Just last week, Kiley McDaniel finished up this year’s Trade Value series. The Trade Value series represents an attempt to rank all the best assets in baseball while accounting for player skill, age, and contract status all simultaneously. One player who didn’t appear in the series was Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter, not even in the Honorable Mention section.
At that time, Carpenter was having a fine season, having recorded a 142 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR in 378 plate appearances. However, at 32 years old and with two-and-a-half seasons of control remaining on salaries of $14.5 million in 2019 and $18.5 million ($2 million buyout) in 2020, McDaniel reasonably left Carpenter off the list.
In his first eight games after the All-Star Break, however, Carpenter added 1.1 WAR to his season total, hitting .400/.500/1.100 with a 307 wRC+ during that stretch. His WAR was 21st in baseball at the end of the first half, but now it ranks seventh in the sport and first in the National League. His .275/.384/.579 batting line is good for a 155 wRC+, which is second in the NL and eighth in baseball, just ahead of Jesus Aguilar and Manny Machado. His season totals are even more amazing when you consider that on May 15, Carpenter was hitting .140/.286/.272 with a 59 wRC+. Jay Jaffe already detailed Carpenter’s turnaround at the end of June when he was just doing really well.
Since May 16, Carpenter has been the best hitter in baseball.
The numbers at Baseball Savant agree with the assessment above: Carpenter ranks first in xwOBA during that time and fifth this season. Over the course of the rest of the season, Carpenter projects to be one of the best 20 hitters and best 20 players in baseball, with a 135 wRC+ and 1.7 WAR.
So what is a player like that worth? I asked Dan Szymborski if he wouldn’t mind running some ZiPS projections for 2019 and 2020 to see how Carpenter might age at 33 and 34 years old. This is what he came up with:
Those projections assume Carpenter remains at third base. Although his throwing motion generally looks pained, he’s been average there during his career by DRS and just slightly below average by UZR. Moving him to first base drops the 2019 projection by a win and 2020 by slightly less than that. A team trading for Carpenter now is a contender valuing every win the rest of the way very highly — as much as $15 million apiece, you cold argue. That would make Carpenter’s value this season around $20 million after considering his remaining $4.5 million in salary. The surplus is about the same for next season and about 60% of that in 2020 when accounting for present-day value. Carpenter does have some slightly added value this year and next for tax-paying teams, as his cap figure for 2019 is just under $9 million and around $3 million the rest of the season because of the smaller average annual value from the original six-year, $52 million contract he signed back before the 2014 season.
The figures above put Carpenter somewhere in the neighborhood of a $50 million value, but we could be conservative and lessen that amount considerably. As for precedent when it comes to deals like this, most deadline deals involve players about to be free agents. I combed through Cliff Corcoran’s piece on deadline deals and found a few examples of players dealt when they were not pending free agents. Here are those deals.
|Name||Season||Midseason WAR||Age||Years to FA||Players (BA Preseason Rank)|
|Andrew Miller||2016||1.9||31||2.5||Clint Frazier (44), Justus Sheffield (81), Ben Heller(NR), J.P. Feyereisen (NR)|
|Jonathan Lucroy||2016||3.0||30||1.5||Lewis Brinson (16), Luis Ortiz (64), Ryan Cordell (TEX 11)|
|David Price*||2014||3.8||28||1.5||Drew Smyly (MLB), Willy Adames (DET 30), Nick Franklin (MLB)|
|Hunter Pence||2012||2.0||29||1.5||Nate Schierholtz (MLB), Tommy Joseph (SFG 2), Seth Rosin (NR)|
|Hunter Pence||2011||1.7||28||2.5||Jarred Cosart (70), Jonathan Singleton (39), Domingo Santana (PHI 9)|
*Willy Adames was very young at the time of the Price trade and would rank 84th overall by the start of the following season.
It’s hard to find direct analogues. It’s also worth noting that several of the deals here involved MLB players, further complicating the math. Generally, though, we are seeing something close to two top-100 prospects in some shape or form. The Jonathan Lucroy deal might be the most comparable one: he, like Carpenter, was at least 30 years old and in the middle of a very good season. Synthesizing the return is difficult, though, as it seems unlikely the Cardinals would want two top-100 minor leaguers who aren’t all that close to the majors. The team might be looking to shake things up, but maybe not by trading their best player for piece who can’t contribute until 2020. A hypothetical deal with the Yankees — who could probably use a bat with Aaron Judge sidelined — including Albert Abreu and Estevan Florial might lack appeal for both teams.
If there is a deal to be had, one that would make both sides squeamish, it might be a one-for-one exchange for Miguel Andujar, who did make Honorable Mention in Trade Value. The Yankees would get about a one-win upgrade the rest of the season, and at least the same next year. It also might free them up to pursue a certain free agent who has a long history at third base while moving Carpenter to first base. (It also seems possible, as Buster Olney notes, that Carpenter’s teammate Jose Martinez might fit in New York, with Brett Gardner’s departure next season via free agency opening up the corner-outfield spots for Giancarlo Stanton and Judge.)
Interestingly, the Red Sox also have a young third baseman in Rafael Devers. The 21-year-old has struggled this season but still has a ton of potential, ranking 45th on McDaniel’s Trade Value rankings. If those deals don’t work — and it’s quite possible the Yankees and Red Sox are unwilling to give up on their young players — it’s hard to find a match for Carpenter anywhere else. The Cardinals are likely trying to compete in 2019. Unless the offer is compelling, he’s not likely to be moved.
That said, the Cardinals are in a tough spot. They’re currently at .500 with a sufficient number of good MLB-ready players controlled beyond this season to make rebuild unappetizing but also a lack of high-end players. Carpenter is a high-end player right now, but he won’t be for very long. In what appears to be a lost season, the club couldn’t be blamed for trying to cash in at his peak. The team could also shake things up in other ways. Ken Rosenthal suggested the Cardinals might trade a young pitcher for a similarly valued infielder. Perhaps Jack Flaherty might fit with what the Yankees or Red Sox.
The Yankees have added depth both to their bullpen and rotation without surrendering any of their top prospects. The Red Sox traded for Nathan Eovaldi, but they don’t have a ton of talent in the farm to trade to make improvements. As the two clubs battle to avoid the Wild Card, there are few impact players available. They would be smart to check in with the Cardinals and see what kind of offer it would take to pry Carpenter loose from St. Louis. Maybe it would take Andujar or Devers, but capitalizing on their opportunities this year and next might be worth it for both organizations.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.