The Padres added some punch to their lineup Tuesday, reportedly agreeing to a two-year, $12MM contract with veteran infielder/outfielder Matt Carpenter. Carpenter, a client of SSG Baseball, may opt out of the contract after the 2023 season by declining a 2024 player option. The contract pays Carpenter a $3MM signing bonus and $3.5MM salary for the 2023 campaign, and he’ll have to decide on a $5.5MM player option next winter. He can also reportedly earn $500K bonuses for reaching each of 300, 350, 400, 450, 500 and 550 plate appearances in both seasons of the contract.
Carpenter, who turned 37 years old last month, enjoyed one of the more remarkable rebound campaigns in recent memory this past season. A three-time All-Star with the Cardinals, Carpenter looked to be on the downswing when he posted a combined .176/.313/.291 batting line in 418 plate appearances with St. Louis from 2020-21.
last offseason, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic detailed the manner in which Carpenter reinvented himself, taking a data-driven approach to hitting and enlisting feedback from the likes of Joey Votto, Matt Holiday and a private hitting coach as he revamped his swing and his entire approach at the plate. The Rangers were intrigued enough to sign him to a minor league contract.
We often see stories of veterans making changes late in their careers, but few have found the level of success enjoyed by Carpenter. After hitting .275/.379/.613 in 21 games with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, Carpenter was released by Texas (oops) and signed a Major League deal with the Yankees, for whom he posted a borderline comical .305/ .412/.727 slash. Carpenter mashed 15 home runs in just 154 plate appearances, and while he was surely aided to an extent by the dimensions of Yankee Stadium, he still popped six of those round-trippers and batted .253/.333/.506 on the road.
Simply put — and in rather stunning fashion — Carpenter was baseball’s best hitter on a rate basis in 2022 (min. 100 plate appearances). He led all of baseball in slugging percentage, isolated power (slugging minus batting average) and wRC+ (217), ranked second to only Aaron Judge in terms of on-base percentage, and posted the 12th-best batting average of any player in the game. Carpenter’s rate of “barreled” balls (as defined by Statcast) was elite, and his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate both clocked in comfortably north of the league average. There’s no realistic way to expect him to sustain that pace, but Carpenter has clearly put himself back on the map as a viable big league slugger.
Unfortunately for both team and player, the revitalized Carpenter fouled a ball into his foot in early August, resulting in a fracture that wiped out the remainder of his regular season. A predictably rusty Carpenter jumped directly back onto the Yankees’ playoff roster but went just 1-for-12 with an alarming nine strikeouts between the ALDS and the ALCS.
With the Padres, Carpenter becomes the favorite for DH work, though the Yankees played him at both corner infield slots and in both corner outfield positions in 2022. He’s also logged more than 1900 innings at second base in his career, though defensive metrics on his limited work there in 2021 were unsightly, to say the least. Still, he could potentially serve as an option there in an emergency.
The agreement with Carpenter pushes the Padres to more than $246MM in actual cash payroll for the 2023 season and bumps their luxury-tax ledger to nearly $267MM, as projected by Roster Resource. The Padres are already well into the second tier of penalization and, given that they’re entering their third straight season over the luxury line, are being taxed at a 62% rate on every dollar in the second bracket ($253MM to $273MM) . As such, Carpenter will cost them an additional $3.72MM in taxes for the 2023 campaign.