As Chicago Cubs fans, we are all very well-aware of the trajectory of Matt Carpenter’s career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Older breakout, stretch of mystifying dominance, rapid and stark decline. As far as I was concerned, that was the whole story heading into 2022, and I kinda couldn’t believe he was going to hit up the minor leagues and still try to make a go of it.
What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time – just about no one in baseball did – was the extent to which Carpenter had successfully overhauled his swing (with the help of Joey Votto), and the life it could re-inject into his bat. More on that in a moment, because I’ll get to the rumor now, via Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney:
Besides first basemen Josh Bell and Trey Mancini, the Cubs also have a level of interest in Matt Carpenter as a left-handed hitter who remade his swing to post a 1.138 OPS in 47 games this year with the Yankees. Carpenter, 37, would bring credibility after notching three All-Star selections with the St. Louis Cardinals, playing in 14 postseason series throughout his career and showing the willingness to reinvent himself with the help of people like Joey Votto.
We already knew about Bell and Mancini, but Carpenter is definitely a new name.
On a one-year deal, *COORDINATED WITH OTHER MOVES*, I wouldn’t hate this one. At least now that Jose Abreu is gone, and I have mixed thoughts on Bell and Mancini.
The story on Carpenter of late is that he reinvented himself post-Cardinals, proved it out in the Rangers’ minor league system, wound up with the Yankees and exploded over the course of 154 PAs this past season: .305/.412/.727/217 wRC+, with a 13.7% barrel rate and just about every good peripheral you could imagine.
There are considerable “buts,” though, in addition to the very small sample. For one, Carpenter just turned 37. For another, he missed the final two months of the season with a broken foot (foul ball), and his return in the postseason didn’t show anything good, so it’s hard to know whether there was an impact going forward. For still another, Carpenter was mostly limited to DH’ing for the Yankees (they had first and third covered), so it’s hard to know how the glove plays anymore.
For what it’s worth, Steamer projects .221/.323/.408/108 wRC+ for Carpenter, which would sadly be a pretty huge upgrade for the Cubs at first base, and/or coordinated with Patrick Wisdom in some platooning (Carpenter is mostly split-neutral for his career, but hits righties a little better). Carpenter did still play a lot of third base in his later days with the Cardinals, still rating as acceptable over there. So he might not just be a first base/DH guy, which, if true, would make him a pretty valuable guy at that slash line.
It would also make it so that he wouldn’t block Matt Mervis if and when he’s ready to go.
Carpenter was FanGraphs’ 43rd ranked FA (predicted one year, $6 to $9 million), and I think the write up really sums things up well:
As someone who is supposed to predict the future with some semblance of accuracy, I can confidently say that I didn’t see this one coming. Thankfully, nobody else really did either, and misery loves company. Thanks to his age and his dreadful showing in 2020 and ‘21, Carpenter didn’t even land a major league job entering this season. He spent the late spring as the starting first baseman for Triple-A Round Rock, and though he hit well, the Rangers released him rather than add him to their roster.
An injury-plagued Yankees team scooped him up, and to everyone’s surprise, Carpenter was an offensive machine for New York in the second half of the season. In just 154 plate appearances, he hit 15 home runs to go with a .305 batting average. That’s better than Aaron Judge’s PA/HR rate, and the Yankees didn’t even protect Carpenter against southpaws, something the Cardinals tried to do in his final seasons in St. Louis to maximize his value as a role player. Carpenter hit five homers against lefties, a mark he’s only bested twice in his career, and it only took him 38 plate appearances to do it.
I was too dismissive of Carpenter’s performance with Round Rock, a mistake that other analysts and certainly the Texas Rangers were also guilty of. Yes, it was a small sample, but ZiPS translated his Triple-A line at .236/.323/.494. Even if that is well below the video game numbers he put up with the Yankees, that line would have been an upgrade at first base or designated hitter for a lot of teams. If Carpenter had ended up a Brewer, for instance, Milwaukee would likely have made the playoffs while the Phillies spent the month watching baseball from home.
Now, teams shouldn’t make drastic changes to their plans to accommodate a 37-year-old coming off what might have been his last hurrah. But Carpenter did enough in 2022 that he should at least be back in the free agent picture. To my mind, the ideal destination for him would be a contender with a real need at 1B/DH.
The Cubs would qualify as that “contender” only in a world where Carpenter was just one of a large number of additions to the Cubs. So that’s kind of why I don’t have a super strong reaction in either direction to this rumor. If the Cubs added him, I could see that being fine. But I am not going to BANG THE DRUM for him.