The Brewers have eight players up for arbitration this winter as they continue their rebuild. We'll take a look at each one, make the case for tendering that player a contract and the case for cutting ties, and try to figure out what the Brewers should do before the non-tender deadline.
Why not start with the guy who's probably going to be at the center of the non-tender debate for the next month?
1B Chris Carter
2016 Salary: $2.5 million ($3 million with incentives)
Estimated Arbitration Cost (via MLB Trade Rumors): $8.1 million
The Case for Tendering
Do we need to revisit the list of first basemen the Brewers have had since Prince Fielder earned a monster free agent contract? Here it is again, just as a refresher: Adam Lind, Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay (not the good one), Alex Gonzalez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Juan Francisco (a personal favorite), Sean Halton, Travis Ishikawa, Mat Gamel, Corey Hart. That's 10 guys in four years, and doesn't include the occasional start at first base for catchers like Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado.
Then the Brewers took a flier on Carter after he was non-tendered by the Astros last winter, signing him for a bargain basement price and ending up with the league leader in home runs. For the first time since Hart (30 HR in 2012), the Brewers had a true power threat at first base.
Yeah, he only hit .222, and that's ugly even in a time where we've mostly learned to look past batting average. But he also walked in nearly 12% of his plate appearances, leading to an OBP nearly 100 points higher than that batting average. The Brewers haven't seen a Three True Outcomes hero like this since Russell Branyan.
Even though Carter struggled with consistency for much of the year, he came through when the Brewers needed him. Baseball Reference says 28 of his 41 home runs came in either medium or high leverage situations, and he had an OPS of 1.034 in medium leverage. In other words, he wasn't working in garbage time.
Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference had Carter's Wins Above Replacement at, well, about one singular win (0.9 for both). It may sound crazy to pay a guy worth a single win over a replacement player (say, Sean Halton) about $8 million, but last year that's what 1 WAR was worth on the open market.
And, to be brutally honest, the Brewers are going to have to pay someone in 2017 -- especially if they think about trading Ryan Braun -- if they want to avoid a complaint from the players union. They already cut $50 million in payroll from 2015 to 2016, and 2017's payroll could be even lower than 2016's $64 million. They may as well bring back their biggest power threat and hope he gets off to a hot start before trading him in July.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Carter will be 30 years old in 2017, so this is pretty much what he's going to be -- a masher who struggles mightily to make contact. While his 41 home runs made him a league leader, so did his 206 strikeouts. 23 of his 41 home runs were solo shots, and he struck out 60 times with runners in scoring position. While the leverage numbers were good, he only had 25 hits with runners in scoring position, and 13 of them were home runs.
His skillset can be frustrating to watch, even for those who can appreciate what he does bring. A generally highly-regarded front office -- and a front office from which the Brewers current General Manager came -- cut him loose for a cheaper option with the same skillset in Jon Singleton before just deciding to play a utility infielder at first (sound familiar?). Yeah, the Brewers have struggled to find consistent play at the position over the years, but the barely-over-replacement-level WAR means the Brewers should be able to find someone to add the same amount of value to the team (past failures to do so notwithstanding).
As fun as Carter can be to watch, he's a luxury that you could argue a rebuilding team doesn't need.
What Should Happen?
Carter's a flawed player. We can say that confidently after nearly 2300 Major League at-bats. With that said, he does bring a valuable asset, and with right-handed power coming in short supply these days, the Brewers should probably tender the contract and take their chances in arbitration. A two-year deal to buy out his last years of arbitration as a Super Two could make some sense, and would give the Brewers a little extra value to sell if they did decide to trade him next summer.
As mentioned earlier, the Brewers will need to spend money somewhere this winter, and with the free agent class looking the weakest it's been in years, they could do worse than throwing a few extra million at one of their better power bats.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs