One of the many “Midas Touch” acquisitions made by Ben Cherington last season was Mike Carp. Purchased on February 20 from Seattle, Carp posted a line of .296/.362/.523. That slugging percentage was a career high, and the average and on base percentage were his best since his 2009 21-game rookie campaign. It was undoubtedly his best offensive season in the big leagues. Defensively, the vast majority of his work came in left field and at first base (70 of his 77 appearances) but he was also in the lineup five times as the DH and two times in right field. So why should the Red Sox be trying to unload a relatively versatile 27 year-old coming off of a career year?
As we grind on towards Opening Day, the biggest roster related question still needing to be answered for Boston is what five outfielders will begin the season in Baltimore on March 31. We can safely assume that Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes are relative locks, if healthy. That leaves three spots for Carp, Daniel Nava, the (allegedly rejuvenated) Grady Sizemore, and Jackie Bradley. This dilemma does not have an easy solution.
One option would be to send JBJ back down to Pawtucket to start the season. He has options left, and that move keeps the most possible talent within the organization. But at this point what else does Bradley have left to prove in the minor leagues? If you aren’t going to take the kid gloves off and really let him play now, when are you? Every prospect is different, but sending him down again feels like something that really could be detrimental to his development and ultimately his value. In short, I believe that Jackie has earned the chance to be on the big league roster this year.
The other major downside to this option is that it exposes some potential serious depth issues in center field. There would only be two players left with the capability to play center field; Sizemore and Victorino. Sizemore’s medical chart is thicker than your 85 year-old grandmother’s, and even though he was absolutely fantastic last season, Shane Victorino’s nickname last season should have been “Nagging Injuries”. He nursed several different ailments throughout the season, mostly as the result of playing right field defense with a stunning combination of speed, intensity, and commitment. So with this roster you are constantly on the verge of seeing the harrowing Gomes/Nava/Carp defensive outfield alignment that we (barely) lived through in a July game at Seattle last year. The risk would be even greater when either Sizemore or Victorino is just banged up a little bit, but not injured to the point where they would be DL’d. This is definitely a risky proposition, especially for a team that places such a premium on defense.
The other likely option would be to keep Jackie Bradley, Jr. on the major league roster along with Gomes, Victorino, and Sizemore. This would then necessitate trading either Daniel Nava or Mike Carp, two guys who really overlap each other’s usefulness. Both players are competent left fielders and first basemen who destroy right-handed pitching but struggle to hit lefties.
Carp will make $1.4M this season and can first hit free agency in 2017. Nava, on the other hand, will make $556,500 and is eligible for free agency a year later in 2018. So Carp has the advantage of being four years younger on his side, while Nava is slightly cheaper and under team control for an additional year.
I (admittedly and unabashedly) love Daniel Nava and can’t imagine trading him, but for me there is one major deciding factor here. Nava (134 games, 536 plate appearances) was inherently more integral to the success of last year’s team than Carp (86 games, 243 plate appearances). A small market National League team (I’m talking to you, Pittsburgh) should be extremely interested in acquiring Mike Carp to be their starting first baseman. For $1.4M he would give them fantastic value and an extremely rare commodity, cheap power.
So, assuming that the Grady Sizemore Comeback Tour continues in full force and Shane “Nagging Injuries” Victorino are both healthy and ready to go as Spring Training concludes, I am a proponent of shopping and trading Mike Carp. For a player that cost the team nothing to acquire and very little for a quality 2013 campaign, anything the organization gets in return for him now has the potential to be a great value in the future.