The Yankees’ last folk hero was living in a La Quinta Inn next to a Triple-A stadium less than a month ago. It was Matt Carpenter’s off-season home until Mitch Garver returned from the injured list.
Garver, a catcher by trade, had been taken out with a flexor strain in his throwing elbow. So when he returned, he could hit, but not throw. Rangers still wanted his bat and activated Garver on May 19 to be their regular DH. He hit right-handed, but Texas already had a left-hander on a major league contract, much like Carpenter in Brad Miller — a multi-position southpaw who made his career on his bat, not his glove.
And Carpenter had played for the Triple-A Round Rock Express with Josh Smith, a key piece the Yankees sent to Texas last July for Joey Gallo. And Smith was (yeah) a multi-position southpaw closing in on a call (which happened May 30).
Carpenter had agreed to a Triple-A contract to play with the Rangers because Round Rock was closest to his Fort Worth home. Still, it was over two hours away. That combined with the Garver decision and the other leftist alternatives was too much. Carpenter had missed a May 1 opt-out date, believing it was too soon to create an ultimatum with a shortened, late-starting spring and a late start to the season.
But his relationship with Rangers was such that they wouldn’t block him if he wanted out. And on May 19 — with Garver back — Carpenter requested and was granted his release. He was unemployed. He was 35 years old. He was coming off three worse and worse seasons with the Cardinals when, overall, he hit .203 with 22 home runs in 309 games.
Who could have imagined that it was a new beginning, not the end? Who could imagine less than four weeks later, Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels would admit via text: “We probably underestimated Matt’s bat in the short term. He showed in New York that he is capable of pitching in the major leagues.
Carpenter, who has homered seven in 418 plate appearances between 2020 and 2021, has six in 34 plate appearances for the Yankees after going 0 for 4 on Tuesday night in the Yankees’ 2-0 series opener victory. against the Rays. Helpless in 48 plate-limited appearances against left-handers over the past two seasons for the Cardinals (.128 batting average, no homers), Carpenter was 3-for-10 with a brace, two homers and two walks for the Yanks .
In 2013, after two seasons in which he hit .222 with an 86-plus OPS for the Angels, Vernon Wells had a brilliant first six weeks for the Yankees at age 34: .301, 10 home runs and an .895 OPS in 38 games. In the next 92 he hit .199 with a home run and a .495 OPS and Wells’ career was over.
So maybe Carpenter is just Wells (both three-time All-Stars) and enjoying a point push before the curtain goes down. But Aaron Boone is tempted to find out. He set it up as a DH against Tampa Bay and said, “He’s definitely pushing himself through this mix and gaining more and more reps.”
Players whose playing time should be impacted for Carpenter to start more often – Josh Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo and/or Gleyber Torres – are all having great seasons. Giancarlo Stanton can be put in the outfield (as he was on Tuesday) more regularly with Carpenter DHing, but that weakens the defense while increasing Stanton’s injury potential.
But the Carpenter appetizer is such – power and terrific bats – to motivate a reckoning for the Yanks on whether they added an impact bat any club could have had for the prorated minimum a few years ago. weeks as long as he came up with a major league job.
When Carpenter was released, his agent, Bryan Cahill, began emailing teams that had expressed interest in the offseason. The Yankees did not wait. Brian Cashman called Carpenter a “white whale”, a player they had chased for years without success because they couldn’t get the Cardinals to pay enough on his multi-year contract.
“We were interested in him during the offseason. [on a minor league deal] before signing with the Rangers,” said Yankees vice president/assistant general manager Mike Fishman. “In addition to his on-base skills, he was especially good at Yankee Stadium as a left-handed fly-ball hitter. We were aware of all the work Carpenter put in this offseason. [to remake his swing] and the steps he took to make himself better, and we saw the results of his work in Triple-A, especially in May [.324 average/.1.265 OPS/four homers in 43 plate appearances]. So as soon as we learned that he had been released, I reached out to express my interest.
The Yankees, however, had no place in the major league roster. No team either. A few hinted that when the rules changed on May 29 and all teams had to drop to 13 pitchers, a positional slot might open up. On May 26, this rule was pushed back to June 19. But the Yanks had signed Carpenter by then after Stanton joined Donaldson on the IL while Joey Gallo was out with COVID.
A makeshift door had opened for both parties. Carpenter burst punching. It’s a wonderful short story. Can it be more than that?