Oh, Carlos. Formerly Q! Now subject to reference without exclamation. Sadly, you just don't get MVP votes with a .230 batting average. In fact, I've even gone so far as mentioning the possibility that Kenny might non-tender him at the end of the year. I'm not sure how much currency this has amongst SSSers, though there's obviously some antipathy developing. But since I've brought it up, I figured I'd actually do some research.
First up: how much will he cost? Even if he's replacement level, you can at least make an argument for keeping him around at the league minimum. He won't be that cheap unfortunately. Tango's rule is that the player in question makes 40% of his market value his first arb year, 60% the year after and 80% in the final season. For 2010, he was paid $3.2MM. That puts his market value in 2010 dollars at $8MM. 3/5 of that comes to $4.8MM. Depending on contract inflation and negotiations between the two sides, he'll get something like $5MM give or take a fraction in 2011 and around than $7MM in 2012.
If Carlos is going to be straight up non-tendered, that's not that much savings. That'll buy a win, maybe a win and a half on the free market. And it's unlikely the free agent replacement would have anything like Quentin's '08 season in his back pocket. So as long as Carlos doesn't project to completely suck, he's probably worth a roster spot. In the very least, it's easy to envision some smaller market team willing to take a chance on his upside. In which case, a challenge trade is a better move than an NT.
Because, as frustrating as Q has been to watch at times, a rough estimate of his projection suggests that he'll at least still be as valuable as his contract. At minimum, a quality projection weights the last three seasons' performance and adjusts for age. Carlos isn't so old or young that the age bit matters too much. The calculation comes out more or less right to his career average, about .360 wOBA. At DH, that's nearly 2 wins. Even in the field, it's probably not that much less. He doesn't offer a ton of surplus value, but it's certainly enough to the point where a non-tender doesn't make sense. It's not ideal to be paying nearly market rate for guys still in arbitration, since the point of arb is to keep young players cheaper than market, but a non-tender would likely make the team worse and no cheaper.
I'd also like to take a sec to talk about how unique he is. When he's struggling, he's maybe the most aesthetically displeasing ballplayer in the league. He rolls over a lot and if his fly balls aren't leaving the yard, his patience is all he has going for him. And, of course, he's an abysmal defender. At his lowest point, he was the epitome of this team's eye-gouge-inducing early season struggles. It's tough to get seeing-eye singles when the ball's hit so softly, you see. Hindsight being what it is, we found out that even his fairly meh 2008 BABIP is probably high for his player type. He's just too slow and hits too few line drives (or hard groundballs even) and so will be hard pressed to be a .280+ BABIP type. I'm not convinced he can even be a .260-.270 type at this point. To wit:
Pardon the image quality. It can be reproduced here. If it's too blurry, I've got Q's singles and ground outs over his career at the Cell selected. As outlined above, this suggests is that unless he's hitting doubles or HR, he's very easy to defend. He doesn't go the other way with any kind of regularity, so he rarely beats decent infielders on ground balls. His power forces the outfield to play deep enough that he can find certain holes in front, but not that many. Especially since he hits so few line drives. But it also means that there's still more than chance he's been unlucky. Mean regression and all that. And if he's been even a little unlucky the last two seasons, his projections will end up underselling him. In which case he'd make a perfectly cromulent 2011 White Sox. And if this is more or less his true talent, a little luck could make him a pretty decent looking trade chit.
**EDIT** larry makes the point in the comments that Carlos has a fairly injury-riddled past which probably merits dropping his projected value significantly, say by half a win or so. This is a fairly prominent oversight, but in this case means he's basically making what he's worth. It makes the case for trading him stronger, not to mention the possibility of the non-tender. If you can replace all of his expected production in free agency, but no more, you probably go with whoever has more upside. 2008 still carries weight. Beyond that, one could see Q's health problems as a good match for a team employing Herm Schneider.