There was a time about midway through this season when Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and his knack for timely hits left even his teammates searching for ways to describe him. Second baseman Matt Carpenter explained that in the dugout and around the clubhouse they had settled on a simple solution.
He called Molina’s production “a joke.”

Guess it takes one to know one.

In his first year as an everyday player Carpenter has taken a red pen to the Cardinals’ record books and scrawled his name among the giants. He has the souvenirs to prove it. Carpenter has the baseball he hit to break a record held by Albert Pujols and the actual base he reached to surpass a 60-year-old record set by Stan Musial. He also challenged or reached records set by Lou Brock and Vince Coleman and only Cardinals Hall of Famers like Rogers Hornsby and Red Schoendienst had better seasons at second base than Carpenter who had never played the position regularly before this spring.

Carpenter has name-dropped all season and by matching such players from the past he has rewritten how the Cardinals view his and their future.

“I don’t know where we would be without him” manager Mike Matheny said. “I’m trying to say the same thing to people willing to listen. You watch what he’s done and the numbers that he’s put up and you have to consider how he’s redefined himself. We knew that he was a very important part of the puzzle for us. This year he’s defined himself as a top-level player. The All-Star Game was an indicator of that. The consistency we’ve seen in his approach what he’s done offensively and we know he can be flexible in a number of positions — he’s a special player.

“I see him as an integral piece to our team.”

When Carpenter made the move this past offseason to second base the Cardinals presented it as a way to get his bat in the lineup. Left unsaid was how temporary the assignment was. The Cardinals have shuffled through second basemen in recent seasons — from Mark Grudzielanek to Ronnie Belliard Aaron Miles to converted-from-outfielder Skip Schumaker — and the long-term solution for the position was on the horizon. Kolten Wong was coming. Carpenter seized the starting job and with his production — the best at the position in the National League by many measures — and has the Cardinals considering whether he’s a placeholder at the position or a permanent answer.

Carpenter’s versatility gives the Cardinals several directions they could go this winter. Carpenter’s position through the minors was third base where David Freese is the incumbent. Eligible for arbitration again this winter Freese could price himself out of that role leaving it open for Carpenter who is not eligible for arbitration until after 2014. Or the Cardinals could look at keeping Carpenter at second and refigure the plan for Wong who hit .303 with a .369 on-base percentage at Class AAA before an August promotion to the majors. General manager John Mozeliak said the spot he’s sure Carpenter will have next season for the Cardinals is in the lineup.