The Cubs’ search for value in free agency may bring them around to a familiar face who once terrorized them as a rival. With José Abreu already off the board thanks to a big offer from the Astros, Jed Hoyer’s front office is said to “have a level of interest” in former Cardinal Matt Carpenter. That comes from Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney, who wrote in The Athletic that agents are doubtful of the Cubs’ willingness to go big on one player this winter.
The 36-year-old Carpenter reinvented himself with the Yankees last season, hitting six homers over his first 10 games with the club and posting a 1.138 OPS with 2.3 fWAR in just 154 plate appearances. That’s a higher WAR total than he had put up in the previous three seasons combined, which is why the Cards declined his 2022 option. He signed a minor league deal with the Rangers but failed to make the Opening Day roster and then ended up accepting an assignment to Triple-A. The Rangers released Carpenter in mid-May and he joined the Yankees a week later as a better version of himself than ever.
That he was able to do that at all is incredible, but breaking out again at an advanced age while playing multiple positions was a tremendous shock. It would be even more shocking if Carpenter is able to repeat anything close to that level of production as a 37-year-old who averaged around a 90 wRC+ from ages 33-35. Without speculating or casting any aspersions, there’s additional pessimism about any aging players maintaining surprisingly youthful performances now that MLB and the players union have agreed to resume blood testing for HGH.
I want to be very clear that I’m not suggesting anything untoward with Carpenter specifically, it’s just that suspicions about increased PED usage in general went up with the suspension of testing due to pandemic protocols. So when you see an aging player putting up career-best power numbers at a time when the league was manipulating baseballs to reduce pop, well, people might question it.
Even if we strike those outside factors from consideration, it’s hard to see Carpenter’s time with the Yankees as anything other than an aberration. Would his numbers have held up if he’d logged 300 PAs? What about 500? The Cubs wouldn’t be asking that of him, not unless something has gone wrong with Matt Mervis or another would-be mainstay, so I suppose it’s not unreasonable to hope for another recurrence of small-sample magic.
That said, I’m not really digging this unless the level of interest in question hovers just above zero. More than any of the other potential moves we’ve talked about the Cubs making, this one strikes me as having much less upside with the potential to crap out completely.