It's been nearly two weeks since Chris Carter was dealt to the Houston Astros, and we've dissected things pretty thoroughly here on Athletics Nation. We've gone over what Oakland got in the deal, what they gave up, the upsides and downsides, and the general win-now attitude. However, there is one more angle from which I would like to look at this transaction, and it's important. It reveals the true reason why Carter simply had to go, no matter what he does or doesn't turn into at the plate this year. I think that the reason is best illustrated in the following list:
|Player||Positions he can play effectively|
|Yoenis Cespedes||LF-CF-SS (just kidding)|
* as long as you don't hit it to him or throw it at him
Last week, Nico wrote an article which beautifully summed up Oakland's new strategy. The gist of it is that depth is the new Moneyball advantage because Stuff Happens, meaning that the team with the deeper roster will be better suited to weather the 162-day storm of the baseball season (and that Forrest Gump is, unexpectedly, the biggest baseball genius of the last 50 years). However, I think that the strategy is about more than that. Take a look at that list above and tell me which player doesn't belong.
I may be splitting hairs here, but there is more than just depth on this roster. The versatility is the thing which really catches my eye, and it's the only way to fit this kind of depth onto a 25-man squad. At best, you have 13 roster spots to account for 8 defensive positions, which means that the only way to be at least two-deep at each position is to have guys who can play multiple spots. It's not enough to sign three guys who play second base; they also have to be able to play somewhere else, or else you won't be able to fit them all on the roster. It's also not enough to stick a Rosales-type utility player in that 25th spot and just assume that everything is covered. Are you comfortable with that player starting 50 games in the event of an injury to a starter, and if so, do you have another super-utility guy to adequately slip into the now-vacated role?
Oakland has created a roster which answers these questions. If the six infielders end up being Moss, Sizemore, Hiro, Donaldson, Lowrie, and Weeks, then you have three guys who can play 1st (counting Jaso), four at 2nd, two at short, and three at 3rd, plus an emergency third catcher in Donaldson (and it's even better if you replace Weeks with Rosie or Green). Each outfielder can cover at least two spots, as can Moss in a pinch. The individuals aren't necessarily All-Stars (though a few could be), but all 13 guys are good enough to start. With their infield and outfield rotations, they can withstand an injury to literally any position player and still move on with the next guy without missing a beat...not just because they have depth, but because they have depth and versatility.
Out of 15 players who have a shot at making Oakland's roster, there are only two who are limited to a single defensive position, and they both play up-the-middle: Norris, who, as a catcher, gets a bit of a pass for only playing one position; and Jemile Weeks, whose lack of versatility is sure to be a point against him in Spring Training. (Note: Up-the-middle positions are more difficult to fill, so it's less of a knock to "only" play one of these spots: C/2B/SS/CF) Carter has neither the versatility to cover multiple spots, nor the ability to play any premium position. He can only survive at first base, and even then, he's not all that good at it. He's a DH on a team which can't afford a spot on its roster for a dedicated DH.
And there's the rub. That's why it doesn't matter what Carter does this year. He was just never going to fit on this roster because the A's need to maximize their versatility as much as possible (which is why I think that Weeks' only chance of making it is if he hits like crazy in Spring Training). What was Carter's best-case scenario in 2013? Realistically, it was to hit so well that he broke out of the platoon at first base and became the full-time DH (I don't think that Moss will play poorly enough to lose his half of the job). That would have been nice, but it would have ruined Oakland's entire roster-building strategy. With the DH spot locked up, the outfield rotation wouldn't work anymore, robbing Melvin of the opportunity to rest starters and give everyone consistent playing time. The infield rotation would also be more limited, because the 6th infield spot would be taken by Carter, who can't help at other positions. Now, that may all have been worth it if he were to hit .300/.420/.600 with 40 homers, but what about a more realistic line, like 25 homers with a .370 OBP and 180 strikeouts? That's a nice hitter, but is it good enough to be worth gumming up the entire rest of the machine? Especially when said machine already has up to 8 guys who could potentially be capable of hitting 20+ homers if given 600 PA's? (Moss, Reddick, Cespedes, Young, Lowrie, Donaldson, Sizemore, Smith)
I'm bummed that Chris Carter won't get a shot in Oakland this year. I liked watching him hit last season, and I think that he'll do well in Houston. However, the fact remains that he has exactly one skill, and it's a skill which Oakland already has in abundance. It's what he doesn't have which excludes him from this particular roster. Keeping Carter would have meant sacrificing versatility for power, and that's just a poor decision to make on a roster which already has power and craves maximum flexibility. Dealing him, especially for a versatile player who has relatively good power for his position(s), is a no-brainer move. Carter wasn't just the steep price of acquiring a win-now player in Lowrie; he was a guy who had to go in order for this roster to work properly.
Now don't trip over a sprinkler and hurt yourself on the first day, Jed.