A Healthy Carpenter Key to the Season

When Chris Carpenter is healthy, the St. Louis Cardinals won-loss record has been healthy as well.

How important is Chris Carpenter to the St. Louis Cardinals? At the Winter Warm Up, second baseman Adam Kennedy believes he is worth an additional 15 to 20 wins per season. When healthy, fellow starter Adam Wainwright "would stack (the Cardinals') rotation against anybody's."

Carpenter originally joined the Cardinals before the 2003 season. The organization signed the New Hampshire native knowing he would miss the entire year with a torn labrum. He would bounce back in 2004 with an impressive record, helping lead the Cardinals to its first National League pennant in 17 years. Though the team would not repeat its trip to the World Series the following year, Carpenter would excel. He would have the best season of his career and capture his first Cy Young award. He was the first Cardinal to win the award since Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson in 1968.

Though he would not win a second consecutive Cy Young award in 2006, he would win something much greater. Carpenter anchored a rotation that won the Cardinals its first World Series in 24 years. He was stellar in the WS with eight shutout innings while allowing the powerful Detroit Tigers offense only three hits.

The Cardinals tagged their ace to start opening day of the 2007 season against their rivals, the New York Mets. The team would lose not only the game but would later lose something more valuable. It would be Carpenter's only start of the season as it was later announced he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery. Cardinal fans would miss out on one of their favorites for almost 500 days before he worked limitedly in 2008. Over 15.1 innings in the big leagues, he did post a miniscule 1.76 ERA. Unfortunately, it was only 15.1 innings. Coming into this off-season, the health of "Carp" is foremost on most Redbird followers' minds.

Now with spring training only a few days away, Carpenter's health is on the mind of most Cardinal fans. At the Winter Warm Up, Carpenter said that it "feels like a normal January" along with "there is no recovery issue right now." That has to give the team and fans reason for hope.

After the surgery to move the nerve in his elbow in November, he reports that the procedure "did wonders for my elbow." Carpenter added, ""The first week, every day you wake up it's a little cranky, a little sore. You get it going, you start working it every day and it's like anything else. Each day you progress and hope it gets stronger, and that's what it's done."

Looking at the various projections, only the CHONE projections have him projected to pitch over 80 innings this season. How important is that for the team? Every year that Carpenter has made 28 starts or more for St. Louis, the Cardinals have made it to the playoffs. Two of the three seasons the team made a trip to the World Series. The only year the Cards did not make the Fall Classic; Carpenter won the Cy Young Award.

Maybe a better prognosticator would be Dave Duncan, the Cardinals heralded pitching coast. Recently on a St. Louis radio program, Duncan let it be known that he's very encouraged by Carpenter's status. One reason has to be that team trainer Barry Weinberg told him that Carpenter can have a normal routine in spring training. Having his ace from day one gives Duncan the feeling "he'll be in the opening-day rotation." Remember, it was Duncan that didn't believe the team should count on Carpenter when asked about it earlier in the off-season.

The front office is looking for a return on its' investment. Former Cardinal General Manager Walt Jocketty inked the pitcher to a contract extension in December of 2006. The deal was for $63.5 million over five years along with a club option for the 2012 season. Since inking the big dollar deal, Carpenter has given the team 21.1 innings while collecting a reported $19 million. That's around $900,000 an inning, not too shabby. But to be fair, no one wants Carpenter on the mound more than the man himself. I just thought I would point out the risk of giving a big dollar contract to a pitcher especially one with an injury history.

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