One of the odder offseason odysseys has come to a close, with slugging 1B/DH Chris Carter signing with the Yankees for one year and $3.5 million. That seems like chump change for a guy who hit 41 homers for the Brewers last year, co-leading the NL, but for a while there it felt like no one wanted to sign Carter: His agent announced he would consider offers from Japanese teams. So what’s going on here?
Carter’s long free agency and ultimate bargain-basement price is a combination of two factors: a market that no longer values home runs quite so much (or at least is better at putting them into context), and his own glaring deficiencies as a player. To the first one, it’s already been a particularly rough winter for power hitters thanks to a glut of available options, and in the larger picture, MLB front offices have generally wised up to the fact that power is one of the more replaceable attributes, and will no longer pay the premium for it they might have even a few years ago.
But are they overcorrecting here? Thirty years old, Carter has had four full seasons as an everyday starter, and he’s averaged 32.75 homers. He hasn’t ever hit fewer than 24 dingers in a full season. His Isolated Power (ISO), which measures extra bases per at-bat, was fifth in MLB in 2016. All of which is to say he’ll slap the dick off of the ball, and even if last season featured some career highs, none of it was a fluke.
Look at this whack:
And the Yankees are getting this for less than the average MLB salary.
But other than power, and a good walk rate, Carter offers nothing. Less than nothing, maybe. There’s a reason the Yankees will be his fifth organization. He’s a .218 hitter in his career, with an OBP of just .314. He’s slow as molasses if even gets out of the box, which he often doesn’t: He led the league with 206 strikeouts last year, and has finished first and second in that category in previous seasons. With Adam Dunn sadly no longer in our lives, Chris Carter is the new king of the Three True Outcomes.
A weird part of all this is that the Yankees would seem to have no use for Carter. New York has very high hopes for 24-year-old starting 1B Greg Bird, who missed all of last season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, and this winter they signed Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13 million deal to be their full-time DH. Twenty-five-year-old Tyler Austin, a natural first baseman, was also expected to be a part of the Yankees’ offense this year.
So what’s the deal? Maybe the Yankees aren’t sure that Bird is fully healthy. Maybe they intend to platoon Carter and Bird at first base. Maybe Matt Holliday is old, and they wanted insurance. But I think there’s no specific plan here. I think the Yankees saw a guy coming off a 41-HR season and jumped at the chance to sign him so cheaply. If he flails, or doesn’t get the chance to play, New York can easily eat the $3.5M. And if he hits a bunch of dingers, he might very well turn out to be free agency’s biggest bargain.