The super-utility All-Star has a new home for 2017
Although there were reports that the election would be the end of the world, life and the hot stove continue to burn on. Yesterday, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak announced that Matt Carpenter would be the starting baseman for the 2017 season. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to a lot of Cardinal fans. Carpenter played 312 innings at first, the majority of which were down the stretch. While Carpenter has the ability to play all over the diamond, this will likely be the first year where he plays the majority of his innings at first.With Carpenter’s position set, the rest of the infield will probably be locked in as well. Wong will take over at second, Peralta will stay at third and Diaz will be at short with Gyorko sprinkled in for the occasional dinger. Is this a good or bad move?
Let’s start with the bad news. The first is that this isn’t exactly the flashiest move a lot of Cardinal fans were hoping for. The Cardinals finished 17.5 games back of the Cubs in the NL central, and it did feel like the only way they would keep up would be a flashy Justin Turner-esque move. Rearranging pieces they already have doesn’t feel seem like it would trigger a 17.5 game jump. An infield of Carpenter-Wong-Diaz-Peralta is very solid, but it doesn’t quite stack up with the other young stud infields across the league, especially on the defensive side.
Another problem is that the move doesn’t directly solve one of the infield’s major problems. The main issue with the Cardinals infield last season was their shoddy defense. Putting Carpenter at first doesn’t exactly solve this issue. Sure, Carpenter’s defensive woes are easier to hide at first base, but they will still be present. Carpenter’s defense has never been stellar anywhere on the diamond, and I don’t expect that to change at first.
This move doesn’t entirely spell doom and gloom for the Cardinals. This may not be an obvious point, but it’s good for players to know what their position is coming into the year. Carpenter may be used to playing a lot of positions, but that doesn’t mean he can seamlessly transition between all of them throughout the season. Letting him know about his position this early could give him time to adjust over the offseason. Not only will it give Carpenter the time to adjust, but it will also give the rest of the infield their job security as well.
Matt Carpenter will enter next season as the Cardinals 1B. No brainer.
— STL Cardinals (@OnlyCardsTalk) November 8, 2016
One of the main goals of the offseason was to improve infield defense. While it seems like this move doesn’t actually solve the problem of infield defense, Mozeliak hopes that giving players a consistent starting spot throughout the year will allow them to get comfortable with their positions. This comfort will hopefully lead to improved defense. It’s not exactly empirical science, but there is some merit to a settled infield leading to a settled defense. It can be hard to get into a rhythm somewhere when your position is constantly shuffling around.
Although it seems like the Cardinals need a free agent splash to get them to compete with the Cubs, that may not be entirely accurate. I wrote about the Cardinal’s jumbled infield situation earlier in the offseason, and it doesn’t look like Mozeliak had a ton of options when it comes to restructuring the infield. It’s not like Justin Turner is a guaranteed bet to ride in on a white horse and lead the Cardinals to a championship. Any recruitment of outside help comes with some risk, and at least this way the Cardinals know what they’re getting with their infield. Besides, the infield wasn’t even a major area of concern going into the offseason. Hopefully by setting the infield Mozeliak can allocate more resources to improving the outfield.
Ultimately, putting Carpenter at first may not end up being the best move, but it is a safe move. The Cardinals and John Mozeliak have much bigger fish to fry, and locking in the infield this early will hopefully give them some stability on offense and defense going into 2017.
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