Thirty-one-year-old Carlos Carrasco made a statement when he signed an extension with the Indians that would keep him in the city of Cleveland through at least 2022, maybe even 2023. He wants to finish his career where it all began.
The deal is an extension of an already team-friendly contract that he signed in 2015, which saw him make no more than $9 million in any given season, including a $9 million option that the Indians picked up prior the this new deal. The four-year, $47 million deal he signed on Thursday will keep him in Cleveland through his year-36 season, all but guaranteeing he’ll spend the glory days of his career in an Indians uniform.
A player with as much talent as Carrasco signing such a team-friendly contract into his 30’s — in other words, forgoing his last shot at a massive payday — is enough of a statement of loyalty to a city and a franchise, but he also spelled it out yesterday, in case there was any doubt how he felt about his current situation.
I feel great to be part of the Cleveland Indians. This is something special for me and my family. They gave me an opportunity to play in the big leagues, and I am so thankful for that. I want to finish my career with the Indians.
While, yes, the Indians didn’t technically draft Carrasco so he’s not a true “lifer,” he did make his debut with the Tribe just six games after they acquired him from the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006. They stuck with him through the good and the bad of his first few seasons, from his 4.62 ERA rookie season to 2014 when he was relegated to the bullpen and the media began to label him a headcase. Through it all, the Indians kept starting him, and now they have a guy who, since 2015, has the seventh highest pitcher fWAR in the majors (18.2), the tenth highest strikeout rate (28.3 percent), and the sixth highest SIERA (3.13).
For such a pitcher — a perennial Cy Young candidate — the Indians have paid a total of $21.3 million through the 2018 season. A pitcher like Zach Greinke has had similar production in that same time span (and is already in his mid-30s), and he’s been paid a whopping $86 million between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks. How about Jake Arrieta? He’s closer to Carrasco’s age, has been worth 15.5 fWAR since 2015, yet has amassed $59 million and is set to make $20 million or more over the next four years. Stephen Strasburg made $47.8 million between 2015 and 2018 and lined up a massive seven-year, $170 million deal to stay with the Washington Nationals. He’s been worth 2.9 fewer wins than Carrasco since 2015.
I could do this all day, but the point is, Carrasco is making peanuts for the kind of value he adds to the Indians, and he’s going to continue to make peanuts until he retires. Why would he do such a thing? Simple. He loves the city of Cleveland.
Few cities like Cleveland need that kind of love from their transcending superstars. After decades of futility from all three major sports, Cleveland fans are gunshy when it comes to falling in love with a player — unless they profess their love for the city and its people. You could be an all-time great like LeBron James and be accepted without question only after you return and end a Championship drought. You could be Baker Mayfield and “get us” by calling out a fired coach for joining a division rival, or you could be Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a pretty okay center who is never going to be a Hall of Famer, but loves the city of Cleveland and has stayed around after his career ended. No matter what path you take as a noteworthy player in this city, Cleveland will give as much love back as you give it.
On the flip side, you could be Jim Thome — a Hall of Famer, one of the best players in franchise history, have a statue at the stadium — and some fans still consider you a traitor because you didn’t spend your entire career in Cleveland and have the audacity to work for another team when your career is over. It’s a double-edged sword of love. Like a really screwed up, sword-wielding Cupid.
I’m certainly not saying Cleveland doesn’t appreciate Carlos Carrasco at all — it’s impossible not to love him taking over the mic during a game, dressing up in full ‘Merican garb for Halloween, wearing a Gatorade bucket on his head to playfully mock a teammate’s love for GoPro cameras, or doing whatever this is with Jason Kipnis. But he’s also always been the “other” Cy Young candidate. The “other” great personality on the team. The “other” super star that we all should be showering with our endless affection. He missed out on the magical 2016 postseason run, and thus a chunk of memory for a lot of Indians fans.
Yet here he is, keeping his talents in the city that he loves for a steep discount that he has no obligation to take. We’re eventually going to look back on Cookie’s career in Cleveland and wonder how we took it for granted, but it doesn’t have to be like that. We’re in the good times now.