For months we've been reading article after article about this potentially being Pujols' last year in St. Louis and what that means for the future of the franchise. While Albert's situation has the widest-ranging impact, somewhat lost in the shuffle is the fact that we may also be witnessing Chris Carpenter's last year wearing the Birds on the Bat. And it likely has little to do with Carp's so-so start to 2011.
The Cardinals have a $15M option on Carp for 2012, with a $1M buyout. That $14M bogey might prove to be too much to spend on Carp at this stage of his career. Consider that the Cards have Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook under contract for next year, and they still have club control over Garcia and McClellan. Add to that the expected return of Adam Wainwright, and you already have a five man rotation right there. Even though Adam's availability for Opening Day 2012 is uncertain, the Cardinals expect him back in he first half of 2012. They may certainly try to fill in until Adam returns, rather than spend $14M on Carpenter, who turns 37 next April. This will be especially true if Carpenter continues to pitch like he has thus far in 2011: not terrible, but not ace-like either.
An injured Chris Carpenter signed with the Cards in 2002 for a paltry 1 year/$500K offer. Who would have thought he'd go on to be one of the Cards' key performers over the rest of the decade? Even though injuries were a big part of his time in St. Louis, he was a key part of multiple division champions, a couple of pennants and a World Series championship. With the 2006 World Series tied at a game a piece, he gave a lights-out, 3 hit performance over eight innings that set the tone for the rest of the series and led the way to Championship #10. He won the 2005 Cy Young for the Birds, and probably should have won again in 2009, when he narrowly finished second.
Carp is a class act and is arguably the best Cardinal pitcher since Gibson. If this does turn out to be his last year, he will be missed.