In a season such as the one the Mariners just had, you usually see a lot of young and/or inexperienced players get a lot of playing time. Sometimes this is out of necessity, but other times - most of the times - it's because the team wants to get a better idea of what each player could provide going forward. The team wants to figure out what each player is.
One of the funny things about Mike Carp is his face. One of the other funny things about Mike Carp is that he came to the plate more than 300 times last season, and still he's kind of a difficult guy to figure out. As often as he wound up playing, he remains something of an unknown.
And I imagine this is because he's put together almost a step function of a career. He emerged as a first baseman who could draw a walk, but who didn't hit for enough power. He's since turned into a 1B/OF who can hit for power, but who might not draw enough walks. Carp stopped being one thing and turned into another thing, and that can make for a tricky player to understand.
Carp's an important player for the Mariners to understand. If they think they really have something, then Carp is a powerful bat they can put in the middle of the order for the low low price of a Koenigsegg CCX (ed. note: perspective!). If they don't think they really have something, then he's expendable, and that's just another need for the roster.
It was while talking about Carp with Matthew over the weekend that something occurred to me. Something that might make him a little easier to wrap your head around. I don't know if this will do the trick for you, but it did the trick for me, I think.
Carp, now, has an aggressive approach at the plate. He swings at a lot of strikes, and he swings at a lot of balls. He swings hard, and he frequently whiffs, sticking in the lower tier when it comes to making contact. His contact, though, is forceful, giving him extra-base power to all fields. He's definitely more of a slugger than any other type of hitter. He doesn't run that well and his defense isn't remarkable in any of the good ways, but he is capable of playing the corner outfield, in that he's not incapable of it.
That's my understanding of present day Mike Carp, and that description doubles as an approximation of Nelson Cruz.
Obviously, there are differences. For one thing, Carp bats lefty, while Cruz bats righty. Cruz seems a bit stronger, and he has a history of stolen bases and positive defensive ratings, although he's never looked good to the eye and God only knows what toll all those leg injuries have had on his movement. Cruz gets hurt all the time, and he always seems to hurt the same one or two things.
But I see more similarities than differences. And before you call me crazy for comparing Mike Carp to a superstar, it's worth considering Cruz's career to date:
Hey look, it's a guy who's had success hitting in Texas. Cruz is a fine hitter, but his numbers have obviously been inflated by his environment, to the point where he's thought to be better than he is. Cruz isn't a superstar. He's a power-hitting support piece.
And Carp, I think, is ready to be a power-hitting support piece. I doubt he'll ever be more than that, but he can contribute at the Major League level, which is progress from where he was before. Mike Carp is just 25 years old, and it seems to me he could start.
In Mike Carp, I think the Mariners have a starter, and a starter with some degree of flexibility. He's not a starter to whom the Mariners have made any long-term commitment, and they might choose to go in another direction, but for the time being, he looks like one answer on a team that needs a lot more of them.