MLB Free Agency: Chris Carter Is Just as Enticing as the Other Available Sluggers
The MLB free-agent market has taken on a mind of its own this winter. After all, it's not every year that two of the league's top home run hitters -- Chris Carter and Mark Trumbo -- are still looking for jobs with spring training about a month away.
Carter's case is especially interesting because he was forced into it. Despite tying Nolan Arenado for the National League lead in homers (41) and having his best overall offensive season since becoming an everyday player in 2013, the Milwaukee Brewers opted to not tender him a contract instead of paying $8.1 million for his services in 2017 via the arbitration process.
One would imagine that becoming a free agent after setting new personal bests in a number of offensive categories would make it easier to find a new job, but not so much.
For the time being, the power-hitter market is being held up by three big names: Trumbo, Mike Napoli and Jose Bautista. Once these sluggers find a new home, it'll allow Carter to finally get a sense of who is seriously interested in him.
Carter should be just as enticing as the others -- if not more.
Trending Up in 2016
After a lackluster 2015 campaign with the Houston Astros where he slashed .199/.307/.407 with 24 home runs, 64 RBI's, a 104 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR, Carter became a free agent after getting non-tendered (so, he's used to this). When he signed with the Brewers, it had many fantasy baseball owners salivating at the fact that he'd be playing his home games at Miller Park.
While that stadium is much friendlier to left-handed hitters, Carter responded with a career year from the right side of the plate.
Carter's raw power is obviously the most attractive part of his game, especially since he strikes out a ton (32.0% strikeout rate in 2016), is not a good baserunner (-4.1 BsR last year) and not exactly adept with the glove (-5 DRS and -5.2 UZR in 2016).
However, these attributes sound awfully familiar.
Comparing to Other Big-Name Sluggers
As mentioned earlier, Carter's market hasn't yet gained much clarity, and that's mostly because Napoli, Trumbo and Bautista are still unemployed. While Bautista is the only one who can play the outfield (Trumbo did a little in 2016, but his -11 DRS and -7.7 UZR beg to differ), they all profile best as designated hitters.
With that in mind, let's compare Carter's 2016 stats above to the others who are basically holding everything up.
Not much of a difference, right? The only category Carter finishes last in is wRC+, and that's by the slimmest of margins. Players like Napoli and Bautista have been around longer and have better track records, which is nice, but that's not what teams want to pay for in 2017. They want to pay for their anticipated production in -- you guessed it -- 2017 and beyond.
Here's what the Steamer projections are currently looking like for these four heading into the upcoming season.
Once again, it's not as if there's a drastic difference from one hitter to the next. The biggest perceived difference is cost -- both in terms of actual money and the value of a future prospect.
Trumbo has been linked to the Baltimore Orioles virtually all winter, and while both sides were reportedly comfortable with a four-year commitment, it's the compensation that's put a snag in everything. It's now looking less likely that MLB's 2016 home run champion will re-sign with the club. Finding another home could be tough because he has draft-pick compensation attached to him after rejecting a qualifying offer.
Napoli didn't get a qualifying offer, but he was originally looking for a three-year deal. Per reports, his demand has been lowered to a two-year deal, and the Texas Rangers have been seriously interested for most of the last month, although they still can't come to an agreement. It's even gotten to the point where Texas has explored other options, like checking in on Trumbo.
How about Carter, though?
He's on the same level with regard to production and won't be nearly as expensive. He obviously didn't get the opportunity to reject a qualifying offer, so no draft picks are attached to him, and he'll most likely be signing a one-year deal for no more than his 2017 arbitration projection, which was $8.1 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors.
After being fixated on certain sluggers for most of the winter and not having things work out, it could be time to move on for the Rangers and Orioles, which would mean those are the best potential fits for Carter.
Why? Well, he's a right-handed power hitter who can play some first base, but he'll probably mostly slot into a designated-hitter role, which sounds an awful lot like the higher profile names they've been pursuing most of the winter.
Why keep chasing those options when there is a similar one who can be had at a much lower cost?
Carter is by no means an elite offensive player -- getting non-tendered two winters in row despite slugging 65 homers during that time shows that. However, it doesn't make sense to see him sit on the sidelines and wait for guys like Napoli, Trumbo and Bautista to sign somewhere when he can provide the same kind of production at a fraction of the cost.