you use Lowe as a guide if not a comp. We can’t get into Carpenter’s head and figure out why he did what he did — perhaps he’s rewarding the team that stuck with him through those two lost years, or providing his providers with a shot at resigning Albert Pujols this offseason — but we can tell that he left around $10 million on the table.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.