The Curious Case of Chris Carter

(Credit: Getty Images)

by Austin Stamford

A closer look at one of this offseason’s most fascinating signings.

I would consider myself someone who has a working knowledge of the financial side of baseball—I know what salary arbitration is and I’m familiar with the Rule 5 Draft. Nevertheless, when I saw the Yankees signed NL home run co-leader Chris Carter to a one-year $3 million contract, I spit out my metaphorical drink. Surely a $3 million contract offer would be regarded as an elaborate personal insult by someone who hit 41 homers the previous year, right?

Upon doing some further research, to my shock, and frankly, as a Yankee fan, my delight, the news was true. Yet confusion quickly set in. There must be some baggage if Carter willingly signed this contract, I thought to myself. Sure enough, it didn’t take long to find it: While he had had to share the National League lead in home runs, the strikeout category honors were all his; Carter tallied a whopping 216, which was 28 more than the runner-up, Miguel Sano. Additionally, per Fangraphs, Carter ranked second-to-last in the league in defensive performance by first-basemen.

Unlike his power numbers, none of that sounded very promising. Still, the voice in the back of my head whispering “41 home runs” refused to go away. The Yankees will be paying Carter $73,170 per 2016 home run. There are box seats at Yankee Stadium that sell for more than that. By comparison, newly christened Indian Edwin Encarnacion is slated to make over $476,000 per 2016 home run. Obviously, there’s more to each player than simply hitting homers, but it would be ignorant to say it isn’t a major part of these two players’ offensive contributions.

Last season Carter’s park-adjusted runs created above average, according to Fangraphs, was 9.2. I’ll skip the Bryce Harper (9.3) comparison because he’s been beaten up enough by the media recently, but Carter ranked ahead of Adrian Gonzalez (9.1), Albert Pujols (8.7), and Chris Davis (8.7). The average salary of those three players is a cool $21 million. By this metric, Carter seems like great value.

I figured it’d be an interesting, if not particularly informative, exercise to compare Chris Carter’s 2017 salary to some of Hal Steinbrenner’s other financial obligations. Journeyman reliever and fellow offseason signee Tyler Clippard is making almost double Carter’s salary. “Special instructor” Alex Rodriguez will be making seven times what Carter makes, and CC “Wait he’s still around?” Sabathia is making even more than that. It seems the only salaried employee with value for money comparable to Carter is Brian Cashman, earner of $3 million a year, whose soft rebuild has Yankee fans excited about their farm system for the first time since the ‘90s.

Without a doubt, pundits will argue that 2016 was simply a career year for Carter and that even such a team-friendly contract is a risk. On the other hand, though, any contract is a risk, and I’d argue that this is a relatively small one. For starters, Yankee Stadium, although not as friendly to righties as Miller Park, is certainly up there. Additionally, there are signs that Carter’s offensive performance is maturing: in 2016 he walked a career high 76 times, and also had career highs in hits and OPS, which have both been gradually improving in each of Carter’s full seasons in the big leagues.  For a team like the Yankees, $3 million is chump change, especially for a player with Carter’s upside.

As far as his defensive woes are concerned, with the return of Greg Bird at first base, Carter will likely see most his playing time at DH anyways. The main thing he needs to improve on is his ugly strikeout tally. If he can do that, he looks like a great investment for the suddenly and shockingly frugal Yankees.

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