Yankees fan favorite's return could be key to Juan Soto trade

The Yankees could help the Padres out by bringing home an old friend.

Atlanta Braves v San Diego Padres
Atlanta Braves v San Diego Padres / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

Matt Carpenter might be beloved in St. Louis, but his bat has never been more scorching than it was during his two-month power surge with the Yankees in 2022.

If New York had a shot -- even just a minute chance -- of being able to recapture the magic they lost when Carpenter fractured his foot in Sept. 2022, they should probably take it. If such a shot comes with a year (or more) of Juan Soto and helps facilitate his transition back to the east coast, all the better!

Now, this suggestion -- recently posited in The Athletic -- is a little silly. Soto is a free agent. The prospect cost of a trade for one year of Soto will be much less than the 2.5-year version who changed hands at the 2022 deadline. If the Yankees aren't willing to pay up without introducing significant caveats, then that's another embarrassing indictment. It's akin to how the Red Sox wound up with a weakened package in exchange for Mookie Betts because they insisted on attaching David Price's money, though it's the other way around.

In the past, we've wondered whether offering to absorb Jake Cronenworth's long-term money could entice the Padres to choose the Yankees in the Soto bidding, even though adding a regressing Cronenworth through 2030 isn't exactly appealing. If the Yankees can make the same play, but with Carpenter's money, a much shorter financial commitment, that might be an impressive balancing act. Slightly lower prospect cost, clubhouse favorite returns, and at the end of the year, you can wash your hands of all of it (though you shouldn't, you should extend Soto).

"To sweeten potential trades for Soto, the Yankees could absorb 2022 clubhouse favorite Matt Carpenter’s $5.5 million next season. Carpenter’s production plummeted with San Diego and that signing turned out to be a giant bust for the Padres. They could also inquire about utility infielder Jake Cronenworth, who signed a seven-year, $80 million extension but has regressed in back-to-back seasons."

Chris Kirschner

Yankees could trade for Juan Soto, Matt Carpenter's salary this offseason

If Carpenter remains a nonentity (.176, -0.3 bWAR in 2023), then even his $5.5 million salary would be an overpay, and the Yankees would be better off sending an additional Rule 5-eligible guy over in trade instead. But if being willing to take on the Padres' burdens, no matter how small, is the difference between being selected in the Soto chase and being passed over? Yes. Absolutely. Welcome back, Matty Mustache.

Hopefully, Carp's return to the bench is all it takes, rather than a much longer and more complex Cronenworth conversation.