Chris Carter has had a hell of a time sticking in the major leagues. Through three years and just 384 plate appearances, he's hit .214/.310/.425 in the majors. Things are at least trending in the right direction for him, as the majority of that playing time came in 2012, when he hit .239/.350/.514 with 16 homers in 67 games, but that hasn't answered the question of whether or not he's a big-league regular yet.
At least now, after his being sent to the Houston Astros in a five-player trade that brought Jed Lowrie to the Athletics, Carter won't be playing in a park conspiring against his success. The samples are small for Carter, as he has a .214 Isolated Power at home and .235 on the road, and a homer every 14 at-bats away and every 24 while at home. However, the samples for O.co are anything but tiny: the three-year park factors for right-handed power hitters shows a dramatic reduction in homers, by 11 percent, against what is considered average.
Minute Maid, on the other hand, boosts homers by nearly as much, increasing them for right-handed batters by nine percent. For overall run scoring, Carter won't experience much of a change, but at least with homers there could be a significant change in his output depending on just how much he gets to play. He has extreme pull power, and the significantly shorter walls of Minute Maid in left could make for some epic-looking blasts that would have been far less impressive at his old home park, just in terms of how much they cleared the wall by.
Opposite field should be less of a problem as well, and while Carter isn't known for his ability to go with other way with authority consistently, playing in O.co was going to mask what little ability he did have -- homers for left-handed batters are reduced by 28 percent in Oakland, so you have to think a few Carter shots the other way resulted in fly ball outs. The fact he's done so much worse with fly balls relative to the league average, even during his strong 2012, also helps this thought.
Carter isn't going to help your batting average, and he's going to strike out a ton. He'll be on base often, however, at least giving him the chance to score when the Astros mount their version of an offensive attack, and adding Minute Maid to his AL West roster of parks should boost his production considerably, as long as he plays consistently.
That's kind of the kicker here, as the Astros have Carlos Pena at designated hitter, Matt Dominguez at third, and Brett Wallace at first. Dominguez wasn't amazing in his first go of things with Houston, but a 111 OPS+ from a 22-year-old is impressive enough to earn him the chance to replicate that over a longer stretch of time. This, along with Wallace being Brett Wallace, means third base is occupied for 2013.
First base and DH, though, provide room for him to play, at least for a few hundred plate appearances. That might not mean much in a mixed league, but depending on what else is available in your AL-only format, keeping an open mind about a part-time player can be important. Carter is right-handed, and while he has not show significant platoon splits, the left-handed Carlos Pena has. Then there's Wallace, who has yet to hit lefties much in his short career. The Astros will find playing time for Carter against lefties, at minimum, and if it turns out Pena has nothing left in the tank as much of his 2012 seemed to suggest, he might end up with even more at-bats later on in the season.
Draft accordingly, and scoop Carter up for your bench as depth. You could come to appreciate your own foresight if he hits his way into a more significant role, and if not, at least the price was low.