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Yankees sign Matt Carpenter, call up Manny Bañuelos

A former Cardinals All-Star and a once-can’t-miss prospect join the Yankees’ roster with several players banged up.

St. Louis Cardinals v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Shortly after the Yankees polished off their 2-0 victory over the Orioles on Wednesday night, they announced two roster moves. One was demoting spot starter JP Sears, which was expected since he threw over 80 pitches and wasn’t in line to make another turn in the rotation. Manny Bañuelos was already with the team on its taxi squad, so it made sense.

The other had some mystery behind it — demoting fourth outfielder Estevan Florial. There’s nothing terribly wrong with demoting a prospect who’s more likely to get regular playing time down in Triple-A than he would at the moment sitting behind Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo, Miguel Andújar, and Aaron Hicks (who is now also dealing with right hamstring tightness) on the depth chart, but it still sparked the question of what the Yankees would do with Florial’s spot since fellow reserve outfielder Tim Locastro isn’t quite back to health just yet.

Well, now we have the answer and it’s not one that I frankly ever expected to read:

Matt Carpenter! In the year 2022!

Carpenter was a longtime pest in the Cardinals’ lineup, and was really a remarkable player for several years. From 2012-18, the infielder hit .275/.377/.471 with 263 doubles, 133 homers, a 131 OPS+, and 26.8 rWAR, making three All-Star teams and winning the NL Silver Slugger in 2013 en route to the NL pennant. As Carpenter hit his mid-30s though, his game fell off — as often happens with veteran middle infielders. He cratered in 2021 with a .176/.313/.291, 70 OPS+ line in 130 games and St. Louis finally bid him adieu at season’s end.

Carpenter wanted to keep playing though, and he accepted a minor-league contract with the Rangers. After working to retool his swing in the offseason with some help from Joey Votto and Matt Holliday, he hit .275/.379/.613 with six homers and a 140 wRC+ in 21 games at Triple-A. The Rangers released him to allow him to pursue new opportunities, and evidently, this was one that Carpenter had in store.

Is Carpenter’s mini-renaissance for real? Who knows, but this is a minimal-risk signing for the Yankees. The worst-case is that he still stinks and that he’ll be cut as soon as Giancarlo Stanton is ready to come off the injured list from his ankle inflammation. The lineup is also missing Josh Donaldson on the COVID-IL and DJ LeMahieu from day-to-day wrist discomfort that was treated with a cortisone shot. Much in the same line as giving Marwin Gonzalez a non-roster invitee to spring training a couple months ago — sure, why not? Maybe his new swing turns out to be something legitimate. Go nuts, old man.

As previously mentioned, the other far-less-surprising move is calling up Bañuelos. The former Baby Bomber has resurfaced with his original team after quite the journey. Once hailed alongside Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman as part of the elite “Killer B” pitching prospect trio, Bañuelos’ ascent was derailed by Tommy John surgery in 2012 and he never recaptured his earlier form. After being traded during the 2014-15 offseason for a couple relievers (Chasen Shreve and David Carpenter), he did make his MLB debut with the Braves in 2015, but that only lasted seven games.

Bañuelos bounced around the Braves, Angels, Dodgers, and White Sox organizations over the next four years, resurfacing in the majors in 2019 for 16 games with Chicago. Until now, that was his last time in The Show, as he pitched in Taiwan and Mexico from 2020-21. The Yankees came to terms with him on a minor league deal during the offseason lockout, and he caught eyes with quite a solid spring training.

Undeterred despite not making the Opening Day roster, Bañuelos had a 2.35 ERA, 2.88 FIP, and no homers allowed across 30.2 innings at Triple-A Scranton. The 31-year-old southpaw has earned his shot to finally don a Yankees uniform in real games, and he’s just as excited about it as anyone who followed him as a young prospect all those years ago:

Speaking personally, this is a surreal moment given that I was one of those “Killer B” enthusiasts and I’m delighted for ManBan. I have no idea how long he’ll be filling in at the back of the Yankees’ bullpen while Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loáisiga heal up, but I’m almost positive that I’ll get the chills if Aaron Boone calls his number in a game.

That uniform number, by the way? No. 68, just like his old buddy, Betances.

I love it.