So What of First Base in Milwaukee?
In case you missed the news yesterday, there was a free agent signing reported and quickly announced following the reveal of the 2016 MLB Hall of Fame class.
What follows is the official press release:
The Milwaukee Brewers have signed free agent first baseman Chris Carter to a one-year contract. To make room on the 40-man roster, the team designated catcher Josmil Pinto for assignment. The announcement was made by General Manager David Stearns.
“We are pleased to be able to add Chris to our organization,” said Stearns. “Over the past three seasons, Chris has proven to be one of the most consistent power threats in the game. We believe that his skills and experiences will complement our team well and provide additional production to our lineup.”
Carter, 29, has hit 90 home runs over the last three seasons (29, 37, 24), which ranks eighth in Major League Baseball. He started 112 games for the Astros this past season (105 G at 1B, 7 G at DH) and led the team in walks (57).
Carter was a key component in the Astros capturing an American League Wild Card spot in 2015 as he batted .353 (12-for-34) with 6 HR and 10 RBI over the team’s final 15 games, beginning September 18. Of anyone with at least 35 plate appearances during this stretch, Carter led the Major Leagues in OPS (1.376) and slugging percentage (.971) as the Astros edged the Angels by one game to earn a postseason berth.
Carter continued his hot hitting into the playoffs as he batted .294 (5-for-17, 3 BB) with 1 HR and 1 RBI. He started at first base in all six of Houston’s postseason games and fell a triple shy of the cycle in Game 3 of the American League Division Series vs. Kansas City (3-for-3, 2 R, 1 RBI).
Originally selected by the White Sox in the 15th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, Carter is a career .217 hitter in the Major Leagues with 109 HR and 280 RBI in 528 games with Oakland (2010-12) and Houston (2013-15).
Now for my own commentary:
After trading both incumbent Adam Lind and his primary backup Jason Rogers in the month of December, the Brewers had a sizable hole at first base. Enter the large-framed Carter.
Carter packs a punch at the plate with his prodigious power potential. There exists no doubt to his ability to clear Major League fences…when he makes contact. What they didn’t, and shouldn’t, tell you in the press release is that Carter finished with a .199 batting average in 2015, even with that final two-week flurry. He also struck out 151 times in 391 AB. Carter once led the league with 212 strikeouts back in 2013.
It’s not all negative though. His on-base skills are existent as he still walked 57 times last year to finish with an on-base percentage over .300. It’s not great, but let me frame it for you. Despite a batting average between 50 and 60 points lower, over the last two seasons he still got on base at a better clip than, for example, Jean Segura (OBPs of .289 and .281, respectively, over those years) and Scooter Gennett (.294 OBP in 2015). But they don’t exactly have the power that Carter does.
And oh, that power!
90 home runs over the last three years (including a high of 37 in 2014) is what keeps Chris Carter in the big leagues. Sure, Minute Maid Park in Houston has the Crawford Boxes which help right-handed hitters, but as we all know Miller Park isn’t exactly a pitcher’s paradise.
He’s not considered a good defender, but neither was Adam Lind who turned in a good year with the glove in 2015. Perhaps there’s something to coaching up a bit on defense. At the very least Carter’s 6’5″ frame (and resultant wingspan) offers a big target for the other Brewers infielders to target on their assists.
Finally, it must be mentioned that Carter left the Astros by way of non-tender as this is his first off-season of arbitration eligibility. There obviously won’t be a hearing as he is signed to a $2.5 million deal for 2016 (with an additional $500 thousand in incentives), but he’s under team control for longer than just 2016. If he proves capable but not quite flippable, the Brewers could continue to hold onto him for the next couple of years. Then again if Carter has the bounce-back season he envisions, perhaps he’ll be under some other team’s control after a mid-season trade.
That’s the other benefit too many people are overlooking. Call it the “Billy Beane” if you want to. The Brewers’ chances of winning the World Series in 2016 are admittedly between slim and none. That said, if you get a short-term asset like a Carter to realize his full power potential before the July 31st trading deadline, he could prove a desirable asset to a contender at which point you could flip him for additional young talent to continue feeding the timeline of future contention.
As for the worst-case scenario? Carter’s batting average drops even lower, he strikes out even more, he still hits some #dingerz, and the Brewers non-tender him next off-season after spending a paltry sum for his services.
This is pretty much a can’t lose signing because even the worst-case scenario isn’t the end of the world. That’s part of the beauty of one-year deals.
I think the team will benefit from the presence of Chris Carter being on the field in Brewers blue this year. Where it goes from there remains to be seen but as fans let’s enjoy the power while we can and let GM David Stearns worry about the fallout down the road.