Young slugger Chris Carter used to look like the future of the A's offense but now his career in Oakland is a big question mark with a roster suddenly stocked with other outfield, first base and DH candidates. (Photo credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE)

Triple Play: Chris Carter's fate in 2012

Welcome to Swingin’ A’s Triple Play where we field one subject and turn it into three possible outcomes. My gut feeling on how things may pan out is at the end of the post where you can cast your vote in the monthly poll and sound off in the comments section.

IN PLAY: Chris Carter‘s fate with the A’s in 2012

A few years ago you would have assumed that Carter would be a major force in the heart of the A’s batting ordering by now, teaming up with fellow prospect Michael Taylor to affordably power Oakland’s offense for several years.

Of course, as spring training opens Carter seems to be plummeting down the depth chart as general manager Billy Beane embarks on yet another rebuilding project. Is there a place for Carter with the A’s this season? I have a few ideas for how things could play out for the big guy.

FIRST OUTCOME: Fast track from Phoenix to Sacramento to the trade deadline

Does anyone else get the impression that the front office and coaching staff aren’t exactly high on Carter?

Last year they traded for Brandon Allen who along with Daric Barton essentially blocks Carter out of playing time at first base. The trades for Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, and Seth Smith along with the signings of Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, and Jonny Gomes pretty much force Carter out of the outfield picture. And the trade for Kila Ka’aihue and ongoing flirtation with Manny Ramirez go a long way toward blocking Carter out of playing time at DH.

Maybe it’s all part of general manager Billy Beane’s brilliant plan to light a raging bonfire under Carter to motivate him. Or maybe the front office knows his minor league strikeout rate just won’t translate into Major League success.

One way Carter’s life with the A’s this season could play out is for him to get relatively little playing time in spring training before being banished to Sacramento where he collects dust until the A’s finally do everyone a favor and ship the young slugger to another franchise. There has to be a sad-sack club like the Orioles or Pirates who wouldn’t mind making a small investment in Carter and seeing if he can translate his minor league power numbers into something valuable in the big leagues.

Of course, right now the A’s are a sad-sack club that could stand to give someone like Carter an extend trial run in the big leagues but for some reason they seem incredibly reluctant to do so.

SECOND OUTCOME: 50 games or bust (Bet on bust)

This scenario assumes that the A’s take the plunge and sign Ramirez which means they have to ride out his 50-game suspension to start the season. That gives a big lug like Carter about 200 at-bats to prove he can cut it and convince the front office that they should just release Manny rather than activate him after the suspension.

Even though I’m as big of a “Free Chris Carter” advocate as you’ll find I can see the kid doing his annoying deer-in-the-headlights thing to the point that he starts losing at-bats at DH toward the end of Manny’s suspension. At that point Manny joins the A’s and Carter joins the River Cats where he spends the rest of the year pounding Triple A pitching into submission while continuing to get snubbed by the big league club.

Unlike my previous scenario, Carter doesn’t get to escape to another franchise via a trade because Barton, Allen, and Ka’aihue stink up the joint and the A’s decide they should probably keep Carter in the mix heading into 2013.

THIRD OUTCOME: Carter finally arrives

The heck with whether the A’s sign Manny. It doesn’t matter because Carter comes to spring training focused on winning a job, something clicks with new hitting coach Chili Davis, and once he starts hitting he never looks back. By the middle of August he’s closing in on 30 homers which makes everyone overlook the fact that he’s always one strikeout-filled cold spell away from hitting .220.

Is he really the guy who conveniently falls into horrendous slumps when the A’s happen to run into a string of good pitchers or is he the stud he appears to be when he’s crushing the back end of the Mariners’ and Orioles’ rotations? Does it even really matter for a small budget, offensively challenged club desperately looking for some young, affordable hitters under team control for several years?

MY CALL: I think Carter’s career in Oakland is over before it ever really gets started which is frustrating since I’ve been dying to see what he can do in the majors.

I’m under no illusion that he’ll ever be a well-rounded hitter. The average will probably always stink and the strikeouts will always pile up at a dizzying rate. But the power is tantalizing enough that I think it’s worth the A’s time to give him an everyday job to see once and for all whether he can make just enough adjustments to at least hit .250 with a ton of homers.

I’d gladly live with that kind of production out of a DH for the next several years at an affordable salary but I think everything points toward the front office turning the page on Carter. I can only guess that they’re convinced that since he hasn’t adjusted his strikeout-prone approach by now he never will and most Major League pitchers will eat him alive.

What’s your call? Click on the poll below to cast your vote and feel free to jump into the comments section with your take on Carter’s fate in 2012.

How will 2012 play out for Chris Carter?

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