Richard Justice

Slugging Carter could be bargain of offseason

Rays, Rangers, Blue Jays among teams who should make run at power bat

Slugging Carter could be bargain of offseason

There's a story that may sum up Chris Carter's Major League career. It may also explain why he could end up being the best free-agent bargain of this offseason.

That Carter remains unsigned is curious. It's also an opportunity for a bunch of teams. If he takes a deal in Japan (as reports say he's considering), it will be a missed opportunity.

Carter brings something to the table every team is seeking. That's power. Game-changing power. Season-changing power.

Carter is coming off a season in which he hit 41 homers for the Brewers. In the past four seasons, he has averaged 33, sixth best in baseball.

In those four seasons, Carter has averaged one home run every 14.9 at-bats. Only Chris Davis, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton have hit them more frequently.

Carter's home runs are things to behold, running the spectrum from towering moonshots to line drives that leave the park so quickly they seem to vaporize.

His 41 home runs for the Brewers in 2016 averaged 411 feet -- 20th best in the big leagues among players with at least 190 batted balls, according to Statcast™. He was eighth best in barreling up the ball (56). He also hit the ball hard -- an average of 92.6 mph, good for 17th best, according to Statcast™.

Carter's 465-foot home run

Anyway, here's that story that adds some context to Carter's career. In the second half of the 2015 season, he was going so badly that the Astros were discussing releasing him.

Between July 23 and Sept. 7 that season, Carter batted .138 and homered twice in 58 at-bats. Had Houston handed him a pink slip, nary an eyebrow would have been raised.

Why didn't that happen?

"Because he could get hot and carry us right through September," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.

And as Houston watched a seven-game lead in the American League West disappear, manager A.J. Hinch turned back to Carter in September.

This is what happened. He got hot.

Maybe Carter wasn't exactly alone in carrying the Astros to their first playoff spot in 10 years, but they may not have gotten there without him.

Hinch began writing Carter's name in his lineup again on Sept. 15. In the next 15 games, Carter hit .349 and had a 1.252 OPS with four doubles, six home runs and 12 RBIs.

Carter's clutch go-ahead blast

In the game that ended up clinching a postseason berth -- No. 161 for Houston that year -- Carter doubled twice in a 6-2 victory at Arizona.

That's what Carter can deliver. He will have some cold streaks. Carter has averaged 188 strikeouts the past four seasons. His career batting average (.218) and on-base percentage (.314) say he's not perfect.

But when Carter gets hot -- and his 2,645 Major League plate appearances say he will get hot -- he's capable of spectacular things.

Did I mention that Carter is also one of the softest-spoken, most polite and genuine people a team can have?

Once after Hinch sat Carter out for a long stretch, the skipper played him in back-to-back games.

Knowing Carter had not been happy with the lack of playing time, Hinch joked, "You OK with playing two games in a row?"

Carter smiled.

"Let me go warm up and get back to you," Carter said.

Carter wasn't being serious. He was thrilled to be playing again.

Carter isn't the last of the sluggers on the market, but he's the most unique. Let's play matchmaker and give three teams a nudge:

• Hot Stove Tracker

1. Rays
Come on, fellas, let's do this. The Rays have finished 24th, 25th and 27th in runs the past three seasons. They've just traded their second baseman, Logan Forsythe, but happen to have a first baseman who can also play at second. Why not shift Brad Miller from first to second and see if Carter is interested in playing first for Tampa Bay?

2. Rangers
Mike Napoli likely will end up being the final piece to Texas' puzzle, possibly as soon as general manager Jon Daniels clears a spot on his 40-man roster. But Carter provides an interesting fallback option at both first base and designated hitter.

3. Blue Jays
Would Carter make this team better? Yes, absolutely. Will finances prevent it from happening? Most likely. Toronto's payroll is pushing $150 million, and after the signings of Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales, there may not be room for another big-ticket addition. But it's food for thought for Blue Jays fans.

Richard Justice is a columnist for You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.