TCN St. Louis Cardinals 2021 Top Story #9: Three Long-Time Cardinals Depart

photo: Jack Flaherty, Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler (USA TODAY Sports)

Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez and Dexter Fowler logged a total of 24 years of service with St. Louis. But as 2021 concluded, the three veterans are now former Cardinals. The trio represent a move by the club to shed underperforming/overpaid veterans while making room for younger, cheaper and perhaps better performing in-house alternatives.

Third baseman Carpenter, 36 years of age, and starting pitcher/reliever Martinez, age 30, were homegrown Cardinals, first signing with the organization in 2009 and 2010, respectively. As a free agent, outfielder Fowler moved to St. Louis for the 2017 season after nine years in the majors with the Rockies, Astros and Cubs.

Matt Carpenter

St. Louis had team options on the services of Carpenter and Martinez for 2022, but declined to exercise them, making the pair free agents following the 2021 season. As the current MLB lockout continues, the two have yet to sign for 2022.

Carlos Martinez

Fowler departed for the Angels in trade just before spring training 2021 opened, with the lion’s share of the final year of his financial commitment covered by St. Louis. His contract expired at the end of the season and the 35-year-old is also a free agent.

Dexter Fowler

The switch-hitting Fowler played in 389 games for the Cardinals from 2017-2020. He had a career-best 19 home runs and 67 RBI during the 2019 season, as the club advanced to the National League Championship Series. Fowler clashed at times with former manager Mike Matheny, and as a Cardinal, he performed above league average in only one of four years, with a 122 OPS+ in his initial season with St. Louis. His spotty performance coupled with his five-year, $82 million contract made Fowler a frequent target for unhappy fans. In the Cardinals lineup, Fowler was replaced in right field by top prospect Dylan Carlson.

As a Cardinal, Martinez logged a record of 62-52 with an ERA of 3.74. The two-time National League All-Star (2015 and 2017) also saved 31 games when injuries pushed him into relief. He will finish his major league career with another team after his Cardinals time was successful but fell consistently short of expectations, marred by inconsistency and erratic behavior off the field. In letting Martinez go, the Cardinals declined their 2022 and 2023 options totaling $35 million that followed his prior five-year, $51 million contract.

Carpenter’s offensive performances from 2011 through 2018 put him in the upper echelon of Cardinals hitters, but a rapid decline the last three seasons led to him becoming a reserve in 2021. He was a three-time All-Star (2013, 2014 and 2016) and earned a Silver Slugger Award in 2013. Carpenter finished in the top 12 in the National League Most Valuable Player Award voting three times, with his best showing fourth in 2013.

In April 2019, as part of a flurry of player extensions being granted across MLB, the Cardinals signed Carpenter to a two-year extension for $39 million, with a team option for 2022. The long term deal, made a year before he would be eligible for free agency, turned out to be a poor decision for the club, a common thread the three former Cardinals share.

PS. In hindsight, I could have also included another underperforming ex-Cardinal in this article. Andrew Miller’s two-year, $25 million contract expired at the conclusion of the 2021 season and the 36-year-old left-handed relief pitcher is another high-priced veteran not expected back in 2022.

Andrew Miller

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