St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter‘s 2013 season is likely already over, but one has to wonder whether we’ve seen the last of him on a Major League mound after his latest shoulder-related setback.

Citing a recurrence of shoulder numbness, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak announced on Tuesday that Carpenter was “very unlikely” to pitch for the team in 2013, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

It was a similar shoulder injury that was caused by rare a condition called thoracic outlet syndrome in 2012, which limited Carpenter to just three regular season starts. While no definitive statements were made on the 37-year-old’s career outlook, Mozeliak did not seem too optimistic.

When asked whether he expected to see Carpenter pitch again, Mozeliak responded in the negative.

“It’s very unlikely. So, no,” said Mozeliak (per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

Carpenter was not made available for Tuesday’s press conference, so it’s hard to ascertain what his mindset currently is. But perhaps the most interesting nugget of information from the Post-Dispatch’s story on Carpenter’s injury did not actually come on Tuesday. It came in January at the Cardinals’ annual Winter Warm-Up.

Asked about his recovery, Carpenter indicated that he would retire if he suffered another setback.

“If I have more health issues I’m not going to continue to try to battle through,” said Carpenter.

While it’s oftentimes a sticky road to tell someone what to do with their career, Carpenter should at the very least consider heeding his own words and retiring after the 2013 season. Though some would simply say he should hang up the cleats now, there are 12.5 million reasons why Carpenter should stick around for 2013. 

If Carpenter retires, he would forfeit his $12.5 million salary, per Rosenthal. So for him to stick around and play the mentor role for 2013 seems more than a little financially prudent, especially considering the Cardinals can use insurance to pay part of his salary.

But it’s hard to see Carpenter finding a good reason to continue his playing days. Carpenter’s shoulder/neck problems are so serious that Mozeliak said the right-hander “wants to make sure whatever is going on his neck, arm is not going to preclude him from a normal life,” according to USA Today

It’s exactly the type of setback many feared when Carpenter returned earlier than expected for the Cardinals’ postseason run in 2012. Expected to miss the entire 2012 season, Carpenter returned to St. Louis’ rotation on Sept. 21, throwing five solid innings in a loss to the Chicago Cubs.

He would go on to make three total regular-season starts and took the mound three more times in the postseason, where he gave up 10 runs (four earned) in 13.2 innings. While it was certainly a touching sight to see Carpenter battling for his teammates, it was pretty clear he was struggling to find his former greatness. 

Carpenter’s injuries are obviously nothing resembling a fluke. If he indeed sits out the entire 2013 season, it will be the fourth time in the past seven years that Carpenter has made fewer than five starts in a campaign. He’s also had chronic shoulder ailments dating back more than a decade, which was one of the reasons he wound up with the Cardinals in the first place.

Other than simply “loving the game,” there aren’t many reasons for Carpenter to return baseball-wise. Despite having a short run of brilliance, Carpenter is not a Hall of Famer. Not even close. He was a fantastic pitcher who shined brightest whenever the Cardinals needed him, but a 146-97 career record with a 3.76 ERA would barely get him into the “Hall of Very Good.”

More than any other sport, baseball celebrates longevity. Carpenter doesn’t quite have it on a Cooperstown level.

It’s not like Carpenter would be coming back to a guaranteed World Series contender, either. At 20-to-1 odds (per Bovada), St. Louis is currently considered the 12th-best team in Major League Baseball by the oddsmakers. With the Cardinals not exactly being the most splurge-prone team in baseball, it’s hard to see them being all that much higher up the list come 2014.

Though it’s theoretically possible that Carpenter would return with another franchise, that is probably the unlikeliest scenario of all. He’s been an exemplary member of the Cardinals organization and a pillar in the St. Louis community too long to walk away now. If Carpenter was going to leave, he would have already done it. 

There just comes a time where you have to walk away. Carpenter is obviously concerned about his long-term health, and an extra year of baseball isn’t worth jeopardizing his quality of life for the next few decades.

It’s unfortunate, but retirement is the only way Carpenter can guarantee any further damage being done. Just wait until 2014 to officially retire. You gotta get that money first.  

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