Chris Carpenter: Best Cardinals Pitcher Since Bob Gibson
One of the best moves former GM Walt Jocketty ever made was signing an injured Chris Carpenter in the offseason of 2002-03. Carpenter was hurt in mid-2002 and missed all of 2003 due to injury. Carpenter had moderate success in Toronto, but was never an ace there. He did pitch in the same rotation with Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen, Woody Williams, David Wells, and Roy Halladay at various points of his Blue Jays career. However, the Jays only offered him a minor league deal after the 2002 season. Carpenter would finally pitch again in 2004, and under the tutelage of Dave Duncan would become one of baseball's best pitchers.
Carpenter accomplished a lot in St. Louis, despite missing time due to injury. He made three All Star teams, won the 2005 Cy Young Award, led the National League in ERA in 2009, and helped the Cardinals win two World Series championships. With the Cardinals, Carp went 95-44 with a 3.07 ERA in 1348.2 innings. Overall, he won 144 games during his career. In the postseason, he has a 10-4 record with a 3.00 ERA in 18 games starterd. He also won the Game 7 clincher in the 2011 World Series. Carpenter was also the leader of the staff, and the younger pitchers looked up to him.
Unfortunately, Carpenter will miss the entire 2013 season due to numbness in his shoulder and still has a nerve problem. Most likely, Carpenter will never pitch again in the big leagues. While he was a great pitcher, injuries always have haunted him. After missing a season in a half, he came back strong in 2004 going 15-5. He had to be shut down in September, and missed the 2004 postseason. After winning the World Series in 2006, Carp got hurt in the season opener in 2007. He needed Tommy John surgery and missed most of the 2008 season as well. He came back strong in 2009, nearly winning another Cy Young Award. After 3 healthy seasons and a second championship, Carp missed most of last year due to nerve problems. Being a intense competitor, he came back late last year and pitched in the postseason. It's possible that he rushed back before he was completely recovered, causing these current problems.
As far as his legacy with the Redbirds, I would say that Carpenter was one of the best pitchers in team history. Maybe even the third best picher after Bob Gibson and Dizzy Dean. Gibson is the only other Card's pitcher to win a Cy Young Award. Jesse Haines, Mort Cooper, Harry Breechen, Steve Carlton, and Bob Forsch all had their moments in St. Louis as well. Carlton would rank higher if the Cards didn't foolishly trade him away in his early prime. Still, I think its fair to say that Chris Carpenter is the third best pitcher the Cardinals ever had.
Losing Carpenter puts a void in the Redbirds rotation. There has been talk of re-signing Kyle Lohse, who is still a free agent. Lohse had a career year last season, but has Scott Boras as his agent. He would cost another team a draft pick if they signed him. Lohse is now 34, and I would be hesistant to give him a long term deal. The Cardinals are focusing on signing Adam Wainwright to a long term deal, and I wouldn't give Lohse more than one year. Plus, the Cardinals have several young pitchers ready to take over in the next few years.
Wainwright will now be the leader of the Cardinals staff. He is not nearly as intense as Carpenter, but is a student of the game and sets a good example for the younger pitchers. Waino should be better this year since he's now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. After Wainwright, Jaime Garcia would be the number 2, depending on if he's ready to go at the season's start. Garcia was hurt in last year's Division Series against the Nats. Lance Lynn is coming off a 18 win season and was a All Star last season, and should be the number 3 starter. Lynn wore down in the second half, but should be more durable this season. Jake Westbrook returns as the number 4 starter, and has a mutual option for 2014.
The number 5 spot is a open competition, but there are three strong candidates for the spot. Joe Kelly made 16 starts in his rookie year last year, and also pitched well out of the bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal is also a candidate, and his fastball tops out at 100 mph. Rosenthal pitched out of the bullpen last year, and pitched 8.2 scoreless innings in the playoffs. However, he was a starter in the minor leagues and will be given a shot at the big league rotation. Then, there is 2009 first round pick Shelby Miller. Miller had a up and down season last year. He struggled in Memphis in the first half, but started using his off speed pitches in the second half and greatly improved. Miller dominated the Reds in the season's finale last year.
The Cardinals still have a surplus of pitching despite Carpenter's injury. With Carp, they had 8 candidates for the rotation, and now they have 7. Even if Garcia isn't ready to start the season, they still could put some combination of Kelly, Rosenthal, and Miller to fill the last two spots in the rotation. That's why I wouldn't make a rash decision and sign Lohse to a big deal. GM John Mozeliak has said that the team's interest in Lohse is "negligible at this time." I take that as Mozeliak has faith in the Cardinal's young pitchers. Rosenthal had been working with Carpenter this offseason, and hopefully Carp can help teach in spring training.
The Cards have been pumping out the young pitching the last few years. In 2010, Garcia had his rookie campaign and the lefty finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting. In 2011, Lynn came up as a reliever, then took to the rotation last year. Last season, Kelly came up midseason after Garcia went down. Then late in the year, Rosenthal and Miller came up. Rosenthal and Miller should have a big role in this season's club, no matter what their roles are. Next on the horizon is 21 year old Carlos Martinez, who made it Double A last year. He's probably a year away, but could contribute on this year's club. Remember, the A's won the AL West last year with many rookies on their pitching staff. The Cardinals were recently ranked the number 1 farm system in baseball by Baseball America, and it should help them contend for years to come.
Adam Wainwright, Derek Lilliquist, and Shelby Miller in Spring Training last year
Carlos Martinez pitching for Double A Springfield