Oakland Athletics: What Is Chris Carter's Future with the A's?

Brandon McClintockCorrespondent IMarch 26, 2011

On Friday, the Oakland Athletics optioned Chris Carter to Triple-A Sacramento, ending his quest to break camp part of the A's opening day roster.

Carter was a long shot to make the team after the offseason acquisitions of Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui. Although Carter expected the move, he entered camp determined to make it a difficult decision for the Athletics management.

Carter did not put together the spring numbers he had hoped, batting just .250 with two home runs through his Cactus League appearances.

It was Carter's defense in the outfield that hurt him the most though. He committed three errors and made several other misplays. The A's would like to see him improve his defense in the minors before returning to play in Oakland.

"He had a few struggles in the outfield, but he worked as hard as anyone else," Geren told MLB.com's Jane Lee. "I told him that this is one of the toughest places to playspring training in Arizona, a lot of sun and wind in your eyes. A lot of other guys have missed balls, so I don't want him to get discouraged and just to work.

"I think he runs well enough, and I think he throws well enough. Those are the two components that are hard to teachrunning speed and arm strength. The other stuff can be taught."

Carter's demotion comes before the Bay Bridge series to allow him more innings in the outfield early on, although Geren did tell Lee that Carter will also see time playing at first base in Sacramento as well.

"Having a guy that can play two different spots gives us a better opportunity to use him, gives him better chances to create a spot for himself," Geren continued.

The A's depth this season has left some people, myself included, wondering what Carter's spot long term actually is?

Unless one of the A's outfielders suffers an injury, Carter is unlikely to see significant time in the A's outfield in 2011. In addition to Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp and David DeJesus, the A's also have Ryan Sweeney, Conor Jackson and Hideki Matsui capable of playing in the outfield as well.

Each of the A's starters are free agents after this season, so if Carter is capable of improving his defense, he should find himself an outfield regular beginning in 2012.

Upon being traded to Oakland, Willingham expressed his interest in a potential extension with the A's. Crisp, a fan favorite and productive member of the A's lineup last season after returning from the disabled list, could also be in line for a new contract to remain in Oakland beyond 2011.

The A's have not had any negotiations with either outfielder about new contracts through spring training.

The A's decision whether to retain their veteran outfielders or turn over the positions to their minor league prospects such as Carter (Michael Taylor and Michael Choice also should be in line for outfield positions in 2012), will be determined by their development in the A's minor league systems over the course of the season.

Carter's other primary position, first base, is currently being manned by Daric Barton. Carter has a more powerful bat than Barton, but Barton's emergence as one of the leagues premiere defensive first basemen has the Athletics exploring a multi-year contract extension through 2014.

Barring any major injury, Barton will be the first baseman for the foreseeable future.

With his two primary positions in question, and the fact that Hideki Matsui is only signed to a one-year deal, some people have openly wondered if Carter could be destined to be Oakland's next DH? Many scouts share the opinion that Carter will eventually be a designated hitter in his career.

Carter's power numbers in the minor leagues (he's hit 149 home runs with 507 RBIs in 673 minor league at-bats), as well as Matsui's reputation as a slow-starter, have left open the question if perhaps Carter could fill the DH role as early as this season.

The A's don't want to waste Carter's athleticism though, the primary reason that they sent him to Triple-A to get more practice in the outfield.

"Obviously his bat is his strongest part of his game, but he has to get his defense up to speed with his offense, and I'm sure he'll continue his hard work," Geren told Lee. "He's a talented guy, a good athlete."

Chris Carter is very much still in the long-term plans of the Athletics, but his development in the outfield this season with Sacramento will have a lot to do with his eventual place on the A's roster.

I'm sure at some point in 2011 we will see him back in green and gold, but at which position is still a mystery.


Brandon McClintock covers the Oakland Athletics and Major League Baseball for BleacherReport.com. You can follow him on twitter  @BMcClintock_BR.