Matt Carpenter was one of the great surprise stories in baseball in 2022, playing his way off the scrap heap in the minors at age 36 to have a spectacular run as a power hitter for the Yankees — short-lived as it turned out to be.
The long-time St. Louis Cardinal missed the final two months of the season after fouling a ball off his foot, breaking a bone, and the layoff left him rusty when he returned for the postseason, to the point where Carpenter went 1-for-12 with nine strikeouts.
Should the Yankees re-sign him?
WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO LET CARPENTER GO
It’s possible Carpenter simply had a Fountain-of-Youth hot streak in the Bronx. After all, in his previous two seasons with the Cardinals, in 2020 and ’21, he hit .186 and .169 with a total of seven home runs in 180 games.
As such he seemingly was nearing the end of his career, having signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers and then failing to make the opening day roster, when the Yankees signed him in May to fill in for the injured Giancarlo Stanton at DH.
That he got hot and hit .305 with 15 home runs in 47 games, making Carpenter the bargain of the year, but this time around he won’t come so cheap, and it’s probably unreasonable to expect similar production no matter how perfect his lefthanded swing is for Yankee Stadium.
In addition, although he did play 15 games in the outfield and five at first base, Carpenter fits best as a DH at this stage of his career, and the Yankees need to keep that spot open for Stanton as a way of trying to keep him off the Injured List.
Mainly it is likely to be a question of how much interest there is in Carpenter from other teams. If he convinced someone that he’s worth signing to a two-year contract, the Yankees might decide it’s too much of a gamble to offer something similar.
WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO KEEP CARPENTER
Can the Yankees really afford not to find out if Carpenter can keep hitting home runs in the Bronx? The ballpark is built for his left-handed swing, and he made it look so easy going deep there that you’d think there will be a great lure on both sides to see if he can do it for a while longer.
Indeed, it told you what the Yankees thought of him, and how important he became to their offense before the injury, that they kept putting him in the lineup in the postseason even as he continued to strike out, hoping that he’d find his timing and do some damage.
Who could blame them? It’s still kind of stunning to look at the numbers Carpenter put up with the Yankees. He hit .305 with a .412 on-base percentage and an eye-popping .727 slugging percentage. As such his 1.138 OPS was higher than that of Aaron Judgealthough obviously over a much shorter period of time.
Carpenter hit as many as 36 home runs in a season for the Cardinals, but it seemed he was able to tailor his swing perfectly for Yankee Stadium. At the time of his injury, his 60 percent pull rate was the highest of any player in the majors with at least 100 plate appearances, as reported by Fangraphs. In addition, nobody with at least 20 pulled fly balls had turned more of them into home runs than Carpenter, at 60 percent. For context Judge was second at 56 percent.
Had he been more ready for the postseason, he likely could have helped the Yankees put up more of a fight against the Astros.
As one AL scout told me, “The right field fence in Houston isn’t much farther than it is at Yankee Stadium. If Carpenter was in rhythm it’s possible he hits a few home runs and that series has a different feel to it.”
Scouts I spoke to think Carpenter could get offers for around $10 million for one year with appearance incentives that could take it higher, although they don’t see a team offering him a multi-year deal.
In that case it’s hard to see the Yankees passing on the opportunity to bring him back in 2023, even if Hal Steinbrenner‘s budget gets stretched thin by a mega-deal with Judge.
“You know the old saying, there’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract,” one scout said. “Well, I’d say that goes double when it’s for a guy who turned into Babe Ruth for you for a few months.”
In other words: Carpenter stays.