It’s a good thing that Brian Cashman left a one percent chance of the Yankees making another move this offseason just a few weeks ago, otherwise we could now call him a liar. Not that Cashman cares. It’s not yet official, but the Yankees reportedly signed Chris Carter to a one-year contract yesterday.
For a measly $3.5M, Carter adds depth to an already crowded first base and designated hitter situation. The right-handed slugger joins Greg Bird, Matt Holliday, Tyler Austin, and Rob Refsnyder as options for Joe Girardi to evaluate before Opening Day. Of course, with a Major League contract, Carter is all but assured a spot on the 25-man roster come April. Really, this signing affects one of Bird, Austin, and Refsnyder, as it previously was likely that two of the three would head north after spring training. Now, only one will likely accompany the veterans Carter and Holliday to the Bronx.
Going strictly by ability, Bird should be the one joining Carter and Holliday in New York. Compared to Austin and Refsnyder, Bird has a better projection for 2017 and higher long-term upside. It also helps that he offers left-handed lineup balance, something the Yankees are lacking. That being said, Bird does need to prove that his shoulder is ready to handle a big league role out of the gate, which isn’t a certainty. There’s also the potential manipulation of service time to gain an extra season of control.
Assuming we get the combination of Bird, Carter, and Holliday, we should expect Austin and Refsnyder to lose something in the neighborhood of 400 big league plate appearances combined. For a team that’s building for the future, taking away opportunities from young players, even if not expected to be integral building blocks, doesn’t seem wise. At first glance, this makes the Carter signing peculiar. But maybe we shouldn’t be up in arms about it, at least not yet. Before we get concerned about Carter taking away at-bats from the kids, there are a few things to consider.
One, injuries happen. Bird and Holliday are the best bets to come up with some sort of maladies during the season, whether it’s Bird needing more time to get comfortable with his healed shoulder in Triple-A to start the season or father time catching up to Holliday.
Two, Carter is unquestionably a better right-handed option when compared to the inexperienced Austin and Refsnyder. Neither of the latter two are expected to be big contributors in 2017, and neither of them are cornerstone pieces of the franchise. So if the Yankees are trying to compete this season, why not seek out an upgrade? ZiPS and Steamer are both fans of Carter’s bat, especially when viewed against the projected offensive output from Austin and Refsnyder. In truth, Austin and Refsnyder are fringy. Again, if the Yankees are trying to contend this season while not sacrificing the future, it’s not the end of the world to take away at bats from those two.
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Three, the Yankees won’t be stuck with Carter if he’s awful. At only $3.5M guaranteed, he could be cut after a bad month or two early on. For a guy who strikes out as much as he does while offering negative defensive value, he’s going to have to hit lots of home runs right away. If not, the Yankees will be able to move on and utilize Austin and Refsnyder in the platoon/bench role.
Four, Carter could go absolutely nuts with the bat. He hit 41 home runs last year over a full season’s worth of plate appearances, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he swatted dingers at a similar rate in 2017. No, he won’t be getting nearly the 644 plate appearances that he received in Milwaukee last season, but if he gets the majority of his time against southpaws this season, he could be lethal.
The Carter signing is fine. It’s not going to be a significant difference maker, but it does appear to be a slight upgrade over what the Yankees had planned to roll out there in 2017. It’s not going to prevent anyone deserving from losing opportunities they deserve, which I think is the most important aspect of this move.