The big bat versus the reliable glove. The late blooming slugger or the blue-collar professional. A solid infielder that helps you in the short term over the coming-int0-his-own first basemen that could turn into a star on offense down the road.
That’s what Beane really had to choose between here — the potential of Chris Carter as an above-average hitter with home run power against the warm, fuzzy security blanket of a utility infielder who can provide valuable defense and (hopefully) average offense in Jed Lowrie.
I’m willing to bet that Oakland’s front office is the one that made the first call in initiating this trade, and ultimately the emergence of Brandon Moss as a starting first basemen along with Seth Smith showing he can play good enough defense to not only be a designated hitter is what made Carter expendable.
Throw in the fact that Moss, Smith and Daric Barton all bat left-handed, and factor in Carter’s below-average defense, and you get an idea of why he ends up in Houston.
Beane is betting on two things here: 1) Even in the best-case scenario, Carter will not be that much of an upgrade over Brandon Moss at first or Seth Smith/fill-in-the-blank as a designated hitter, and 2) the Astros are going to continue to be absolutely terrible.
How else do you justify sending a contributing player to a division opponent? It’s not as if they just gave him away, but it’s not often you see a player get traded outright to a team in direct competition with the club that’s trading him.
Here’s where you ask yourself, “Who are we to question the reigning Executive of the Year? Why would the all-knowing, infallible Billy Beane be wrong?”
For one, whenever you have to get as creative as Billy Beane does year-in and year-out, you’re going to miss on a couple of these positional gambles. This move was clearly made with defense in mind, and you have to wonder when looking at the infielders on the roster if Beane just traded what could’ve been the most offensive-oriented player in that group. And remember, this is an infield that is already pretty hungry for offense.
Additionally, would you rather hold on to guys like Smith and Moss, aged 30 and 29 respectively, who will likely continue on after their time in Oakland as journeyman-type players with another team, or take a shot with Carter, who just turned 26 and could end up being a 30+ home run hitter?
If you don’t have a player automatically penciled in as the everyday designated hitter, why not give those minutes to Carter and keep an extra infielder instead of an extra outfielder like Smith, who’s best days could be behind him?
The most encouraging thing about Carter is the fact that he did so much with his limited playing time last year. He endeared himself to fans as a homegrown product who was finally getting his shot after ups-and-downs in his journey through the minors, and what’s not to love when he’s doing things like this? (NOTE: I picked that video specifically for three reasons — it was shot on a camera phone at the game, it leads in with the A-Team theme song, and it’s a perfect example of the A’s 2012 season where they got a clutch play from an unproven player to come back and win a game in front of a loyal crowd in a mostly empty stadium).
Just imagine what happens if you give him a full season’s worth of at-bats. In a place like the Coliseum, a little offense goes a long way, and a 3-4-5 batting order of Reddick, Cespedes and Carter could have turned out to be one of the one of the most productive and affordable cleanup units in all of baseball.
Finally, Lowrie has missed a lot of time in the past. So essentially, you could be paying more for someone who plays less at a position where there is already a surplus of options to choose from.
We should find out early on in the season if Beane made the right choice, at least as far as his assessment of Carter goes. He’ll get plenty of playing time to show what he can do, so the jury won’t be out long in deciding whether or not his offense could have lifted the A’s to another level.
While there’s no way it comes back to bite them in the division standings (Houston finished dead last in ESPN’s power rankings 14 out of 27 weeks last year, and hasn’t done much to improve upon that roster), if Carter goes on a tear and smacks the ball around Minute Maid Park while Oakland’s infield struggles collectively at the plate, this trade will look a whole lot worse.
And if the A’s fall behind in the standings because they can’t keep up with the big swinging teams like the Rangers and Angels, then Billy Beane will rue the day he traded Chris Carter.