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With Chris Carter signing for cheap, should Orioles have signed him instead of Mark Trumbo?

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Chris Carter hit 41 home runs last year, is only 30 years old, and just signed with the Yankees for only $3.5 million.

Milwuakee Brewers v Colorado Rockies
Chris Carter is going to deliver a lot of dingers to the Yankees for not a lot of dollars.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Sometimes the signings that the Orioles don’t make are as interesting as the ones they do make, if only for purposes of comparison. Earlier in the offseason, before re-signing Mark Trumbo, the Orioles were linked here and there to slugger/strikeout king Chris Carter. On Tuesday afternoon, Carter signed a one year, $3.5 million contract with the Yankees.

Carter led the National League with 41 home runs last season. Despite that, he was non-tendered by the Brewers, who apparently did not feel that he would be worth the $8 million salary he was expected to receive through the arbitration process.

Now 30 years old, Carter batted .222/.321/.499 in the 2016 season, striking out 206 times in 644 plate appearances. That is really an absurd number of strikeouts, though of course, that’s nothing that seems to bother the Orioles. Freed from Milwaukee, perhaps Carter will slug even more within the comically-small dimensions of Yankee Stadium.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is another place where Carter’s power could have played very well. The Orioles never got all that serious about him, preferring instead to focus on re-signing Trumbo. They got what I still think is a good deal for Trumbo, so it’s hard to get too worked up about that, but gosh. Carter hit 41 home runs, is 30, and got only $3.5 million. That’s something.

Might the Orioles have been better off grabbing Carter at his price tag rather than Trumbo at his price tag? If we take out the deferred money in Trumbo’s contract, he’s being paid $10 million by the Orioles to play baseball in 2017.

That’s a difference of $6.5 million for 2017, with the added bonus that, if Trumbo signed elsewhere before the draft, the Orioles would have received a compensation pick at #28 overall. If you want to count the deferred money, Trumbo is getting $11.5 million, so the difference would be $8 million. You’re still not getting much for $8 million.

It’s not even a sure thing that the Orioles would have spent that $6.5-8 million if they hadn’t re-signed Trumbo. If they did spend it, looking at the list of free agents who have signed, it’s hard to say that the Orioles definitely could have spent the $6.5 million better than they did.

Do any of the modest contracts jump out to you as ones the Orioles should have made instead? Maybe something like Matt Joyce at two years and $11 million or Brandon Moss at two years and $12 million would have worked. Or, for that matter, the two year, $12.5 million contract given to perpetual ex- and future-Oriole Steve Pearce received.

Yet those guys would have been ticketed for the outfield spot that has gone to Seth Smith instead. Most people who watched Yovani Gallardo pitch, including me, likely are willing to believe that trading Gallardo made the team better just on its own.

All in all, the alternate universe where the Orioles sign Carter instead probably looks like this:

Sign Carter ($3.5M), add a Moss-tier outfielder ($6M), still saddled with Gallardo ($11M), maybe get a pick

In reality, the Orioles:

Sign Trumbo ($10M this year), trade Gallardo (plus $2M in deal) for Seth Smith ($7M), no pick

It’s not exact math, but those two scenarios have the Orioles looking to be spending about the same amount of money. Maybe they could have traded Gallardo for someone other than Smith if they already had a different outfield answer, but other than at catcher, the O’s didn’t really have any big holes to deal with this offseason.

The only real difference is the pick, which would have been nice to get, but would not at all have helped the Orioles in the important goal of competing this year and next year before the great free agent exodus.

The Orioles spent the Trumbo money and still managed to get Smith to address one of their outfield spots, at least against right-handed pitchers, anyway. The draft pick would have been nice, assuming Trumbo was able to sign elsewhere and didn’t end up being a free agent left dangling on the vine. But it’s tough to get too upset with the way things played out.

After all, Trumbo at least offers the notional flexibility of being able to play right field against left-handed pitchers. It’s not a good idea, but it is at least possible to put him out there and I expect that will occur.

Carter would have brought the same defensive capability to the roster that Pedro Alvarez brought last season, which is to say, none at all. Carter can only play first base and the Orioles are pretty well locked in on Chris Davis for that.

Davis, by the way, was worth about 2 WAR more than Carter in 2016, despite Carter’s 41 homers and Davis having a lot of struggles at the plate due to his dislocated thumb. Davis being credited for superior defense appears to be part of that.

Like Trumbo, Carter would have gummed up a designated hitter spot that the O’s are probably best served using to give their regulars some more rest while keeping bats in the lineup. In that regard, the two are a wash.

In short, one can make a reasonable argument that Carter would have been a decent signing for the O’s, in lieu of Trumbo. The fact that the Yankees will get him for only $3.5 million is rather annoying. The Orioles instead made their bet that Trumbo will keep being something close to 2016 Trumbo. The argument for Trumbo is, if a bit more expensive, just as reasonable.

If you really believe in the clubhouse chemistry stuff and “I like our guys,” Trumbo’s re-signing as opposed to bringing in some jabroni from outside is even more believable.

If Carter goes berserk and Trumbo goes back to pre-Baltimore Trumbo, there will surely be some second-guessing. For right now, though, the Orioles seem to have made a good choice.