Originally just another guy in the big Cliff Lee/Jason Knapp deal, Carlos Carrasco has gone from something approaching headcase when he had a propensity to throw at batters to savvy vet and wonderful pitcher. His signing a long-term deal early in his career meant we were going to watch him grow in some way, I just don’t think he’d embrace Cleveland like he did, or be embraced by the fans as much as he has.
It’s rare for a player and a team to find each other like Carlos Carrasco and the Cleveland Indians have. Everyone likes a great pitcher, but this is something else, entirely.
Getting to watch him grow as a pitcher and person has been wonderful. I love watching Shane Bieber pitch. Francisco Lindor is a marvel, and José Ramírez is ... José Ramírez. Carlos Carrasco though, his being your favorite player is like saying Animal Magnetism is your favorite Scorpions album. Watching him become what he is, slowly earn everything that he deserves, it’s been a rare joy. We love baseball players for their skill, their ability to amaze, but sometimes you get a guy who makes you wish you were as good a person as they are.
But good things never last, even the best people have to move on eventually. Ultimately, the time of Carrasco’s departure was going to come before we wanted it to. He’s too good, and signed too team-friendly a deal, for the idea of him getting traded to not be bandied about sooner or later. Pitching the way he did this year, reasserting himself as a topflight pitcher in baseball, has only made it harder for everyone involved.
It makes raw, logical sense to trade Carrasco. He’s very good, but he’s obviously only going to get worse. Even though he’s bounced back from leukemia, he’s still headed into his age-34 season. He’s also only going to be making a combined $26 million over the next two years, or the equivalent of four months of Gerrit Cole. This is a great deal for a pitcher that would at the very worst be an incredible number three in a playoff caliber rotation. Cleveland has the ability to replace him, or near enough, with the explosion of Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac establishing himself as a front-line starter. The haul Carrasco would bring back might not be to the level that Francisco Lindor might pull, or what Mookie Betts did a year ago, but pitching is expensive, and people will pony up for a topflight hurler on a discount.
So yes, it makes sense for the team to trade him, on a bookkeeping/restocking the farm kind of path. It’d be nice if they didn’t go the route they did with Mike Clevinger and get a bunch of potential, instead pulling more the Bauer type of deal with a big bat or intriguing arm for the minors, but the more realistic comp might be the Corey Kluber deal. Had that worked out, we’d have seen triple digits 20 or so times this summer from Emmanuel Clase. Even with that deal, the Rangers only got one year of Kluber, compared to two for Carrasco, so you would expect to see something a bit more.
The thing is, I don’t want them to trade him. Yes, the team needs to deal from a position of strength, and strike while the iron is hot. In moving Carrasco, they’d still have a top five starting rotation of Bieber, Plesac, Aaron Civale, Adam Plutko, and Triston McKenzie. Certainly, the best in the division. Not as dazzling as it would be with Carrasco in there, but I have to give the team the benefit of the doubt that they’ll find another starter of some quality. They’ve done it enough that it seems like they’ve figured something out. They could absorb the loss, and if it brought back a bat that could positively impact the major league team sooner rather than later, so much the better. They need to be more well-rounded after all. The last two years threw their flaws into too stark a relief to not try to fix some holes.
What are we talking about here though? More discussion of a player as a raw commodity? Aren’t we getting tired of that? I’m not going to be a GM any time soon, and most people reading this aren’t either. Shoot, Baseball Prospectus doesn’t even refer to players as “assets” anymore, and for good reason. These are people, guys that we form some kind of (admittedly one-sided, for the most part) emotional connection with, that mean something to us. Carrasco is the perfect example of that. Like I said, we got to watch him flourish these past few years, and he’s so incredibly embraced the world of northern Ohio, doesn’t that deserve some kind of loyalty paid back? I know we’ve learned the last couple decades that in business, there’s no such thing in loyalty, but can’t we just have a little bit of that here with him?
I get the Indians can’t afford Francisco Lindor. I don’t like it, but I get it. Superstar players that make it past arbitration deserve all the money they get. Carrasco signed a very team-friendly deal when he had very little bargaining power because the team took a chance on him and he rewarded them. The fans love him for it, for being a familiar face and for turning into the player and person he has while in Cleveland. No Tribe player in recent memory except maybe Grady Sizemore has been dealt such a raw hand over and over, from freak injuries to bad luck, that have curtailed what could have been a truly incredible run. Which isn’t to take away from all that Carrasco has accomplished. With 1242 innings under his belt, a 3.77 ERA, 21.3 rWAR, he’s been a great pitcher. He only reached 200 innings once though and missed out on the 2016 run because of a stupid come-backer that broke his arm. Being dealt a raw hand like that, we can identify with that, and that means something.
So yeah, it makes sense to trade him. Cleveland as an organization needs to maintain the churn, to keep younger and cheaper and get more athletic to keep in the hunt for a playoff spot. The game is always running away from them, and sentimentality doesn’t help them keep up with the big boys. It doesn’t mean we have to be happy about it though. The inevitable Lindor deal is going to stink, but somehow, I feel like if and when they move Carrasco, that’s going to feel like another little piece got lopped off.
We root for the team, sure. But the players are what make us care. It’s a shame that idea has gotten away from us so. We’re more than likely going to feel that familiar pain of a favorite player headed to a new town and feel confused when we see him in a new uniform. Just like Kluber or Brantley or Santana before him, Carrasco is going to look odd in a Braves jersey or whatever. It stings every time, and it doesn’t get any easier. They probably have to do it, for the greater good of the team’s future prospects, it just stinks that we have to keep going through it. Hopefully, whoever they get back is just as good a player, and at least half the person Cookie is. That alone would be a blessing.