Yesterday, the Brewers checked an important box that had remained open on their offseason task list: fill the void at first base. With both Adam Lind and Jason Rogers having departed via trade this winter, Slingin' David Stearns had made it a priority to find the Brewers a new first baseman, reportedly "casting a wide net" in his search. He came up with someone who he was quite familiar with from his time in Houston, former Astros slugger Chris Carter. So now that we know who the Brewers' first baseman will be, what can we expect from to see from the 29 year old?
Carter was somewhat of a late-bloomer and has bounced around during his professional career, with Milwaukee now becoming his fourth organization. He was drafted in the 15th round of the 2005 MLB Draft but didn't become an everyday big league player until 2013, his age 26 season.
Offensively, Carter has been an above-average contributor in each of his three full major league seasons as measured by wRC+. The way he's gotten there, however, might not be exactly the type of production that the "more traditional" fan is particularly fond of. Chris strikes out A LOT. In his first full season in the big leagues he whiffed a league-leading 212 times in 585 plate appearances, or 36.2% of the time. He's featured similar strikeout totals of 31.8% and 32.8% in the last two seasons. As a result, his career batting average is awfully low at .217. He's struggled particularly with sliders down-and-away and owns a disastrous -9.0 wSL (weighted slider runs above average) for his big league career. High fastballs have also given him fits during his time in the show.
When Carter does make contact, however, the ball tends to travel a long way. He's slugged 109 home runs in 2,001 career plate appearances, including 90 over the past three seasons. That total ranks him eight in the big leagues since 2013, just behind Josh Donaldson. In fact, nearly half of Carter's 377 career hits have gone for extra bases. His average exit velocity of 92.55 MPH ranked him 25th among the 426 hitters with 50 measured at-bats, according to Baseball Savant. To say that the hulking 6'4", 250 lb Carter has some serious right-handed pop in his bat would probably be an understatement.
Despite of his low batting averages, Carter has maintained a decent .312 on-base percentage during his career thanks in large part to an excellent 11.5% walk rate. Though he hit just .199 last season, due to his large walk total Chris actually got on base at a better rate (.307) than someone like Jean Segura (.281) even though Segura's batting average was nearly 60 points higher.
All together, this adds up to a legitimate "three true outcomes" hitter. Carter has walked, struck out, or hit a home run in 50.4% of his career plate appearances, but he's made that approach work for him. For his career he owns solidly above-average 111 wRC+. He did endure a down season last year and posted just a 101 wRC+ in 129 games, causing the Astros to non-tender him rather than pay him a raise through arbitration.
On the other side of the ball, fans should be prepared for anything while Carter takes the field at first base. It wouldn't quite be fair to call him a butcher in the field, but he's certainly below-average at first and there's a reason he's been prominently featured as a designated hitter. Over his career he owns a -14 DRS and -10.3 UZR in 2064.2 innings there. He's also spent time in the outfield corners, but don't expect him to man either of those positions in Milwaukee.
At just one year and $2.5 mil guaranteed (with $500k in incentives), the risk of signing Chris Carter is almost nonexistent, even for a small market team like Milwaukee. If his bat can bounce back to its 2013-2014 levels, he's shown he can be about a 2 WAR player. That would be welcome production from the veteran and would provide plenty of surplus value on his contract, which could make Chris a nice piece to have control of at the trade deadline. Or if the club decides to hang on to him, he comes with three remaining years of control through arbitration and could be a multi-year stop gap at first base, where the club lacks a clear long-term solution in the minor leagues.
Overall, this signing was a good one by David Stearns and continues his strong first offseason as Brewers' GM. Even if the team won't be much good next year it should at least be fun to watch Chris Carter trying to launch dingers to the base of Bernie's slide, though we'll probably be able to feel the breeze from his swing-and-misses in the stands.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs