One-Dimension: the gap between Chris Carter’s market and actual value

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Trivia question: which two players shared the NL home run crown in 2016?

If you failed to conjure up the names, Nolan Arenado and Chris Carter, you’re not alone. The unlikely-duo paced the Senior Circuit with 41 home runs apiece – and couldn’t be much further apart as players.

Colorado’s Arenado, 25, is a defensive-stud at the hot corner who anchors the Rockies’ lineup in his free time. Milwaukee’s Carter, 29, is this generation’s answer to Rob Deer. Such is the beauty of baseball statistics, where polar opposites can appear side-by-side in the leader columns.

Still, 41 home runs are nothing to sneeze at, even as baseball’s power numbers spiked to steroids-era levels (5,610 total home runs, baseball’s highest since 2000).

Carter hit 11 more home runs than his next-closest Brewers teammate, Ryan Braun. His 94 RBI also paced the club. Going into the off-season, one of the questions circling Miller Park was how much the club was going to value those counting stats.

The Brewers answered that question on Tuesday, when they non-tendered Carter, effectively cutting-ties with the slugger. To add insult to injury, they replaced him with Eric Thames – a former MLB-washout-turned-KBO-star.

The move is being labeled as a financial one; Thames’ three-year deal will pay him $4 million in 2017. Carter made just $2.5 million, last year, and is undoubtedly due for a raise.

This leads us to today’s question: what should his value be on the open market?

First, let’s put Carter’s raw numbers from last year against those of some comparable players:

Chris Carter: .222/.321/.499, 41 HR, 94 RBI
Todd Frazier: .225/.302/.464, 40 HR, 98 RBI
Mike Napoli: .239/.335/.465, 34 HR, 101 RBI

Now compare their 2016 salaries:

Carter: $2.5 million
Frazier: $7.5 million
Napoli: $7 million

Frazier’s contract (two years, $12 million total) makes a good floor for contract discussions. He and Carter are the same age, and put up virtually-identical stat lines. Carter will be looking for a two-year deal in the $16-20 million range.
Working in his favor is this year’s bone-thin crop of free agents – especially with Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick being snatched off the market early.

Despite his relative-youth, it feels like Carter’s been around forever. He was drafted in 2005, and spent over half a decade toiling on various prospect lists before finally getting a shot in 2012.

In his first go-around, he hit 16 home runs in just 67 games. As a sophomore, he increased that total to 29, but struck out a league-leading 212 times. Carter murders fastballs, but struggles to hit just about anything else. In 2016, he batted .284 with 25 home runs against hard stuff, versus just .156 and 16 versus off-speed/movement pitches.

He walks at a decent clip (76 in 2016, 10 IBB), but is below average in every other facet of the game. Even all those home runs, he generated a mere .9 WAR. The value of his awesome power was negated by poor base-running, sub-par fielding and a lack of any hitting tool beyond hitting moon shots.

Even Frazier, who won’t ever be confused for a five-tool player, managed to scrape together 3.4 WAR.

In 2015, the average dollar amount teams paid per WAR was $5,282,582. In Carter’s five seasons, he has generated 4.6 WAR, an average of .9 a season. Going by that metric, and accounting for inflation (let’s use a figure of 5%), he will likely produce about $9.8 million worth of value over two seasons.

Thus, anything north of $10 million over two years would be an over pay. However, we all know GMs don’t always adhere to logic when it comes to contracts, and Carter holds some leverage in a weak market. He will be overpaid, but he will be far from the first baseball player for whom that statement applies.

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