The St. Louis Cardinals could trade one kind of depth for another. What would be the costs?
I'm otherwise occupied this morning, so I can't answer this question as well as I'd like, but I have one to ask anyway: Would it be worth trading Matt Carpenter to fill an ostensibly shallower position at the major league level? I think this is one of the more interesting thought experiments left to run on the St. Louis Cardinals' roster, even though it requires us to think some more about Ty Wigginton.
I've been messing around with the depth chart on a notecard, because most of what I do when the Ritalin is working is write things on notecards; here's how it looks, roughly:
|Starter||Allen Craig||David Freese||Carlos Beltran||Daniel Descalso||Rafael Furcal|
|Backup||Matt Carpenter||Matt Carpenter||Craig/Carpenter||Kozma/Carpenter||Pete Kozma|
|Depth||Matt Adams||Wigginton/deep, sustained sigh||Taveras/Adams||Kolten Wong||More Pete Kozma, probably|
What surprised me, when I saw it written out, was that my first thought wasn't about how much deeper the corner positions look than the middle infield, even though they do look much deeper.
It was that it's an enormous luxury for these particular Cardinals to have Matt Carpenter around. Whatever your thoughts on Allen Craig's health going forward, he's also the Cardinals' backup for 33-year-old Matt Holliday and 36-year-old Carlos Beltran. Whatever your thoughts on David Freese's health going forward, you're probably using them to sublimate your primal, unspeakable fear of David Freese's health going forward. (I get the feeling that we are in the only possible universe in which Carpenter had a breakout year and Freese played 140 games.)
The Cardinals could probably weather a Craig, Beltran, or Holliday injury without Carpenter; Matt Adams is as close to the majors as any of their prospects, and Oscar Taveras is what he is. But Ty Wigginton has just about proven himself to be a sub-replacement-level third baseman, which makes depth at Carpenter's natural position a matter of hoping Greg Garcia has a huge spring.
The cost, then, of trading Carpenter is mostly the difference between Matt Carpenter and sighing, deeply and sustainedly, every time Al Hrobosky says the words "some extra pop out of that seven-hole." They'd be lowering their floor in the event that they lose one or two outfielders, but it's a very high floor.
My concern is more about what the Cardinals would get. The effective replacement level for the Cardinals' middle infield is lower than for their corner spots, and Rafael Furcal is the most likely guy on that first row to find himself in need of a replacement in 2013, so theoretically it should be simple to find a team with less baggage at the positions Carpenter can play and more of it at the positions where their equally valuable MIF-Carpenter can play.
But in reality the Cardinals only have so many potential trading partners' benches to rummage through, and trading Carpenter for major-league depth is a really time-constrained operation; he's ready to start or almost-start right now, and he needs to be delivered to a team that has two shortstops who are ready to start or almost-start and no third baseman. If you're in favor of trading Carpenter—to continue the thought experiment—where would he go and for whom?
It all just makes me want to write another thousand words about signing Hiroyuki Nakajima. But given the logistics, it's at least a little easier to understand why the Cardinals have decided to just turn their Matt Carpenter into MIF-Carpenter.