Sluggers Alvarez, Carter targets for Indians?
Recently non-tendered duo could help fill Cleveland's need for power upgrade
CLEVELAND -- The Indians' annual offseason search for more power is ongoing. Earlier this week, a pair of intriguing options hit the open market when sluggers Pedro Alvarez and Chris Carter were not tendered contracts and thus allowed to become free agents.
Given Cleveland's need for more thump in its lineup, it would make sense for the Tribe to at least inquire about the services of these two home run threats. The Indians have been reported to indeed have interest, though Chris Antonetti, Cleveland's president of baseball operations, declined to tip his hand as to whether he is targeting Alvarez or Carter.
"I'll refrain from commenting on any specific players," Antonetti said. "What I will say is we'll look for any opportunity to improve our position-player club and add to our offense, specifically. To the extent there's someone out there that we think will help do that, we'll certainly explore it."
So it is safe to assume Cleveland will at least look into Alvarez or Carter as options.
Last season, the Indians' posted a 98 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) overall, indicating that the team was two percent below league average offensively. Where the Tribe really struggled was in the slugging department. The Indians' .144 Isolated Power (ISO) was tied for the second-lowest mark in the American League. The Tribe ranked 11th in slugging percentage (.401) and 13th in homers (141).
Those are specific areas in which Alvarez or Carter could help. That said, there are also reasons for the Pirates and Astros non-tendering them on Wednesday. The days of teams placing a high value on one-dimensional sluggers are waning, and both of the sluggers in question have considerable shortcomings in terms of defense and overall offense.
The positives reside in the power. Over the past three seasons combined, Carter (15.6) and Alvarez (17.2) rank sixth and eighth, respectively, in at-bats per home run, among Major Leaguers with at least 1,500 plate appearances. In that same grouping, Carter's .241 ISO ranks eighth overall and Alvarez checks in at 15th with a .217 mark.
The negatives in terms of offense can be found in the lack of contact. In that same three-year span, Carter has the highest strikeout rate (33.7 percent) and Alvarez (27.7 percent) ranks fourth from the bottom in the Majors. Carter's 545 strikeouts are the second-highest total in that time period, while Alvarez's 430 punchouts rank 10th overall.
They are now free agents due to their escalating cost via the arbitration process. Carter earned $4.175 million in 2015 and was projected to make roughly $5.6 million through arbitration this year, according to MLBtraderumors.com. Alvarez made $5.75 million through arbitration last season and had a projected $8.1 million salary for '16, per the same website.
The Astros and Pirates clearly did not feel that the projected salaries were in alignment with the expected offensive contributions from the two sluggers. Now, depending on the asking price, Cleveland will explore whether one of Carter or Alvarez make sense for potentially adding some power to a lineup that has lacked in that regard for several years.
The Indians, who have an offense based on contact (Cleveland's 81.6 percent contact rate was the third-best in the AL last season), have taken on similar risks with power-first hitters in recent seasons.
The Tribe signed the streaky, strikeout-prone Mark Reynolds in 2013 and he stormed out of the gates with 11 homers and a 1.013 OPS in his first 31 games that year. Then he crashed to the tune of a .517 OPS in his next 68 games and was released. Last offseason, the Indians traded for Brandon Moss, who launched 15 homers but hit .217 with a .288 on-base percentage before being traded to St. Louis on July 30.
Evidence of Cleveland's power struggles can be found in this statistic: Moss actually led the Indians in home runs last year until Sept. 18, which was 50 days after he was traded away.
As things currently stand, the Indians are in the market for outfield help, but the club can also offer regular at-bats between designated hitter and first base (roles Carlos Santana can also fill). Both Carter and Alvarez rate as well below-average defenders at first, though, so they would likely be under consideration as a full-time DH with limited action in the field.
Last season, Carter turned in a .199/.307/427 slash line with 24 home runs, 64 RBIs and 151 strikeouts in 129 games for Houston. Alvarez produced a .243/.318/.469 line with 27 homers, 77 RBIs and 131 strikeouts in 150 games for Pittsburgh. According to FanGraphs, Carter was worth 0.3 WAR and 101 wRC+ and Alvarez was worth 0.2 WAR and 114 wRC+ last season.
While there are certainly red flags, Carter and Alvarez can also offer tape-measure shots with regularity. That is why Cleveland would be willing to at least explore the possibility of adding one of them to the heart of its lineup for next season.