Hey, we’re back for part two of our series on Milwaukee’s arbitration eligible players. For a primer on arbitration, visit the link below for the first article in this series, Scooter Gennett. Today we move slightly stage right and take a look at Chris Carter’s case. Gabe covered this a bit in his NPIND series a fortnight ago as well, so just skip on over there instead if you hate my guts.
Here are the arbitration eligible Brewers (schedule subject to change at the discretion of the author, who is very busy and important):
2B Scooter Gennett – Nov. 19
1B Chris Carter – Nov. 22 (That’s this one, guy)
OF Kirk Niewenhuis – Nov. 23
C Martin Maldonado – Nov. 24
RHP Carlos Torres – Nov. 25
RHP Wily Peralta – Nov. 26
RHP Chase Anderson – Nov. 26
RHP Tyler Thornburg – He’s getting tendered.
Is Chris Carter good?
Well, there’s different ways to define good. He seems like a generally affable and agreeable sort of fellow, usually having a smile on his face, so he’s probably a pretty decent son of a gun. He’s likely the type of man you might, when discussing him with mutual acquaintances at a dinner party or other social event, say, “Oh, Chris! Boy, I sure do miss that guy, I haven’t seen him in quite some time. It’s too bad he’s not here tonight! Remember the time he helped me out when I was entangled in that predicament?” What I’m saying is that if you were friends with Chris Carter on Facebook, you’d probably Like most of his statuses. Ho ho! There’s Chris at it again. He’s always hooking us, his friends and family, up with the hottest memes. What an entirely satisfactory chap.
That’s probably not what you meant though. In a baseball sense, Chris Carter seems pretty good, right? He led the National League in home runs (41, tied with Nolan Arenado and predicted by right down to the number of dingers), banged out an .821 OPS and was generally 12% better than league average at the plate. You know what else is 12% better than average? Iron Man 2. It’s not anyone’s favorite movie, but if you were hanging out at your buddy’s parents’ cabin up in Door County and he said, “Hey we should watch Iron Man 2, for some reason it’s the only DVD we have here,” you wouldn’t skip it and play Sorry instead, you’d watch it.
Except, and here’s the thing, Chris Carter was a first baseman, which means he probably needs to be more than 12% better than average, especially if his defensive play style is gonna be, “Ah, dang. Ha ha whoops, sorry guys.”
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Carter ranked 19th in fWAR (0.9), 15th in wRC+ (112), and trailed only Chris Davis with a 32.0% strikeout rate among qualified first basemen. Like Scooter Gennett, the run of the mill Milwaukee baseball fan who only watches Brewers games might be inclined to believe that Chris Carter is a league average first baseman, and maybe even among the best. Again however, though it’s certainly closer for Carter, the numbers belie that notion.
So Chris Carter is slightly better than average, but also worse than average?
Look, I can slow it down for you if you need. You’re not big sports guys?
No no, we get it!! We’re not nerds!
So Chris Carter is Iron Man 2. And that was fine in 2016, when he cost $2.5 million and no one really expected a whole lot out of him — the Brewers weren’t competing anyway, and Carter was brought in on a “prove it” deal to show he belonged in the majors. He certainly did that, and he especially excelled in the categories that tend to have an outsized effect on arbitration salaries like home runs and RBI. Consequently, MLB Trade Rumors projects Carter to receive $8.1 million next season, more than a 200% raise over his 2016 pay. Is he worth that? Ehhh. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs agree that Carter was worth 0.9 wins above replacement last season, and each point of WAR represents about $6-8 million in free market value. That’s a bit on the high side for Carter, whose salary will be inflated due to his tendency to hit prodigious dingers.
So should the Brewers tender Carter?
Well, here’s the thing. If they don’t, just who the dang heck is gonna play first base? Milwaukee doesn’t have any other first basemen on the major league roster, there aren’t any major league-ready prospects in the upper echelons of the farm system, and all of their ex-shortstops (Jonathan Villar, Hernan Perez, Yadiel Rivera) are busy playing other positions or serving as primary backups all over the diamond.
Convert Ryan Braun to first base though!
“Oh ho,” said the smirking Brewers fan with a memory that is exactly one year long, “they traded Adam Lind away last season and we were able to find Carter to replace him!” Sure, but Adam Lind was the first legitimate starting first baseman the Brewers have had since Prince Fielder left, and Carter was as likely as not to work out the way he did. I am not trying to have another half decade of Yunieski Betancourts and Mat Gamels. Additionally, never interrupt me again, imaginary dissenter that I just made up for the purpose of this paragraph. This is my show.
Yes, let’s make sure we get that contract tender to Mr. Carter. He’s likely to cost a little more than he’s worth, but the Brewers are likely to have a bottom five payroll anyway. A historically weak free agent class means some dinger-obsessed squadron who misses out on the Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo sweepstakes may come in and offer Milwaukee too much for Carter’s services; the Brewers’ haul for Adam Lind last winter from Seattle is a model. In that scenario, the Brewers could wing it on another lottery ticket placeholder — maybe even another former Astro. Otherwise, Carter will man first base again and put butts in seats with his massive dongs.