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Carmona Arrest Presents Many Questions About 2012 Tribe

| On 21, Jan 2012

 

By Mike Brandyberry

Thursday morning I left for work, planning to head to Columbus as soon as my day was complete for an overnight and some meetings. My wife asked me if I was going to take my laptop, in case the Tribe made a move. I didn’t really have time to blog, and the Indians’ winter has been rather quiet, so I left my computer at home.

You miss one day, you can miss a lot sometimes.

I wasn’t too far down I-71 when my wife text me to say Fausto Carmona was arrested in the Dominican Republic and his name wasn’t Fausto.

“Uh, elaborate please,” I texted back.

Soon the word was out, Carmona had been using a false identity since being signed by the Tribe in 2000. His real name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia, his Visa revoked and he was in a Dominican prison. He’s actually 31, not 28. Twitter of course exploded with jokes and commentary, I even offered a couple of my own from the highway.

Then, Friday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Carlos Pena to a one year, $7.25 million contract. Pena, who according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman may have been the apple of the Tribe’s eye to solve their first base vacancy. Heyman alleged the Indians pushed hard and may have even offered more money than the Rays, but Pena has a home in Florida and enjoyed his time with the Rays.

Then finally, the Tribe made a reactionary move and traded Zach Putnam to the Colorado Rockies for Kevin Slowey. Slowey was 0-8, with a 6.67 ERA last season in Minnesota and was jettisoned to Colorado in December. Last season the right hander suffered an abdominal strain in late May and was sidelined until the end of August. He began last season as a relief pitcher before suffering the strain. Once returning from the disabled list he struggled in the rotation.

Quite a lot to digest from a 24-hour trip.

In regards to Carmona, I don’t blame him for the decision he made 12 years ago. Big league teams target young Dominicans they can mold for several years before bringing them to the United States and placing them in the minor league system. It is a fair chance the Indians would not have had much interest in a 19-year old Hernandez, but a 16-year old Carmona could still mature and develop. He’s made $15 million over the span of his career with the Tribe. I suspect you’d tell a pretty big lie too if it meant you could make $15 million. I also assume he isn’t the only player sweating through this story in baseball.

Meanwhile, the Indians will most likely not void his contract. Hernandez may very well miss the entire season before he works out his legal issues in the Dominican Republic and is finally issued a work Visa. Leo Nunez of the Miami Marlins was discovered to be using a false name in September and he still is not permitted to leave the Dominican. Once Hernandez is unable to travel to Goodyear, Arizona and report to spring training the Tribe will place him on Major League Baseball’s restricted list and they will not have to pay him until he is able to report.

The pitcher formally known as Carmona, has a $9 million option for 2013. If he misses all or most of this season, and considering he will now be 32 come next season, it is fair to think he has thrown his last pitch with the Tribe. The Indians don’t spend $9 million on players who have missed most of a season and has question marks all over his resume.

It is easy to say void his contract and apply it to a free agent, but with only 30 days until Spring Training it would take time to void the deal and have the money available. It would be tough to sign a free agent with that salary. As the story develops and the Indians have a better idea of Hernandez’s availability, that $7 million could be available to take on salary at the trade deadline.

Also, now that Pena is a Ray, no available first baseman—except Prince Fielder—would command a salary that large. The Tribe should be able to sign Casey Kotchman or Derrek Lee, if they so choose, for far less than the $7.25 million Pena inked. Meanwhile, Heyman reported the Indians, “pushed hard,” for Pena, but Paul Hoynes tweeted later on Friday that he does not believe the team ever made a formal offer. How hard was that push if it didn’t have a formal offer?

The Carmona/Hernandez Saga created a reactionary move to acquire Slowey. The right-hander won double digit games the previous three seasons before last year’s injury riddled year and has had success at Progressive Field. The Rockies included $1.25 million toward his contract so the Tribe will only have to pay $1.5 million of Slowey’s salary this season. The Tribe is hoping he returns to the pitcher he was prior to 2011, but if Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff or Zach McAllister can take the fifth starters job from him in Goodyear, he does have a minor league option remaining. Slowey, however, will be the favorite and given every chance to win the job.

Unfortunately, the events of the last two days have signaled to me that the 2012 Cleveland Indians are being tied together with more and more visible question marks. With 30 days until pitchers and catchers report, the starting rotation now is hoping for rebound seasons from Slowey, Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe and hoping Josh Tomlin’s elbow is sound after his August trip to the disabled list ended his season.  Offensively, the team is still looking for a right-handed bat and first baseman to help the lineup. Currently, the team would be hoping Shelley Duncan could transition to first base or Matt LaPorta could rebound and emerge as the player that made him the centerpiece of the C.C. Sabathia deal.

Finally, the Tribe has quietly traded Cory Burns and Zach Putnam and lost Josh Judy on waivers this winter. All three could provide bullpen depth in 2012, but the Indians have traded from their strength this winter and are hoping the Bullpen Mafia is as healthy and dominant as they were a year ago. Unfortunately, bullpens are often enigmas and inconsistent. The Tribe has one of the best pens in baseball, but expecting the dominance and health Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Tony Sipp and Rafael Perez all showed last year could be hoping for a lot.

Most of the questions and hope already existed before Thursday afternoon, but they seem to becoming clearer as the Tribe heads for Goodyear in only a month.

Photo: Manuel Diaz/Associated Press