Chris Carpenter's cross words a few days ago about the Cardinals' alleged interest in seeking a starter from outside the organization were a little shocking at first.
After all, the one time undisputed ace of the Redbirds rotation has pitched 25 innings since the end of the 2011 World Series. And they weren't very good innings at that. So who is he to be offended if the Cardinals didn't exactly trust that his effort to make an improbably comeback would be successful?
Well... Chris Carpenter. That's who.
To think that he's angry and chomping at the bit are good signs, not bad ones.
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Would anybody expect a competitive bulldog like Carpenter to take any challenge lightly? Regardless of what Brandon Philips has to say, this isn't being whiny. It's taking a challenger to heart and saying "You don't think I can do it? Well, watch this..."
Whether or not the Redbirds make a trade for a veteran starter is inconsequential to Carpenter. Even if he is healthy. Does anyone really think if he comes back at 100 percent -- or 90 percent, or even 80 percent -- that general manager John Mozeliak and skipper Mike Matheny are going to say thanks, but no thanks, to a guy who is 10-4 with a 3.00 ERA over his career in the postseason? Subtract, the two starts that he made last year when he was pitching on guts alone, and his playoff record is 10-2 with a 2.97 ERA.
Besides, he's already being paid. It's not like it would cost the Cardinals -- who have spent most of the season playing with a 23-man roster or worse because at least one person in the bullpen and free agent mistake Ty Wigginton contribute little to nothing to the club -- would have to let go of someone near and dear to make room for him.
If Chris Carpenter is one of the best five starting pitchers available to the Cardinals, he will be in the rotation. If the club has to send Joe Kelly back to the bullpen it will without a second thought. And if it adds another pitcher, that doesn't automatically make Carpenter the odd man out. It's simple, the top five starters and the starters and the guys who are weaker performers will move to the bullpen, provided their isn't an injury. Don't forget last year when Lance Lynn hit the wall in his first full season as a big league starter. This year Shelby Miller is in the same boat.
What the Cardinals can't afford to do is assume that Carpenter will be healthy and do nothing to bolster the team when it has a chance only to get left holding the bag if he can't compete. Carpenter will be the first to admit he can't do it if he can't do it. So there's really no issue to see here.
While the starting rotation has been pretty solid during the regular season, the Cardinals don't have an obvious number two starter without Carpenter. Adam Wainwright is the ace and then there are the other guys... Lance Lynn has a ton of wins in the first half of the season. But he did last year to only to fall on his face in the second half. Jake Westbrook, who is really a number four starter, missed the stretch last year because of an oblique injury and spent time on the sidelines this year with elbow problems. Shelby Miller is a rookie. Do we want him to get thrown into the fire of a huge playoff game and risk a Rick Ankielesque meltdown?
If the Cardinals could find a potential number two without selling the farm, they ought to do it and let competition decide who the starters are. Next season everything can go back to the way it was without a hitch. But if they turn down a chance to get a good pitcher, they could find themselves one key piece away from winning it all when there is nothing they can do about it.