Friday, December 2nd is the deadline for MLB teams to tender 2017 contracts to players under team control. At the beginning of of the offseason, the Blue Jays had five arbitration-eligible players without contracts; with Marcus Stroman a lock to be tendered and Josh Thole's release, that leaves three potential tender decisions for the Blue Jays. After examining Darwin Barney yesterday, next up is Ezequiel Carrera.
Background: Signed as a minor league free agent in December 2014; called up in May 2015, sent outright in August but added back to major league roster later that month.
2016 production: 0.7 WAR in 310 plate appearances; 85 wRC+. Below average batting offset by strong defensive metrics in outfield corners. Great production (127 wRC+) in playoffs.
Status: 3.039 years of service (first year of eligibility); platform salary of $521,800 in 2016; no options remaining
MLBTR 2017 Salary Projection: $1.2-million
So far this offseason I've gone back and forth a bit on Carrera. Two months ago when I first looked at the roster in terms of 2017, I had him as a non-tender candidate. A month ago, when I published the look ahead, I had moved him into the tender camp penciled in as the 4th outfielder on the back of his solid playoff performance. Now I've gone back to a non-tender candidate.
At core, Carrera is basically a classic extra outfielder at the back end of a roster. He doesn't hit much (83 career wRC+), adds some speed on the basepaths, grades out decently in the outfield corners (with the occasional great plays, but prone to a few too many gaffes) but can't do more than fake it in centre. As he approaches his 30th birthday next year with 377 games over parts of seven seasons and under 2 career WAR, he's very much a replacement type role player.
That profile is fairly unremarkable, and consequently players like Carrera rarely have much job security, especially as they get more expensive through arbitration. But there's a few things in his favour. While his salary is projected to double through arbitration, in absolute terms it's little above the minimum and peanuts in the grand scheme of the budget. He's the proverbial devil you know, so do you rock the boat to save so little money, especially without an obvious internal replacement? Last but certainly not least, he appears to have John Gibbons' confidence, which tends to be a pretty big factor when rosters are rounded out.
The key here may actually end up being Melvin Upton Jr and where he fits into the corner outfield and bench mix. Right now, Dalton Pompey, Upton and Carrera would appear to slot into those three positions, but the Jays have been very open about their desire to upgrade the outfield and have been linked to various options. Pompey is likely the first man out when an addition is made, destined for AAA barring perhaps a huge spring forcing their hand.
So adding one outfielder isn't a problem for Carrera. But Upton struggled mightily after coming over following a 16 month renaissance in San Diego, and if the Jays want to upgrade further then it would push Upton to the bench or perhaps a platoon role. Unless they were to cut bait on Upton entirely, then it doesn't leave a spot for Carrera unless they carry five outfielders. That's not inconceivable if rosters expanded to 26, but it's probably not in the cards.
All that said, it doesn't mean they'll will, or should, non-tender him. The current winter plan may not leave room for him, but the worst case scenario would be having to release him at the end of Spring Training and pay him 25% of whatever he's was set to make (so about $300,000, again a drop in the overall bucket). Even if his skill set is pretty fungible and replacements of similar value should not be in short supply, if something happened in Spring Training having that extra depth already in camp and familiar with the organization would be beneficial and in light of the limited cost, preferable.
Balancing the costs and benefits, I'd expect Carrera to be tendered a 2017 contract on Friday, though doing sowon't won't clear up much of the haze surrounding the outfield situation. But if he were non-tendered, it could very well be a window into how aggressive they expect to be in upgrading the outfield this winter.