Yankees are considering whether Matt Carpenter may be a longer-term answer

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Yankees are considering whether Matt Carpenter may be a longer-term answer

The Yankees’ newest folk hero was living at a La Quinta Inn next to a Triple-A stadium less than a month ago. That was Matt Carpenter’s home during the season until Mitch Garver returned from the injured list.

Garver, a catcher by trade, had been out with a flexor strain in his throwing arm. When he returned he could hit but not throw. Still wanting his slugger, Rangers activated Garver on May 19 to be their regular DH. He hit the right, but Texas already had a left-hander on a major league deal, much like Carpenter in Brad Miller — a multi-position left-hander who’s made his career with his bat rather than his glove.

And Carpenter had played with Josh Smith for the Triple-A Round Rock Express, a key play the Yankees sent to Texas for Joey Gallo last July. And Smith was (yep) a multi-position left swinger nearing a call-up (which came May 30th).

Carpenter had agreed to a Triple-A contract to play with the Rangers because Round Rock was the closest to his home in Fort Worth. Still, it was more than two hours away. That together with the Garver decision and the other left alternatives was too much. Carpenter had missed an opt-out date of May 1 because he believed it was too early to issue an ultimatum of a delayed, truncated spring and delayed 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 asked for his release and got it. He was unemployed. He was 35 years old. He was just coming off three declining seasons with the Cardinals when he hit a .203 overall with 22 home runs in 309 games.

Matt Carpenter
Matt Carpenter
Corey SIPKIN

Who knew this was a new beginning, not the end? Who could have imagined less than four weeks later that Jon Daniels, president of Rangers baseball operations, admitted via text message, “We probably underestimated Matt’s bat in the short term. He showed in New York that he can play in the major leagues.”

Carpenter, who hit seven home runs in 418 plate appearances between 2020-21, has six of 34 plate appearances for the Yankees after going 0-4 in the Yankees’ 2-0 opening win over the Rays on Tuesday night. In 48 limited plate appearances against lefties over the past two seasons for the Cardinals (.128 batting average, no homers), helpless, Carpenter was 3-for-10 with a double, two homers and two walks for the Yanks.

In 2013, after two seasons in which he hit .222 with 86 OPS plus for the Angels, Vernon Wells at age 34 had a brilliant first six weeks for the Yankees: .301, 10 homers and .895 OPS in 38 games. In the next 92 he hit .199 with a homer and a .495 OPS and Wells’ career was over.

So maybe Carpenter is just Wells (both were triple All-Stars) enjoying a climax before the curtain falls. But Aaron Boone is tempted to find out. Using him as a DH against Tampa Bay, he said, “He’s certainly pushing his way into this mix and he’s deserving of more and more replays.”

The players whose playing time would have to be impacted for Carpenter to play more often — Josh Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo, and/or Gleyber Torres — are all having a good season. Giancarlo Stanton can be put outfield more regularly with Carpenter DHing (like he was on Tuesday), but that weakens defense and increases Stanton’s injury potential.

But the Carpenter appetizer is such—power plus great bats—that they make the Yanks want to know if they’ve added a batter that any club could have had for the apportioned minimum a few weeks ago as long as they could with one came major league job.

Matt Carpenter
Matt Carpenter
Corey SIPKIN

When Carpenter was released, his agent, Bryan Cahill, began emailing teams that had expressed interest off-season. The Yankees didn’t wait. Brian Cashman called Carpenter “a white whale,” a player they had unsuccessfully pursued for years because they couldn’t get the Cardinals to pay back his multi-year contract sufficiently.

“We were interested in him in the off-season [on a minor league deal] before signing with Rangers,” said Mike Fishman, Yankees vice president/assistant GM. “In addition to his on-base skills, he was a particularly good fit at Yankee Stadium as a left-handed fly-ball pull hitter. We were aware of all the work Carpenter has done this offseason [to remake his swing] and the steps he took to get 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]. When we heard that he had been released, I got in touch to express my interest.”

However, the Yankees did not have a roster spot in the major leagues. Neither really a team. Some suggested that when the rules changed on May 29 and all teams had to drop to 13 pitchers, a position spot could become vacant. On May 26, this rule was moved to June 19. But the Yanks had signed Carpenter by then after Stanton joined Donaldson on the IL while Joey Gallo was away with COVID.

A door of happiness had opened for both sides. Carpenter erupted in punches. It’s a wonderful short story. Can it be more?

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