The St. Louis Cardinals gave a contract extension to infielder Matt Carpenter worth $52 million over the next 6 years. The deal had been in the works for several days, and it certainly makes sense. It rewards Carpenter, a former 13th round draft pick, for his strong ascent to the major leagues over the past two years, and it gives the Cardinals an infield cornerstone that they need for the stability of their future.
Carpenter had one more year before he was eligible for arbitration, so this allows Carpenter, 28, to get paid more this season and have security throughout the deal when he otherwise would have had to go through three years of arbitration.
The Carpenter extension also indicates a franchise strategy the Cardinals are employing. As they continue to bring up talent from the minors and give young players a shot in the big leagues, the Cardinals intend to sign the best of those players to extensions that overwrite the arbitration years in a player’s contract progression. This allows the Cardinals to lock up their most important players long-term at a fixed priced that is not at the mercy of an arbitrator, while also rewarding the player with millions of dollars before they would normally be eligible to make that kind of money. Carpenter’s new deal mirrors one that Allen Craig signed last spring, and those two contracts are the latest examples of this franchise strategy.
But the strategy goes even deeper. The young Cardinal players now know that the club will consider paying them at any point in their early career, even superseding their frugal pre-arbitration rookie deals. This gives the young players a financial incentive to play hard every time out, because they could be rewarded with a new deal at any time. The Cardinals can develop a sort of loyalty with their potential stars at a young age by showing them that if they work hard it will lead to a payday. The Cardinals hope this strategy leads to more success stories like Matt Carpenter.
While Matt Carpenter has expedited his earnings by signing this deal, it still only pays him an average of less than $9 million per year. If he continues to lead the league in categories such as hits, runs, and doubles, as he did in 2013, this deal will ultimately look like a steal for the Cardinals. Lately, major leaguers who have earned MVP votes have usually signed deals expressed in the hundreds of millions. Yet the Cardinals have taken the risk by signing a player who is still somewhat of an unknown quantity by virtue of only having one full major league season under his belt and guaranteed him money through his age 33 season. Given the quickly growing legend of Carpenter’s work ethic however, the Cardinals should have nothing to worry about and will feel good about this deal in the years to come.