This time a year ago, the Orioles picked up Mark Trumbo in a trade with the Mariners. Seattle did not want to pay $9 million to Trumbo for Trumbo to hit for a low average, strike out a lot, and hit a bunch of dingers. The Orioles were happy to pay Trumbo to do these things, so they traded for the future home run champion. Getting 47 home runs for $9 million is a good deal.
The next Trumbo may be waiting out there for the Orioles now, and this year they won’t even have to trade a third catcher to get him. The Brewers will reportedly not be tendering a 2017 contract to right-handed slugger Chris Carter, who just hit 41 home runs in the 2016 season.
Carter had been projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $8.1 million for his 2017 salary, his second arbitration-eligible season. That’s not a big price tag for a guy with that kind of power, even considering he is maybe limited to the first base/designated hitter role - though he has played left field (not horribly, not well) a little in his career.
If you’re wondering why the Brewers wouldn’t want him after he just mashed 41 taters, well, that answer can probably be found in the fact that he struck out 206 times in 644 times at the plate. That’s a Chris Davis level of strikeouts.
Carter only batted .222 while getting those 42 homers and even that number is higher than his career batting average. Though he drew 76 walks, a fine number, that was only enough to get his on-base percentage to .321 - a career best in his four full seasons of MLB action.
In this way, Carter has already been an Oriole at heart, though to date his career has only brought him through Oakland, Houston, and Milwaukee. What could be more Orioles than a guy who strikes out a ton but also socks a lot of dingers? Few things could be more Orioles than that.
We all know that the home run-dependent, strikeout-loaded Orioles offense can go into frustrating, prolonged slumps. In that regard, Carter is not an exciting potential addition because he does nothing to solve that, and really only makes it worse.
However, the fact remains that the Orioles just rode that boom-or-bust offense into the AL wild card game, where, if they had anyone capable of hitting a left-handed pitcher, they might have had a better chance of winning. And Carter, for all of his faults, crushed lefties for an .875 OPS in 2016. He might actually address a weakness.
The Orioles may not end up wanting Carter, or he may be out of their price range because other teams might bid up the price on his power. The idea of the Orioles being interested in him at all is predicated on him being non-tendered means he will cost less than that $8 million the Brewers didn’t want to pay. They might decide that, when it comes to righty sluggers, they’ll just roll with Trey Mancini at the MLB minimum and see what happens.
The Orioles do still need a real right fielder - which Carter decidedly isn’t, even if the Orioles went down the Trumbo path and sent him out there with a glove - and they need a catcher too, and it’s really not clear how much money they have to spend.
But maybe Carter will turn out to be the exact kind of player who falls into their laps, like, say, Pedro Alvarez did late last offseason. The league is not always valuing the Carter skillset at present, which gives an opportunity for a team like the Orioles to come along, shrug their shoulders, and say, “Eh, who cares about strikeouts? He just cracked 41 jacks.” You can always find room for a guy with 40+ homers.
Is that the best strategy? No, of course not. Yet it may be the best strategy that the Orioles are able to pursue on the market, given their apparent budget limitations.
After all, if the Orioles carried over their offensive production and back-end bullpen strength and paired that with a vaguely competent starting rotation, that’s a recipe for a division winner.
It might not be a modern orthodox way to win, and it might be prone to all fall apart down the stretch or in October, if they’re lucky enough to get that far, but it’s the path most open to the Orioles. You know, if they can actually get that half-decent starting rotation part down, which is another story entirely.
Don’t roll out the orange carpet for Chris Carter just yet. Then again, don’t be too surprised if he’s the next one-year Oriole to be MLB’s home run champion. He’s already an Oriole in spirit.