Friday, December 1st is the deadline for MLB teams to tender 2018 contracts to players under team control. The Blue Jays have 11 arbitration-eligible players, four of whom I identified at the beginning of the offseason as less than complete locks to be tendered. Each will be examined this week, starting with 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.
2017 production: 0.7 fWAR / -0.4 bWAR in 325 plate appearances, 107 wRC+ driven by .358 BABIP. Added value on the basepaths, but defensive metrics split as to whether he was merely very bad (-7 UZR) or abysmal (-14 DRS).
Status: 4.039 years of service, $1.1625-million platform year salary, no options remaining.
MLBTR 2018 Salary Projection: $1.9-million
Estimated likelihood of tender: 90%
It may seem absurd that's there's even a question as to whether to tender a player who was the third most productive hitter on the team in 2017, especially considering the outfield depth chart is quite unsettled and has some holes. And fair enough, the reality is it's exceedingly likely that Carrera will be tendered.
But that offensive production was driven by a career high .358 BABIP, which is unlikely to be repeated. A recent analysis (see slide 19) suggested he is one of the strongest BABIP regression candidates in MLB. Granted, I don't buy that it should have been more than 100 points lower in light of his career level, but nonetheless the direction is pretty clear.
A fall in his BABIP would pull his production back below average, which is why Steamer is projecting him at a level consistent with his pre-2017 production. On the positive side, he's now maintained a ~9% walk rate for the last two seasons and 600+ plate appearances versus a 4-6% level previously, so that adds some value and I could see him in the low-90s wRC+ range.
All that said, Carrera's bread has never been buttered at the plate, it's been his secondary value that's kept in at the big league level or at least around its fringes. He's not a burner, but has consistently added value on the basepaths, despite all too frequent seemingly inexplicable blunders.
Which takes us to his work in the field, where he made a ton of mistakes in 2017 and the metrics absolutely reflected it. Just as his batting is likely to regress from 2017, so should his defensive performance. It's not like he lost something in 2017, there were just too many misreads, ill-advised dives, throws to the wrong bag/area, etc.
And that's really the crux of the matter. For a role player, Carrera exhibits frankly a shocking lack of fundamentals. If hisrate of fundamental mistakes were even cut in half, he'd be a solid or perhaps above average fourth outfielder. But fairly marginal players can't really afford to be regularly leaking value.
Then there's the broader outfield picture. As much as many would like to be rid of Kendrys Morales, realistically they're not going to cut bait on him for at least a couple months (if he continues to be a mediocre at best hitter and they're contending). Unless someone gets moved, that leaves Steve Pearce in left field.
Then there's Teoscar Hernandez, whose power display in September put him firmly in the picture. Given the 38% strikeout rate, the Jays should be reticent about him being an everyday player, hence their desire to add an outfielder. That could leave Hernandez in Buffalo, but they could also keep him on the bench as the primary backup and give him the chance to play himself into more. At 25, he's closer to a finished product developmentally.
Behind him, Anthony Alford should be knocking on the door, Dwight Smith Jr should get a shot soon if they're going to keep him, and Dalton Pompey is certainly not a non-factor, if he can ever get and stay healthy. That's to say nothing of players that might become available on waivers or cheaply in trades or free agency. Given all this, does it make sense to essentially commit a roster spot to a pretty fringey 30-year-old player with no roster flexibility?
The flip side is that Carrera's a veteran who John Gibbons seems to like, and his projected salary is still a pretty insignificant hit against the budget. Every little bit counts, but it's not like non-tendering him is going to be the difference in a bringing in players that really move the needle. And if circumstances change, they can always go in a different direction in Spring Training and it will only cost at most 25% of whatever he's awarded (less than $500,000)..
As frustrating as Carrera can be, the grass isn't always greener on the other side. And that makes him very likely to be tendered.