HOUSTON -- The power surge came at just the right time for the Astros and for first baseman Chris Carter, who was able to salvage a disappointing 2015 campaign with an impressive power surge in September that earned him a spot in the starting lineup in the playoffs.
But was it enough for the Astros to want to bring him back in 2016?
They have until 10:59 p.m. CT on Wednesday to determine whether to tender a contract to Carter, who's one of Houston's eight arbitration-eligible players. Carter, who made $4.175 million last season and who could command between $5-6 million next year, is a candidate to be non-tendered by the club, which would make him a free agent.
Paying Carter north of $5 million probably doesn't make sense for the Astros, considering they have options at first. Not only could Valbuena get some time there as a left-handed bat, but fifth-ranked Houston prospect A.J. Reed figures to be in Major League camp competing for the job. Jon Singleton, who signed a $10 million contract midway through 2014, is still in the mix.
Reed, a second-round pick in 2014, was named Astros Minor League Player of the Year after leading all of the Minors in home runs (34), RBIs (127) and OPS (1.044) while batting .340 in 135 combined games between Double-A Corpus Christi and Class A Advanced Lancaster in 2015.
"We've got players in Triple-A a lot of our fans want to see up here," general manager Jeff Luhnow said in November when addressing arbitration-eligible players. "We've got other considerations potentially through the trade market and free agency, and we just need to consider arbitration players in the context of whether they're the best fit for our team, but it doesn't come down to whether or not we can afford them. We can afford to keep them all if we wanted to."
Carter hit .199 last season with 24 homers and 64 RBIs, thanks to a red-hot finish after being essentially benched in mid-July. He led the Majors in batting average (.353), slugging percentage (.971) and OPS (1.376) from Sept. 18 until the end of the season, hitting six homers with 10 RBIs in that span. That followed a stretch in which he hit .185 with one homer in 26 games from July 30-Sept. 17.
In 2014, Carter had an impressive surge in which he hit .298 with 23 homers and 55 RBIs in 61 games from July 3-Sept. 14, a stretch that accounted for more than half of his power production. He had struggled mightily in the first half of that season, and the Astros have to decide if the high strikeout totals, the streaky production and increasing contract are worth bringing him back.