If the Brewers are looking to serve karaś or gefilte fish at Miller Park this season, they may have found the perfect trade target. Over the weekend Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that the Pirates and the Brewers have expressed interest in trading for Mike Carp of the Red Sox. Both Pittsburgh and Milwaukee could use additional candidates at first base, and Carp is an expendable role player for the defending World Series champions. However, Carp is not even baseball’s best Mike with an aquatic surname; that distinction of course belongs to the Angels’ Mike Trout. A trade for Carp does not make much sense for the Brewers, as he has no place in the outfield and does not represent a marked upgrade over the current first base options.
At 27 years old, Carp has never played anything close to a full major league season. Due to a history of injuries to his shoulder, groin, and foot, the 86 games that he appeared in for Boston last year represent a career high. When he actually manages to get on the field, however, Carp has had spurts of productivity. With Seattle in 2011 the lefty belted 12 homers in just 79 games, which would project to over 20 dingers in a full season. Although he struggled in 2012, Carp made the most of his playing time for Boston last year, compiling an outstanding 139 wRC+. His .916 OPS on the road belies any notion that last season’s rebound was due to the quirky confines of Fenway Park. Additionally, Carp provided Boston with solid power off of the bench. Although he hit just nine home runs, his .227 isolated slugging percentage was second on the Red Sox, trailing only David Ortiz. However, some peripheral statistics indicate that, even if Carp can stay healthy, his success may have been anomalous. During his effective 2011 and 2013 seasons, Carp posted BABIPs (.385 and .343 respectively) well above his career norms, indicating that such a level of success is somewhat unsustainable. Further, his 27.6% strikeout rate last season is unquestionably cause for concern.
If the Brewers were to make a move for Carp, he would spend most of his time at first base. Carp has played much of his career in left field, and in theory he could fill in for Khris Davis against right-handed pitchers. However, Davis actually hit .297 with a .918 OPS against righties, so a platoon does not seem necessary. Davis is also younger than Carp and hit more home runs in fewer at-bats. Therefore, it seems that Carp would have a bigger role at first base than in left for the Brewers. I wrote last week that I am a big supporter of Mark Reynolds at first base. However, trading for Carp would not really be a threat to Reynolds, who is a right-handed batter. Carp is more likely to compete with Lyle Overbay and Juan Francisco as left-handed first basemen.
Either way, Carp is hardly a clear upgrade from Overbay and Francisco. While Francisco is similarly inexperienced at first base, Overbay is a more reliable option than Carp. Defensively, Carp has never played more than 34 games at first base in one season, a stark contrast to Overbay’s decade of experience. As a Yankee last season, Overbay had the fifth-highest fielding percentage among all major league first basemen. He had five defensive runs saved, also a top ten total at the position. In Carp’s limited time at first last year, he actually cost Boston a run. Carp admittedly has more pop in his bat than either Overbay or Francisco, who both posted wRC+ below the league average. However, Overbay still managed to hit 14 home runs last year for the Yanks; his offense is more reliable than Carp’s defense. When you compare Overbay’s durability to Carp’s glass-like injury history, Carp is a less-safe investment than the veteran.
To be sure, Mike Carp is a fine player who is just entering his prime. It would certainly be worth GM Doug Melvin’s time to chat with Boston, if only to bid up the price needed for Pittsburgh to acquire Carp. But for the Brewers, he would not be an upgrade at his primary position, left field. Where Milwaukee needs him most, first base, his inexperience and his injury history make him a risky addition. He may be a good fit for some teams, but with the Brewers Carp could end up being a fish out of water.