Here’s a headline for you: “Yankees sign NL Home Run Leader for $3.5 million.”
Seems pretty great, right? Let’s leave it at that.
No? You’re smarter than that? You know who Chris Carter is? Well, alright.
Reactions to Chris Carter‘s signing have been mostly mixed-to-negative among Yankee fans, and for fair reason.
How much playing time will Carter steal from the youth movement? Will he lead the AL in strikeouts? Can he even play defense? While these are all fair concerns, let’s try and find some reasons to be optimistic about the signing.
Obviously, Carter’s biggest asset (and only asset in some minds) is his power. He tied Nolan Arenado last season as the NL home run leader with 41 bombs, following seasons that saw him hit 29, 37, and 24 (in an injury-shortened 2015). His Isolated Power (Iso) was sixth in all of baseball behind sluggers like David Ortiz, Mark Trumbo, and Brian Dozier. So we know the guy can smash. And moving to Yankee Stadium? That should boost numbers as well.
Here’s a chart showing all of Carter’s doubles, flyouts, and lineouts last season overlayed onto Yankee Stadium. At first glance it looks like only a few more home runs would be hit in the Bronx, but after individually looking at each point and the distance it covered I found that that there’s potential for an additional 10 or so home runs. That’s pretty significant.
We know Carter hits a lot of home runs and we know he strikes out a lot (please for the love of George Steinbrenner keep him away from Aaron Judge), but he also walks at a nice clip. Carter has a career 11.6% walk rate and walked 76 times last season (ranked 22nd in all of baseball).
Chris Carter won’t be playing every day. Unless Greg Bird and Matt Holliday take off early in the season, he’ll most likely rotate between DH and 1B. Carter held a solid .875 OPS last season against left-handed pitching, an area where he could see at-bats since Bird is a lefty himself. His walk rate against lefties was also slightly higher last season at 13.1%. Carter could carve out a niche for himself as a power bench bat against lefties while spelling time at DH and 1B without hurting Bird’s growth. Remember, Bird is returning from shoulder surgery and may be eased back into everyday play slowly.
If none of the above helped sway your opinion of Chris Carter, just know that this deal is relatively low-risk. $3.5M is nothing to the Yankees, especially considering it’s only for one-year. There are some incentives built into this contract mostly relating to plate appearances, which Carter will surely only reach if he’s playing well. If he ends up playing well, the Yankees actually have the option to control him through arbitration in 2018. If he doesn’t, it won’t hurt for the Yankees to eat his salary this season.
Are we feeling more comfortable now? The Yankees grabbed a bargain-bin power bat as a backup option to a first baseman coming back from injury with limited major league experience (Bird) and a designated hitter who’s been injury prone the last few seasons (Holliday). The risk is low and the reward fairly high. If you’re concerned about Tyler Austin, who I personally don’t see as being an everyday player, this also allows him to continue to get more at-bats in triple-A than he would have seen in the majors. Solid overall signing by the Yankees.