Yesterday evening, word broke that the Brewers planned to non-tender 1B Chris Carter, the team’s primary power-bat in 2016. Though the decision was not formally announced by the front office themselves, the team would most likely turn down the projected $8.1 million contract that may have came to him through his final season of arbitration.
However, before an official statement was made regarding the position, the Brewers announced the signing of former Toronto Blue Jay Eric Thames this morning. The 30-year old was signed to a three year deal worth $16 million (with a club option for 2020), and is expected to be the new first base option after playing in Korea for the last three years. With the signing in place, the team made an official move of Chris Carter: designating him for assignment to make room for Thames on the filled 40-man roster. The move was a smart choice by David Stearns given the position, as it now allows him more time to formulate a trade with another team with Carter in DFA limbo for the next ten days. The team’s decision to non-tender him would have meant that he could have become a free agent by Friday, December 2nd – but the DFA announcement appears to have superseded that deadline. But between now and the trade, what might we expect to get in return for the co-home run champion, and where might he land?
From the lone season the Brewers had him, his numbers rebounded from an immensely disappointing 2015 campaign – something that many had worried about upon his arrival. He posted career highs in nearly every statistical category while falling short on both his career highs in strikeouts (212 in just 585 PA in 2013) and as the National League’s biggest power threat (tied with Nolan Arenado with 41 HR). There is, of course, something major to be said about his 160 games played this passed season – which attributed to such high numbers (including the 206 K’s). Overall, his ratio’s stood relatively stable to what his career numbers are – not straying far from his 11.6% walk-rate and shaving just over a point off of his 33.1% K-rate. What was even more impressive was his hit rates: he posted a career-low 14.4% soft-hit balls while increasing hard-hit rate to 40.5% (career average of 37.5%). That could be attested to more selectivity, as he swung at 4.9% less pitches in the strike zone compared to last season. The 29 year old has plenty of baseball left in him, and that home run potential could play well for any team looking for some power.
However, Carter doesn’t come without some major flaws. As many people have pointed out, he is literally a ‘swing or miss’ player – seen in his 32% K-rate, which was second only to the Orioles’ Chris Davis (32.9%). His contact rate also continued to play well-below average at 64.7% (usual average is close to 80%). Carter offers little on the basepaths, and his defensive numbers did not impress (-5.2 UZR). Contractually speaking, a team who does acquire him will only have rights to the 2017 season. Beyond that, he will become a free agent barring any extension. But due to the fact that the Brewers planned to non-tender him, the team who does acquire him will have to deal with arbitration negotiations to set his value. While some outlets believe he may be worth around $8.1 million, Carter may ask for a higher price due to his career-year, and the ultimate decision may have to go to court hearings – something neither side particularly enjoys. Simply put, Carter’s offense – or his power – is pretty much where the majority of his value lies.
Issues with Trade Negotiations & Where He Might Land:
Negotiating a deal could be an uphill battle for the Brewers. Right now, the free agent market is filled with players with power upside at first base or designated hitter. Aside from any other non-tender candidates, the list is quite long: Edwin Encarnacion, Pedro Alvarez, Carlos Beltran, Adam Lind, Brandon Moss, Mark Trumbo, Matt Holliday, among numerous others. With Carter, the Brewers have a commodity that is widely believed to be one of the most important offensive, but currently-available traits. His shortcomings both in the field and on the base-paths won’t help matters either compared to some of the other candidates. Also, the signing of Thames made it evident that the Crew plan to move on from him. With GM David Stearns on the clock for making a move, teams could simply wait until he hit the open market to sign him without giving up any assets (though his price would jump and more teams may be interested). Even if a team inquires, the price on Carter is further driven down due to his fluid contract issue. Essentially, they would adopt an arbitration case that could go as high as $8-10 million for a single player – fairly substantial for a limited value. On top of that, they would only retain his rights through next season, unlike the Crew nabbing two years of control when they signed him last offseason. Depending on where interested clubs stand, the one-year commitment may be enticing due to the ability to shed payroll for the 2018 off-season next season. But far, there is believed to be dialogue with teams regarding Chris Carter, though the extent of them are unknown.
Regarding potential teams, the Crew may be best suited in dealing with any American League clubs first and foremost due to the DH rule. That way, a team may keep his power in the lineup while avoiding the possibility of him having to play the field – thus slightly boosting Carter’s value.
Looking into the American League right away still leaves us with a number of potential suitors since many have not yet satisfied their needs this early in the off-season. The Chicago White Sox may be in the business if they feel as though they could compete once again. But with a stretched payroll, as well as the onslaught of Chris Sale rumors, the team may be looking to squeeze value out of cheaper options. With a rebuild that may become supercharged, the New York Yankees may be looking for a little more certainty at first base/DH position. Prospect 1B Greg Bird will be returning after being injured all of last year, but they may look into Carter if they plan to rebuild for a second season. Otherwise, they may be more interested in bigger options out there, such as Edwin Encarnacion. The same could be said for the Boston Red Sox, as they also have a couple of avenues to explore after the retirement of DH David Ortiz. The Baltimore Orioles may also inquire on Carter, as they appear to focus on power in their lineup – seen in the previous signing of 1B/3B Pedro Alvarez. However, they may be inclined to re-sign OF/1B/DH Mark Trumbo instead, or pursue OF Jose Bautista. Even with hopes of re-signing veteran Mike Napoli, the Cleveland Indians may look elsewhere if talks aren’t going well. Two other intriguing options could be both the Minnesota Twins and the Oakland Athletics. Both teams may look to take a step forward similar to the Brewers next season, but are still out of range. They could add Carter early since they may not get many major bites on big-name free agents, and could trade him at 2017’s Trade Deadline. If the Crew wanted to get unique in their talks, they might also discuss Carter with the Detroit Tigers – a team that will look to unload salary in any deals this off-season. However, there may not be any interest since both Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez take up the majority of the playing time at both positions.
Carter’s name could also come up in talks with National League teams. One team that many like to throw out there – myself included – is the Colorado Rockies. They too are in a place somewhere between rebuilding and competing, and could actually be another solid home for Carter with its’ hitter-friendly confines. Adding the co-leaders in home runs together may be a scary combination in the NL West, and it wouldn’t take a ton of resources to do so. They also may be looking to non-tender players for salary space. One win-win scenario could come in a swap of Carter and LHP Jake McGee, who is entering his final arbitration season (projected at $4.8 million). The late-inning reliever was hindered by knee issues last season, and saw his velocity and swinging-strike percentages drop. However, his potential upside paired with the going rate of relievers may be too much to give up from their perspective – prompting a potential RHP Jordan Lyles swap if they were interested in dealing arbitration candidates. The Philadelphia Phillies may also be interested in trading and later swapping Carter at the deadline, as they have the payroll flexibility after 1B Ryan Howard elected free agency. Also, the New York Mets may also not be so keen on 1B Lucas Duda for next season, and may look to find another option to compete after re-signing OF Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year pact.
In any case, in the words of Tristan H. Cockroft, the Brewers were able to “juice the orange” on Chris Carter’s value in 2016. After over-performing his meager $2.5 million salary, his paycheck should reflect the ability he showed last season. Even with the Brewers’ decision to non-tender him, there are a large list of suitors who could be a good fit for him. But with both his near-one dimensional play paired with the clock ticking closer to the deadlines, teams will most likely offer lower-tier prospects or a salary dump in return. A deal could certainly be made, but the primary question that remains will be whether or not Stearns can get a deal done within the allotted time frame.