The World Baseball Classic rosters were just announced, and 11 Cardinals players are involved for their respective countries. Of the 11, no case is more interesting than Matt Carpenter, especially as he transitions to become the full-time first baseman.
The World Baseball Classic is a great event. Players have the opportunity to return to their roots, honoring the nations that shaped them as players and people at large. Unfortunately, though, at first glance, the WBC seems to have poor timing. The tournament forces players to miss out on roughly two weeks of spring training, valuable innings with their teammates and coaches. For the most part, as we have proved here at Cardsblog, there is truly no reason to fear. Of Cardinals players that have participated in the past, statistics have barely suffered, mostly remaining similar to previous outputs. Sometimes, such as with Albert Pujols in ’06, statistics actually improve.
If you read the aforementioned article, a piece concretized with full statistics and multiple examples, it seems silly to push forward with this debate. Why, then, should we consider the case of Matt Carpenter individually?
As I see it, Carpenter provides an unprecedented case. As he switches to become the Cardinals full time first baseman, the debate regarding WBC participation becomes much more nuanced. While players such as Yadier Molina, Alex Reyes, and Brett Cecil are all comfortable with their positions, having logged countless, concentrated innings in their developments or careers, Carpenter is facing a relatively new challenge.
Moving forward, let’s look at the pros of participating, the cons, and maybe a solution that will make everyone feel a little more comfortable.
Perhaps most importantly, Carpenter will have the opportunity to play high-level, competitive baseball. While Spring Training is obviously also “high-level,” there is more of an internal, developmental focus, as front offices make an effort to sort out their optimal regular season roster. At the WBC, teams want to win, attempting to honor their countries and bring home gold. In this way, for an experienced MLB player, the WBC grants a wonderful opportunity to play good baseball while simultaneously representing a larger cost.
Also, while this may seem like a stretch, Carpenter’s absence has the potential to maximize efficiency back in Florida. The Spring Training roster is jam-packed with question marks, as 18 non-roster players are invited to participate. As such, Carpenter’s two week absence frees up some at-bats, consequently allowing the front-office more clarity regarding difficult roster decisions.
Finally, the WBC will be fun for Carpenter at an individual level. It seems simple, but the opportunity to share the field with several MLB stars sounds like a fun experience. In this way, Carpenter should, if all goes well, return to the Cards with a positive mindset, and, by extension, a positive influence in a clubhouse full of young players.
Obviously, the main argument against Carpenter’s WBC participation is loss of reps at first base. Looking forward to a smooth transition to his new full time-role, it would be optimal to maximize training and innings at his new position. Especially with pitcher’s fielding practice, bunt defense, and other defensive nuances, it surely would not hurt for Carpenter to remain in Florida.
Unfortunately, as well, Carpenter will not play first-base in the Classic. In fact, he is listed as a “3B/SS,” sitting behind the daunting combination of Paul Goldschmidt and Eric Hosmer, the designated first basemen for team USA. Furthermore, the roster contains both Nolan Arenado and Brandon Crawford, two elite shortstops. Based on these facts, it seems that Carpenter’s best chance to see the field is at third base, where his main competition is Alex Bregman of the Astros.
In the same vein of argument, two weeks of third base for team USA will prevent Carpenter from solid time with Jose Oquendo and other developmental assets, resources very valuable to Carpenter’s transition to first. Hopefully, though, the team USA staff will grant Carpenter the opportunity to get his drill-work at his new position. Nevertheless, no matter how you spin it, he will be missing two weeks of live innings in his new corner.
Overall, despite missing two weeks at his new position with his regular teammates, I do not think Carpenter’s 2017 performance will be greatly affected.
First of all, Carpenter has demonstrated proficiency before at first base. Specifically, he logged a whopping 312 innings there in 2016. Also, it must be noted that first base, compared to Carpenter’s other defensive positions, is most definitely the least demanding. While certain skills must be sharpened and drilled in the Spring, he should be just fine regardless.
Finally, and definitely the most encouraging reason against panic, is that Carpenter has already begun to work. He arrived early to the facility, and has been working drills with Oquendo and other teammates on the infield. By the looks of it, Carpenter has been, and will continue putting in work at his new position. In this way, two weeks at third should be of no worry to fans or front office members. He will be ready to roll.