With the almost last minute signing of Kelly Johnson and the 2013 roster potentially set for spring training now under way, it’s time for Andrew Friedman to once again start thinking for the long-term. The Rays have had three different starting first basemen over the last four years, Carlos Pena in 2010, Casey Kotchman in 2011, Carlos Pena again in 2012, and now James Loney inked for 2013 season. After this past off season’s trade of James Shields and Wade Davis for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard, the Rays’ farm system continues to thrive with prospects. While Tampa Bay has a history of success with young pitchers produced through the farm and/or trades, as well as recent successes at other positions throughout the diamond, such as Evan Longoria at third base, Desmond Jennings in the outfield, and Ben Zobrist essentially everywhere, who do the Rays turn to at first base for future results? At first glance there are few, if any potential long-term options at first for the Rays. The only player that really stands out is the Rays’ first round pick in 2012, Richie Shaffer. Shaffer, currently a third baseman, features impressive power and plate discipline to go along with good pure hitting ability and nice athleticism for a big guy (6’3″, 205), and he got off to a great start at Short Season-A Hudson Valley to begin his professional career and will begin 2013 at High-A Charlotte. But despite Shaffer’s impressive pedigree, he still has much to prove in the major leagues and will almost certainly not be an option for 2013 and most of 2014, and the Rays have to pursue other option. Evan Longoria has been mentioned several times as well as a potential fit to move to first to conserve his health over the length of his new, long-term contract, but that’s something that is far more likely to happen five or six years down the line not worth even discussing at this point. There has also been speculation that Justin Smoak could be a fit as he plays first, is a switch hitter, and has been known for a few years now to have potential, although he has never been able to turn that potential into major league results. But are the Mariners really going to give up on the centerpiece of their Cliff Lee deal with the Texas Rangers so easily? The answer to that question is probably no. However, the Mariners have another first base/corner outfield type that the Rays could be interested in pursuing. With the Mariners having a veritable logjam in the corner outfield, first base, and DH spots, could Mike Carp be a potential trade target for Tampa Bay?
Carp, a first baseman & left fielder for the Seattle Mariners, is a potential fit for Tampa to play first base for the near future. Carp, much like Smoak, is 26, controllable through the 2017 season, carries a low salary currently, and could be traded by Seattle. The major differences between the two are that Carp is a left-handed hitter while Smoak is a switch hitter and that Carp was a 9th round draft pick who was never really considered a top prospect while Smoak was an 11th overall pick in the draft and was among the top prospects in baseball his entire way through the minor leagues. Despite being a left handed hitter, Carp’s numbers against left handed pitching (.300/.341/.462, 4 HR, 20 RBI in 138 PA) are actually quite noticeably better than his numbers against right handed pitching (.241/.323/.398, 14 HR, 51 RBI in 470 PA), albeit in a relatively small sample size. But Carp is no slouch against either side at the plate, managing a nice .276/.356/.498 line in 1393 Triple-A plate appearances, and certainly deserves a more extended chance to show what he can do. Interestingly, Carp and Smoak also have similar offensive numbers in the major leagues, as noted in the chart below, although Carp does have a smaller sample size. (Home runs and RBIs are per 500 plate appearances.)
With the Seattle Mariners hoarding a plethora of corner outfield/first base/DH players this off season someone could essentially be moved to strengthen their bullpen or back of the rotation. Taking up up playing time will be Jason Bay (OF), Carp (OF, 1B), Raul Ibanez (OF, DH), Mike Morse (OF, 1B), Smoak (1B), and Kendrys Morales (1B, DH). Considering Seattle also needs to find playing time for outfielders Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders, who are almost locks for right field and center, meaning that the Mariners have six players to fill three spots at left field, first base, and designated hitter. With both Bay and Ibanez past their prime and posing as potential injury risks, Seattle could conceivably hang onto all of their pieces but could be better suited moving a player for some depth. If Seattle was willing to move Carp, what would it take to land him? That’s something that remains to be seen. But Carp has what it takes to be an impact player for the Rays immediately and an important piece of the Rays for the next several years. Andrew Friedman has a history of making under the radar moves that always seem to pan out for the Rays. If the price is right, Mike Carp could be next on the list.
UPDATE (2/12): The Mariners have designated Carp for assignment, meaning that Carp coming to the Rays could only be a matter of whether a team with higher waiver priority than the Rays (i.e. worse 2012 record) decides to claim him over them. As I followed up on this topic here, Mike Carp landing in Tampa Bay could be something that will actually happen, and the move could materialize over the next week or so.