Chris Carter: Sought Commodity
The last time I did one of these the Rays traded Jake McGee and German Marquez to the Colorado Rockies for Corey Dickerson, the subject of that particular sales pitch. This day I come before you a man with a vision. I cannot merely tell you about what I have seen. Oh no, that would not do. You’ve got to come down the rabbit hole with me to share in seeing the things I’ve seen. Don’t dawdle, there is much to do and time is against us, as ever.
Chris Carter has been mostly an everyday player since 2013, so let’s use the 485 non-pitchers that have seen at least 400 plate appearances since that season began. With our population set we can then dig into Carter’s raw and percentile grades for some of the things that can shed light on his profile as a hitter:
He has been platooned less often than I would have expected, though he also hasn’t shown a massive platoon split throughout his career. More on this in a bit, but first I want to roll through the ranks. Carter was tied with Josh Donaldson for sixth in homers at 131, trailing Mike Trout, David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis and no one else. This is not the kind of hitter that racks up singles. In fact, compared to his peers he had the lowest ratio of singles to hits of anyone in the pool. That means that he also had the highest ratio of hits going for extra bases. That is a good thing!
Moving along to when he doesn’t put the ball in play you can see that he has one of the highest walk and strikeout rates in the league. This is the notorious three-true outcome hitter in the flesh. There’s is nothing wrong with that provided the player actually provides the two good outcomes, but the skillset can be polarizing. All those strikeouts keep the average as one of the lowest in the league, but the walks allow him to still post a league average on-base percentage despite the initial handicap. Additionally, you can see that his power numbers rival those put up by the best in the league. This is what some might refer to as the devil that you know. Yes, there is obvious downside, but without that the positives could not flourish nearly as well, and if they miraculously did he would be a generational level talent that the team would have no chance of ever acquiring.
His batted ball profile shows someone that is smart enough to play to his strengths as, relative to his peers, he never hits a ground ball. He’s just a step below average at hitting liners, but it’s all about the flyball for Chris Carter. That profile does come with an abysmal rate of leaving some of them on the infield. When he does hit them in the outfield he has as good of a chance of the ball leaving the yard as any hitter in the game. His entire game is built around elevating the ball so you can expect further low BABIP, but that is what allows him to put up obscene power numbers.
Adding up the positives and negatives and translating into wOBA/wRC+ you can see that he’s a well above average hitter overall. His approach is fairly middle of the road with high marks for his ability to avoid swinging outside of the zone, but also staying aggressive within. Then you get to his contact scores, and it’s not pretty. Worst in the league contact leads to near-worst in the league swing strike rate so you can see that pretty much everything about him is pretty well deserved to this point.
Somehow he posted a not awful stolen base runs figure, though his work between the bags is about as bad as it gets, though he does avoid the double play pretty well by virtue of his ground ball avoidance. Lastly, he pulls a fairly high amount of balls at the expense of his oppo knocks, but this allows him to avoid soft contact while posting one of the best hard contact rates in the league. Add it all up and you should have a pretty good idea of who Chris Carter is, though I’m guessing many of you already had this exact profile in mind.
So why is he good? Why should the Rays burn precious money in order to bring him in? Well, for one, they need a right-handed bat that can replace what the team will assuredly lose with the recent departure of Logan Forsythe to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Forsythe mauled lefties while holding his own against righties. Additionally, he could play a real position making him more like a three to four WAR player that Carter just can never be with all his warts. However, the team is exceptionally well-positioned to find him time. In looking at who remains as an option to fill the position you immediately become violently ill. Go to page 43.
The left-hand table shows every free agent that was available to sign this offseason. I have ranked by my projected wOBA versus lefties. The methodology has evolved quite a bit since way back when, but this is as good a start as any if you’re interested in from where these numbers come. Suffice to say, Jose Bautista would have been a pretty good get, ya think? Unfortunately, the Rays can’t swim in the deep end so we’re left to chase lesser lights. Steve Pearce probably would have been a nice guy to bring back, but that ship sailed early. However, you can see that Carter profiles pretty similarly to switch hitters Kendrys Morales and Dexter Fowler. The former can’t play a position, either, but the latter certainly brings a ton of production with his capable play in centerfield paired with a bat that rivals one-dimensional good hitters. Criminally underrated, that guy.
Switching over to the right-side where you can see the guys that are still available, and you can see that the pickin’s are gettin’ slim and the shelf is rapidly approaching from whence the player cannot come back. Carter actually presents an even more encouraging stick than even the vaunted Mike Napoli, who I think will sign for more money, and potentially more years, simply by virtue of name recognition. To be fair, Napoli has generally presented as an average or better defender at first base, while Carter is borderline unplayable at the position. While Napoli used to be pretty good I think he’s now probably around average if not a tick below. This shrinks the gap between the two on the defensive side of things, but there’s another factor that could shrink it even further.
I feel that the team would be wise to give the second base responsibilities to Nick Franklin and Tim Beckham to start the year. Give these guys six to nine weeks to see if they’re going to be something like a two to three win platoon. If that’s the case then the team can afford to push decent defenders down the defensive spectrum where they are more likely to show as better contributors. If these two can lock the position down then Brad Miller can get all the righties at first base. This helps in a multitude of ways. 1) it keeps Chris Carter in mostly a DH role for 75-80% of the time. That is a good thing. Additionally, it means that you can give Souza more, or a lot of, rest versus right-handers. Doing so means that both Dickerson and Rasmus can cover the flanks in the outfield. So now you’re looking at something like:
In this scenario I have Mallex Smith going to Durham, and Jason Coats getting the last roster spot. In an ideal world the team utilizes one of his remaining options, and signs Franklin Gutierrez who’s numbers above could be immediately plugged in for Coats who becomes great depth in Durham alongside Mallex Smith. This also means that you’re rolling three platoons:
I would have each righty see every lefty, but also get worked into the mix against righties from time to time to help get guys rest. In that way you can get Beckham 250-300 plate appearances, and probably closer to 400 for Souza with Coats being the biggest loser and first guy shuttled in any event. Adding Gutierrez could allow that role to force more of an even time-share, but I’d rather see Souza against a righty than Guti. Point is, you don’t have to be super rigid to get all six players plenty of time.
This configuration also means that Chris Carter can stay at designated hitter exclusively until you need to clear that spot for Wilson Ramos. The thing is, the Rays are likely to put Ramos on the 60-day disabled list in order to free up an extra 40-man roster spot. If that is the case then it is safe to say that we will not see Ramos until June first, at the earliest, by rule. I think it incredibly likely that by that time you will see one of Franklin, Beckham, Souza or Coats show enough poor performance that you can either cut bait on one of the former two or demote one of the latter two. Once this happens you can then move Miller to 2B nearly full time and let Carter play 1B a little bit where he will certainly be ugly on the surface.
The thing is, Carter is something like a negative ten run defender over an entire season, but over two months with Miller or Ramos still getting a start or three at first base you’re only talking something like 30 or so starts. It is likely that Carter would cost the team a couple of runs, but I don’t think he would be there enough to really put the team in a deep hole. With alternative options like Miller, in house, and Napoli, in free agency, representing more average or slightly worse defense over there it’s not like those guys are going to be making every play, either. So when the team is forced to play him over there I think the effect of his bad defense will be overblown, and it is something the team can absorb. Getting that good of a stick in the lineup would be worth the tradeoff in this case.
While the roster does start to look a little clogged by signing guys like Carter, and hopefully Gutierrez, you’re jamming it with skilled players that can help the team win. Guys like Mallex Smith and Jason Coats profile as very nice depth pieces this year that could probably provide value right now in a platoon role, but are better served as being available to help once the first or fifth injury strikes. My guess is that one of Nick Franklin and Tim Beckham will not be with this team by mid-June when options like Willy Adames, David Robertson, Casey Gillaspie and Jake Bauers might be pounding on the door from below. While the team lacks that explosive superstar to rank alongside Longoria, at the dish anyway, they have plenty of very serviceable options. Carter would give them that extra bat they could use to replace Forysthe (projections of .315 vRHP, .341 vLHP), and when Ramos comes up you’re hopefully forced into making a difficult decision instead of hoping and praying he can get back immediately to fill a need.
More good players is better than less good players. The team has a great opportunity to add one to two more very good batters to the team. They should seize this moment, and then do their best to sort it out later. That’s kind of their thing, anyway. Just worry about increasing the surplus and the other stuff will sort itself out.
Putting some numbers to this I’d hope to get Carter for $5-6M on a one year deal. I think Napoli will ultimately sign for something more in the $8-9M range. With the savings from choosing Carter they can take a legitimate run at Franklin Gutierrez or at the least have enough to take a shot on one of the higher variance relievers.
P.S. I know Billy Butler‘s name shows up pretty strongly here, but I hope the team doesn’t consider him an option.