Chris Carter is joining the Yankees
As first reported by Bob Nightengale, the New York Yankees have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with 2016 National League home run leader, Chris Carter. Carter, a 30-year-old first baseman, will receive a $3 million dollar base salary, a $500,000 signing bonus, and up to $500,000 in incentives. Despite leading the NL with 41 home runs in 2016, while also driving in a team-leading 94 runs and setting a career high with 76 walks, the Brewers decided to non-tender Carter early in the offseason. The market for Carter never really developed, as despite the fact that he brings premium right-handed power, having averaged 33 HR and 82 RBI since 2013, he has also struck out 751 times over that span, including a league-leading 206 in 2016, the second time in the past four seasons he struck out over 200 times. Additionally, Carter has never been known as a strong defender and carries a career .218 AVG and .314 OBP, both of which further hurt his market. Prior to the signing, there were rumors that Carter would take his talents to Japan if he did not find a home prior to the start of spring training.
For many Yankee fans (including myself) the Carter signing comes as a surprise, as the Yankees already gave Matt Holiday a one-year, $13 million dollar contract earlier in free agency to functionally serve in the same DH/1B role that Carter has filled his entire career. However, it appeared that only $3 million for a player with such raw power was too good of an offer for the Yankees to pass up, and as shown by Carter’s 2016 spray chart when imposed into Yankee Stadium, his power numbers could increase even more if given regular at-bats with the Yankees.
One possible reason that the Yankees may have signed Carter is because of the Red Sox’s left-handed heavy rotation; as Buster Olney pointed out on Twitter, four of the five projected starters in the Red Sox rotation (Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez) and Carter slugged a robust .537 against left-handed pitching, with a .338 OBP compared to .316 against right-handed pitchers. Additionally, Carter’s success against left-handed pitchers could make him a potential platoon partner with Greg Bird at first base, as in 2015, Bird’s last full season, he hit 9 HR with a .270 AVG and .915 OPS against right-handed pitching, with a drop-off to a .238 AVG and .752 OPS against lefties. However, one concern with the Carter signing could be the health of Greg Bird, who spent all of 2016 recovering form shoulder surgery, and was projected to be the Yankees everyday first baseman in 2017. Perhaps Bird’s recovery isn’t as far along as the Yankees had hoped, and Carter was signed as insurance should Bird not be at full strength by the end of spring training.
With Carter now a Yankee, it is likely that Tyler Austin could lose his spot on the Opening Day roster. Austin, a first baseman, and outfielder who hit 5 HR, with 12 RBI and .241/.300/.458 in his first thirty-one major league games in 2016, was expected to be the backup first baseman to Bird heading into the offseason. Assuming the Yankees now go with a four-man bench, one spot will go catcher Austin Romine, one will go to utility infielder Ronald Torreyes, and the other two spots will go to fourth-outfielder Aaron Hicks, and some combination of Carter/Bird/Holliday depending on the opposing pitcher. This leaves little room for the Yankees to carry Austin unless this signing was made with the idea of trading Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury for help in the starting rotation, which would move Holliday into left field and leave a spot open for Austin. However, the Yankees trading Ellsbury is unlikely, given his lack of production and the four years and almost $85 million left on his contract, while Brian Cashman has spoken out against trading Brett Gardner throughout the offseason given his elite defense and team friendly contract.
With Carter in-house, the Yankees lineup against left-handed pitching could be as follows; LF Brett Gardner, 2B Starlin Castro, C Gary Sanchez, DH Matt Holliday, 1B Chris Carter, SS Didi Gregorius, RF Aaron Judge, 3B Chase Headley, CF Jacoby Ellsbury. From top to bottom, this potential lineup has some serious pop and could be a force for the Yankees in 2017.