Mark Trumbo just hit 47 homers with a high strikeout rate and limited defensive value, and after receiving a qualifying offer from Baltimore, he's probably going to get something like $60 million this offseason while headed into his age-31 season. Chris Carter just hit 41 homers with a high strikeout rate and limited defensive value, and after Milwaukee imported Eric Thames from Korea, Carter is reportedly going to get … non-tendered and set free, heading into his age-30 season.
No one will give Carter $60 million. No one would consider it or come close. But is there really that much of a difference between these one-dimensional sluggers? And if there's not, shouldn't there be more than a few teams that would much prefer to go with Carter for a fraction of the cost and without losing a Draft pick?
Let's show some quick comparisons here to illustrate our point.
Carter: 644 PA -- .222/.321/.499 -- 41 HR -- 112 wRC+ -- 0.9 WAR
Trumbo: 667 PA -- .256/.316/.533 -- 47 HR -- 123 wRC+ -- 2.2 WAR
Carter: 2261 PA -- .219/.315/.470 -- 131 HR -- 113 wRC+ -- 3.8 WAR
Trumbo: 2252 PA -- .247/.304/.470 -- 117 HR -- 109 wRC+ -- 4.3 WAR
2017 projections (Steamer)
Carter: 578 PA -- .221/.321/.470 -- 34 HR -- 106 wRC+ -- 0.9 WAR
Trumbo: 587 PA -- .254/.314/.481 -- 31 HR -- 109 wRC+ -- 1.1 WAR
Your takeaway from all that ought to be that these two are extremely similar players. It's true that Trumbo has a higher batting average, but it's also true that batting average doesn't really matter any longer. Carter has been as good or better at getting on base, and the fact that their slugging percentages over the past four seasons have been completely identical is stunning. Neither one even has an appreciable career platoon split. Each are similar right-handed sluggers with contact issues.
Last offseason, that package was valued at "needing to throw in a reliever to get a backup catcher," which is what happened when Seattle traded Trumbo and C.J. Riefenhauser to Baltimore for Steve Clevenger. Trumbo can play a little outfield, while Carter has limited experience there, and Trumbo is probably a somewhat better defensive first baseman, too, so that matters. But does it matter to the tune of tens of millions of dollars and a Draft pick? It's hard to think that it does.
So if your favorite team happens to be interested in Trumbo, perhaps Carter is a nice lower-cost alternative. Where could he fit? A few options stand out:
When we attempted to find good fits for Trumbo, the Rockies were atop the list, and for very good reason. This is a Colorado team that's closer to winning than most think, yet it has a huge problem at first base, where it was reduced to playing converted outfielder Gerardo Parra and 28-year-old rookie Stephen Cardullo by the end of the season. As things currently stand, the Rockies are projected by FanGraphs to be near the bottom in first-base production in 2017.
Trumbo's power would be perfect there, but placing him with Colorado comes with a big issue. As the holders of the No. 11 pick in the 2017 Draft, the Rockies have the highest possible pick that can be lost to the qualifying offer. (The top 10 are protected.) That might be a sticking point for a team that needs to build from within, yet Carter (who has eight extra-base hits in seven career games at Coors Field) comes with no such strings attached. Colorado must do something here, and the idea of seeing what a powerful bat like this could do 81 times a year for a reasonable cost is fascinating.
No, Carter isn't going to displace Eric Hosmer. And no, the whiff-happy Carter doesn't seem to fit the contact-first approach of the Royals. But we know that contact alone doesn't make a winner (the Angels had the lowest strikeout rate in the Major Leagues in 2016, for example), and with Kendrys Morales and his 30 homers off to Toronto, a Royals team that already had the fourth-fewest homers in the Majors needs to find some additional power.
That would make Carter the primary DH in Kansas City, as well as giving Hosmer a breather as needed, and that'd be a good fit. Right now, the Royals are projected to have the weakest DH production in the Majors, largely because they simply don't have one, unless you really think Cheslor Cuthbert and Paulo Orlando are holding it down all year. Sure, Carter whiffs too much. But his .321 on-base percentage was also a lot better than the .292 Alcides Escobar put up, and Escobar was the leadoff hitter. There's a match here.
Like the Rockies, a National League team that can't offer a DH spot is an imperfect fit, but we did just see Carter handle it all season in Milwaukee, and the Mets have a ton of questions to answer on offense, even with Yoenis Cespedes back? Will Lucas Duda's back be healthy? Or David Wright? Or Neil Walker?
Remember, Duda missed four months of last season with a stress fracture in his back, forcing the Mets to dig up James Loney (.265/.307/.397) from San Diego's Triple-A team in El Paso. When Loney required a pinch-hitter in the NL Wild Card Game, it was bench player Eric Campbell. Carter would serve as valuable insurance if Duda's back doesn't allow him to play every day, or a quality platoon bat against lefties even if Duda does return. Those questions still persist even with Cespedes in the outfield.
In 2016, the switch-hitting Carlos Santana and righty Mike Napoli made for a pretty effective 1B/DH combination, but Napoli is now 35, a free agent, and he basically put up the exact same year (.239/.335/.465) as Carter (.222/.321/.499) did anyway. Santana had his option picked up, and so he'll be back, but Napoli's status is uncertain, and he'd likely cost more than Carter would. It's fair to say that Napoli is a better first baseman, so that factors in, but perhaps it's better to save some money, get younger and receive similar batting production?
With Prince Fielder retired and Mitch Moreland a free agent, there's perhaps no team in baseball outside of Colorado who needs to do something about first base as strongly as the Rangers do. (Assuming they don't just hand the job to Joey Gallo, which they seem hesitant to do.) The Rangers had the third-weakest park-adjusted offensive performance at the position in 2016; they're projected to be fourth-weakest in '17.
With a win-now roster, this would be a fit for Trumbo or Edwin Encarnacion, but of course both of those players will cost a Draft pick and many millions of dollars. It may be in Texas' best interest to buy lower on Carter, and instead use assets (either financial or prospects or both) to add a badly-needed starting pitcher to go with Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels.