After failing to live up to their usual “Bronx Bombers” identity for the past few years, Brian Cashman and the Yankees pulled the trigger on a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the reigning National League co-home run champ Chris Carter. The deal also includes up to $500,000 in plate-appearance bonuses.
Carter has grown accustomed to seeing plenty of action after appearing in an NL-leading 160 games last season, but that number will likely drop given the Yanks’ crowd of youth at first base (Greg Bird, Tyler Austin). They also have already inked Matt Holliday to a one-year deal earlier in the offseason, who figures to primarily be a DH given his injury concerns. So why grab Carter now?
The most glaring reason would be the price that they acquired Carter for. Any team should be acknowledged for bringing an extra 4o-plus home runs to their team for just $3 million, especially since Carter is just 30 years old and is unlikely to show signs of a power decline in 2017. Of course, it is important to realize that Carter was still unsigned up to this point for a reason: he doesn’t do much else besides mash homers.
Carter is not a good defender, has no speed, and strikes out at Adam Dunn rates. He led the National League in strikeouts last season with 206, and that still wasn’t his career high. Carter has struck out over 150 times in each of the past four seasons, and that number would be bigger had he played full seasons in the earlier years of his career. Carter, who batted just .222 last season and is a .218 career hitter, is clearly an all-or-nothing option at the plate. So why bring him to a team like the Yankees, who are dedicating much of their 2017 season to trying out their coveted prospects who are supposed to be the future of the franchise?
The answer is simple. The man hits home runs (a lot of them), and that is an offensive area that the Bombers have sorely lacked lately, even in a hitter-friendly park like Yankee Stadium. Over the past four seasons, the Yankees’ home run leader has averaged 26 dingers per season. Carter has averaged 33 over that same span, including his career-high last season. The Yanks have been searching for a source of power since the decline of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Ideally, their young studs like Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge will fill that role eventually. However, Bird is coming off major shoulder surgery, while Judge showed major struggles against breaking balls during his first major-league stint in 2016. Carter is a solid short-term acquisition while the Yankees wait and see what they have in their Baby Bombers.
In all likelihood, the Yankees will proceed with caution with Bird, who missed all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery. The same can be said for the oft-injured Holliday, who turned 37 last month. If these two (likely along with Austin) have to sacrifice a few at-bats here and there when Joe Girardi elects to go with Carter against a lefty or when a home run is needed, is it really that big of a deal? What’s wrong with a Glenallen Hill-type presence on the Yankee bench for when a long ball is needed? It has worked in the past for the Yanks.
The bottom line is that Carter can flat out rake when he makes contact (which I know isn’t often enough, hence the low cost to sign him). His exit velocity on fly balls and line drives was fourth in the majors last year, behind only Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, and David Ortiz. Not bad company. Carter also is not a dead pull hitter, which will bode well for him in the Bronx and that short porch in right field. He doesn’t have a spray chart comparable to Ty Cobb, but his chart shows that he can do some damage in the confines of Yankee Stadium.
Carter clearly pulls the ball when he turns his wrists and hits it on the ground, but when he makes solid contact in the form of a line drive or fly ball, he can use the entire field.
This is a good signing for the Yankees, who needed a power presence on a bench that currently consists of Austin, Aaron Hicks, and Rob Refsnyder. Not much home run potential there. If Carter doesn’t work out in his new diminished role, then send him on his way and be done with his inexpensive contract after just one season. This doesn’t tie the team up financially in any way. The Yankees still have plenty of question marks heading into the 2017 season, but at least they found an upgrade in the power department after previously declaring that they were finished with offseason moves.