Ezequiel Carrera Avoids Arbitration, Raises Questions

Ezequiel Carrera
Photo Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Following the lead of Darwin Barney, who agreed to terms with the Blue Jays earlier on Thursday, outfielder Ezequiel Carrera has avoided arbitration by signing a one-year deal for $1,162,500 with the club.

Zeke’s Thunder!

That’s a nice little payday for a player who maybe even earned every penny of that salary with his playoff performances alone. But… uh… before we cheers to his nifty raise, just how exactly does he fit here?

Oh, yes. I know. He’s a perfect fourth outfielder. Or at least a decent one. But the puzzling thing is that he’s a fourth outfielder on a team that only has one full-time outfielder right now, Kevin Pillar. And a team that, despite the presence of Carrera, Melvin Upton, and Steve Pearce, needs to add two more. Needs to.

The reason they need to isn’t necessarily obvious. Upton is a right-handed batter and Carrera is a lefty, so the assumption would be that they might make a passable-enough platoon for one corner spot. Unfortunately, that’s simply not true.

We can be forgiven for thinking that Zeke had a nice year in 2016, but our memories are rather faulty on this one. His second half was dogshit: a 35 wRC+ and 30% strikeout rate (to go along with just a 6.2% walk rate) in 103 plate appearances. He slashed .185/.272/.235 after the All-Star break. And the most success he had on the season came, for whatever reason, against same-sided pitching — and not only that, it came at home against same-sided pitching.

In 2016, Carrera’s wRC+ against lefties at home was a remarkable 180. On the road his mark was 35.

These numbers aren’t particularly significant because the samples are so small (44 and 29 PA respectively), but it goes with what I’m saying about memory. His uncharacteristic success at home (he had a 115 wRC+ at the Rogers Centre overall, 39 on the road) and his playoff success make him something in our memories that he’s really not: a potential everyday player. The reality is more stark: Ezequiel Carrera is bad.

It pains me a little bit to say that, but holy shit, he’s bad. Yes, yes, an alright fourth outfielder. But still bad.

Not only that, he’s bad and had a season that nobody in their right mind would expect him to repeat, because of the crazy outlier that is his Home vs. LHP split.

So… yeah. Zeke is nobody that anyone should be considering as a platoon-mate for Upton. Against the right-handed pitchers he’d be asked to face in such a setup, Carrera posted a 71 wRC+ in 2016. He slashed .218/.307/.320. 

For his career his wRC+ in the split is just 78.

Even the noisiest haters of this regime could not possibly believe the Blue Jays are dumb enough to actually plan on running a player like that out for 400 or more plate appearances. (And before you say it, yes, Dalton Pompey slashed .281/.360/.373 against right-handers in Buffalo, which should at least give him some consideration, but it would still be very hard to hand him 400 plate appearances, and bringing him into the mix only makes bigger problems with respect to the club’s logjam of shitty outfielders).

So why tender Carrera a contract?

A platoon of Upton and Carrera doesn’t work, and a platoon of Upton and Pearce obviously doesn’t work. Even if you wanted to use Pearce to spell Upton in the outfield against right-handers (despite the fact that he’s a right-handed hitter) and to spell Smoak at first base against left-handers, the idea that he’d be durable enough to make it happen is dubious. Pearce’s games played totals over the last four years are: 44, 102, 92, and 85. (Granted, a bunch of the games missed are because he was being platooned, but a whole bunch of others happened because he can’t seem to stay healthy.)

The reality is that Pearce is mostly going to be sharing at-bats with Smoak at first base (and hopefully taking a bunch from him in the process), while occasionally getting a spot start at DH, second base, third base, and the outfield. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s the reality… because… uh… it kinda has to be.

* * *

Looking at all this, the optimist in me would say that what we’re seeing is a club that aims to move Upton, or at the very least one that aims to carry him as injury insurance through the spring, forcing him to either hit his way onto the team or to be traded or cut. (Yay!)

I’m not 100% sure what the amount the Jays still owe him is, but the two-year total they put themselves on the hook for when they made that deal last summer with the Padres was $5 million, and most of it was on the books for 2016. [Update: Shi Davidi confirms that the Jays owe just $1 million of Upton’s 2017 salary]. They could eat that money if they had to — they sure did with Franklin fucking Morales last year — or maybe even still find a home for him once the outfield market gets less murky.

And though you might think that they could simply carry five outfielders, that doesn’t work either. That would give them a roster of five starting pitchers; seven relievers; two catchers; Morales, Smoak, and Pearce at 1B/DH; Donaldson, Tulo, and Travis as infield starters; and five outfielders (Pillar, Carrera, Upton, Upton’s platoon partner, and a right fielder).

That’s already 25 players right there, meaning no room for Darwin Barney or Ryan Goins — at least one of whom must be on the roster.

Not only do they need to add two outfielders, they also need to lose one of their current ones.

Carrera is cheap enough that they could cut him loose, too — or I suppose they could Reed Johnson him in Spring Training and only be on the hook for 1/6th his salary (unless that shit was removed four CBAs ago) —  but they could have done that without paying him anything if they had simply non-tendered him in December! That they didn’t is why I wonder if Upton’s time is running out — that the Jays might actually be as ready to move on from him as literally 100% of the fan base already is.

The fact that Carrera just avoided arbitration hasn’t changed anything about that fact, but it certainly does underline it.

Fortunately for the Jays there are a whole lot of outfielders still out there, and for bargain basement prices. Both in free agency and in trade there are a number of guys would be infinitely better fits for their current puzzle. Now if they would only JUST DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT FUCKING ALREADY!