Chris Carter: The Future Star That Will Make Billy Beane Regret His Trade Mistake
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Monday February 11th, 2013
Jonathan Hacohen (Lead Baseball Columnist, Oakland A’s Correspondent and Website Founder): Follow @Jhacohen
Mark down the date of February 4th, 2013. The day that Billy Beane broke my heart. In preparing for my latest A’s feature, the working title of the article was “Chris Carter: The Next Great A’s Superstar”. Then fate intervened. Or rather, Beane decided to pull off one too many trades. After a successful offseason that saw the A’s GM bolster significantly bolster his playoff squad, Beane decided that one more blockbuster move was in order. Jed Lowrie was headed to Oakland, with Chris Carter (the good one), Max Stassi and Brad Peacock going over to the Astros. For the purpose of this piece, I will be focusing on the loss of Carter. Stassi is a former 4th round pick of the A’s and a young 21 Year Old catching prospect. With Derek Norris ready to grab the A’s catching job for the next decade, I can see how he was expandable. Peacock was a 41st round pick of the Nationals. A 25 Year Old arm that may develop one day, but crashed and burned last season in AAA. With the A’s pitching depth, I can see how he could be ticketed out-of-town for a change of scenery. But Chris Carter? Really Billy??!! You worked your magic to get him in the first place from the Diamondbacks. I certainly hope that your return pans out (Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez). Right now, I simply cannot see the logic of this move.
The YouTube link that I posted is one of my faves of all time. I never get tired of watching Chris Carter swing a bat. The man is poised and cool. A nice swing, sweet swing, pretty swing. Call it what you want, I call it baseball magic. The 26 Year Old Carter did all that he could in the minors. After raking at all levels in the minors, Carter finally exploded this past season in Oakland. I had been touting the first base prospect as a star in the making for years. I heard many doubts from countless so-called experts. Carter in 2012 silenced those critics and showed that his game translates to the show. All he needed was time, experience and an opportunity. When I was going to feature an article on Carter, I was envisioning the A’s cleanup hitter or batting 5th. Between Carter, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, the A’s looked to have the murderers’ row that would carry the teams offense for years to come. It was perfect. Keep in mind that the road to Oakland was a long one for Carter. After getting drafted by the White Sox, he was moved to the Diamondbacks for Carlos Quentin. Clearly he had a large value, if the Dbacks were ready to trade in a can’t miss prospect for him. Shortly after, Carter was on the move again. This time to Oakland in the Dan Haren swap. This move was considered by myself to be pure Billy Beane genius. While others focused on the acquisition of Carlos Gonzalez for Haren, my eye was always on Carter. Gonzalez, while blossoming for the Rockies, is mostly a product of Coors Field. Take the man out of Coors and you have an average hitter at best. Carter on the other hand, is the real deal in my book. He has power and patience. He can smack Home Runs and take Walks in bunches. A superstar in the making. I saw it and I was sure that Beane saw it as well. Or so I thought. Now, a week later. I am still shaking in my head in disbelief. Chris Carter is gone. Oakland’s loss is Houston’s gain.
Before I continue the Chris Carter discussion, let’s take a look at what Beane acquired from Houston. What motivated him to pull off a trade which I consider to be a long-term mistake for his squad. From the two players headed to the A’s, let’s firstly discount Fernando Rodriguez. Relievers, as Billy Beane is well aware, are a dime a dozen. They can explode into closers one minute and vanish off the baseball map the next. They get hurt. They get injured. They get Tommy John surgery (many…many do). They lose control, focus and stuff. The bottom line: relievers are for the most part very unreliable and unknown commodities year to year. An area that one cannot spend a great deal of baseball talent to acquire. The secret is to find and develop your own from within and then sell them when they are hot. Nobody is better at this art form than Beane. So while Rodriguez may stand 6’3″ and strike out more than a batter an inning, he is also 28 and very wild. Last year, in 71 games for the Astros, he pitched to the tune of a 5.37 ERA and 1.450 WHIP. Maybe he will refine his mechanics and blossom. I don’t know and I don’t really care. You can find wild pitchers with good stuff. You can’t find natural swingers with power and patience. So for Beane to make this move, he clearly must have been ready to overpay to acquire Jed Lowrie. In Beane’s mind Lowrie was going to be a difference maker in 2013. Otherwise, he would not have given up his own can’t miss prospect in Carter.
The irony in all of this? I am actually a huge Jed Lowrie supporter. In my mind, the kid has a world of potential and would be a nice player to have on almost any squad. But…at the right price. I loved the Astros getting him for Mark Melancon. I hate the A’s acquiring him at the price of Carter and two prospects. Lowrie is 28 Years Old, so he is the right age to be in his baseball peak. He will be 29 though in April, but my thoughts still hold. While Carter is not eligible for free agency until 2019, Lowrie can leave Oakland as soon as 2015. So by acquiring Lowrie, Beane is fully aware that he may only get 2 seasons out of his new Shortstop. Or maybe Second Baseman? Third Baseman? I guess we will figure out his position sometime in the early part of the season. Flexibility around the diamond is a huge plus for Lowrie. But only two seasons of him would make me very nervous if I was the Oakland GM. The team better be ready to compete again this season and Lowrie had better contribute. If the A’s don’t make it far into the playoffs with Lowrie in a prominent role, I can’t see how this move works for Oakland. Billy Beane is going for it people and he is not looking back.
When you look at the amount of games Lowrie has played over his career, you start to feel queasy. Since the 2008 season, he has played the following number of games each season: 81, 32, 55, 88 and his career high of last season, 97. At the rate that he is going, Lowrie may get into 100+ games in 2013 (groan!) So what gives? Why do I favor this player along with Beane? Because of his talent. When you are talking Jed Lowrie, you are discussing high potential. If only the man could stay healthy. Earlier in his career, Lowrie had a hard time finding consistent playing time with the Red Sox. But once he did, he always ended up on the DL. That’s his thing. That’s the way he plays. If you have Lowrie on your team, you better be prepared to have a good backup. The DL will always follow him to some degree. I remember his exciting breakout season in 2010. In 55 games, Lowrie hit .287 with a .381 OBP and .526 SLG. Last season in Houston, he smacked an impressive 16 home runs, along with a .331 OBP and .438 SLG. Very impressive numbers in a less than full season of At-Bats. One side of caution: to know me is to know that I love looking at home/road splits. Houston is a great hitting ballpark. How much did it affect Lowrie? In nearly identical number of At-Bats, I see 9 Home Runs at home and 7 on the road. I also see a .262 AVG at home with a .356 OBP and .500 SLG. On the road? .227 AVG, .307 OBP and .381 SLG. Oakland is not known exactly as the most friendly hitters’ park. Mr. Lowrie may be in for a rude awakening when he starts hitting in his new home park. Another strike in my book.
So when I look at Jed Lowrie, I see a player at a prime age, who is a huge injury risk, with a fairly good bat and can play many positions. Again, the type of player that you try to acquire for a low price and hope that he will surprise you with decent to good numbers. That is what the Astros did last offseason. I guess Beane thinks that Lowrie is ready to explode for 20+ Home Runs and play in 130+ games. Perhaps he knows something that I don’t. I certainly hope that the team doctor is a miracle worker. Because the A’s will need a miracle to get consistent playing time out of this guy. Plus it’s not like the A’s don’t have middle infielders. Scott Sizemore is ready to return, Hiroyuki Nakajima joins the team from Japan, Adam Rosales is an option, as is Jemile Weeks. When you consider games played and production, Lowrie will not likely be a huge upgrade over those guys. Even with all the protection he will have in the lineup, Lowrie still will need to stay healthy and overcome one of the biggest pitchers’ parks in baseball. In a great trade, the A’s would give up depth to upgrade at a particular position. The fact that the team is now shallow at first means that an increase in one area has decreased another. The team will really be lucky to break even at best.
If you have followed the A’s for any amount of time, I certainly do not need to explain Daric Barton to you. He is a mystery wrapped in a riddle. Let’s not even go there in other words. Brandon Moss, while a great story in 2013 is still an unknown entity. After drifting for 5 seasons between the majors and minors, Moss had a fairly special season last year. Clubbing 21 Home Runs in 84 games will get just about anyone’s attention. But then Carter hit 16 in only 67 games. But let’s focus on Moss for a moment. In a small sample size, the man was great. He hit at home and on the road. From June to October, he just hit and hit and hit. But he did show a clear splits differential. Try a 1.006 OPS against Right Handed Pitchers and a .770 OPS and 2 Home Runs against 2 Home Runs against lefties. Yes, Moss had almost 4 times the number of At-Bats against righties, but clearly he favors hitting against righties. Carter’s numbers in that respect were actually better. Carter had a .837 OPS and 11 Home Runs against righties, .898 OPS and 5 Home Runs against lefties. Not exactly a perfect platoon situation. To me, the ideal scenario would have been to make Carter the everyday First Baseman and move Moss to DH. Then the A’s could have shifted Coco Crisp or an extra outfielder for a Lowrie type player or more pitching. But you don’t deal a blossoming player when you don’t have enough depth to cover him. Let’s say Moss falters and 2012 turns out to be a mirage. What do the A’s do then? Turn to Barton? Sign Carlos Lee or Scott Rolen? No thanks.
Moss will be 30 in September. He is eligible for free agency in 2017. I guess in Beane’s mind, he is the real deal. But the same was said of Jonny Gomes. And the A’s had no problems letting him walk away. I am not saying that Jed Lowrie was not a good player to acquire. I just wouldn’t have paid the price that the A’s did to get him. He is far from a sure bet. He is affordable at $2.4 million. But he is also a risk to play in only 75 games and hit 7 Home Runs. Not the price that I would pay for a 30+ Home Run potential bat with a .360+ OBP and .480+ SLG. Yes, Chris Carter is that good.
Which begs one last question. What the heck are the Astros doing accumulating so many First Basemen and Designated Hitters on their roster? Do they realize they can only play a grand total of one player at each position? After Carter, the Astros have on their roster: Brett Wallace, Carlos Pena, Jonathan Singleton (after he completes his drug suspension) and Nate Freiman. Never heard of Freiman? Go check out the tapes and watch his performance for Team Israel in the WBC qualifiers this year. This kid can hit. Also, Carter, Wallace and Pena are all former A’s. Coincidence? So the irony is that Astros basically stole Carter from the A’s and have nowhere to play him. Will Carter move back to the outfield? Very unlikely given the poor scouting reports of his outfield play in the minors. But you never know. So the irony at the end of the discussion is that each team that acquires Chris Carter has looked very intelligent to me. I really thought his last stop would be Oakland. Given the logjam in Houston, Carter may yet be on the move again. I only wish baseball GMs could see Chris Carter’s potential through my eyes. If there is a baseball owner out there that would like to throw me into the fire as their General Manager, please feel free to contact me. Operators are standing by now to take your call. My first order of business? To call Jeff Luhnow and pry Carter from his roster. In Chris Carter we trust. To Billy Beane- let’s talk in October. If you pulled off another masterpiece swap, my hat off to you. If this one falters, I will be sorry to say it…but expect to hear the four words that people most hate to hear in the English language: “I told you so”.
(*The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com*)
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Posted on February 11, 2013, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged @jhacohen, @Jhacohen on twitter, A.J. Griffin, adam rosales, AL Cy Young Award Winner, AL West, babe ruth, bartolo colon, baseball, billy beane, brad peacock, brandon mccarthy, brett anderson, brett wallace, carlos gonzalez, Carlos lee, Carlos Pena, carlos quentin, chris carter, coco crisp, dan haren, dan straily, derek norris, don mattingly, fernando rodriguez, george kottaras, grant balfour, hiroyuki nakajima, houston astros, jack morris, jarrod parker, jed lowrie, jeff luhnow, jemile weeks, jonathan hacohen, jonathan singleton, jonny gomes, josh reddick, mark mcgwire, mark melancon, Max Stassi, melky cabrera, mlb, nate freiman, new york yankees, oakland a's, oakland athletics, ped, rick reuschel, sammy sosa, san francisco giants, scott rolen, scott sizemore, tommy john, tommy milone, toronto blue jays, yoenis cespdes. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.