Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 59: Carlos Carrasco

As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.

Countdown to Opening Day – 59 days

There once was a man that was a center piece of a trade, but he wasn’t the complete package type of player that you’d expect. Normally when making a trade you focus on either two things: major impact now or impact later. This guy more towards the impact later end of the spectrum, but even that came with question marks. This man had the potential to be something great, he was a second round draft pick, had a power arm, and was young enough to give the Indians major control going forward. The only issue was that this guy was injured. Shortly after the Indians acquired him, he inevitably went to the disabled list abyss and was never seen from again, aside from being shown in 17 games for Texas in 2014. That man of course is the one, the only, Jason Knapp!

Too bad Knapp wasn’t worth anything in the end, and to this day hasn’t been able to replicate what he was projected to become. There was some good that came out of the trade that brought the Indians Knapp. The good being, of course, goes by the name of Carlos Carrasco.

In 2009, the Indians traded freshly crowned Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to the Philadelphia Phillies for Knapp, Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson. First off, can we take a moment to process this trade? I mean, seriously, had Carrasco not become what he is today, this would have been a total bust of a trade.

I digress.

Carrasco, 28, was an absolute mess when he came into Cleveland. Making his debut in 2009, he was 0-4 with an 8.87 ERA in 22 1/3 innings. He went on to put up a better 2010 in seven starts by going 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA. He posted a K/9 of 7.7 and a BB/9 of 2.2. The 2011 season was not great to him again as he struggled mightily in 21 starts before finding out he was going to require Tommy John surgery prior to the 2012 season. After missing the entire 2012 season, new manager Terry Francona decided to give Carrasco a shot and rostered him on opening day in 2013. Granted he needed to serve his suspension after hitting Billy Butler all the way back in 2011, but that’s just details.

Carrasco did what was pretty typical of him three years ago, he blew up against the Yankees and plunked Kevin Youkilis and was given another suspension. Carrasco was later optioned to Triple-A Columbus and spent the majority of the season there. Carrasco ended 2013 with a 6.75 ERA, and a record of 1-4. His K/9 was only at 5.8, and was averaging 3.7 walks per nine innings. The story of Carrasco just continued to get worse and worse, and it almost seemed like they were never going to get anything good out of the Lee trade after all.

That was until 2014.

Carrasco was again given the opportunity to start in the rotation in 2014. Just like classic Carrasco fashion, he struggled some more out of the gates. In April he posted an ERA of 6.46 in 23 2/3 innings. He continued to be a mess, and could not seem to figure out what was going on with him. Being out of options, Carrasco had nowhere to go, and so the Indians threw him into the bullpen to see how he’d fare there. This was probably the best thing to ever happen to Carrasco in his career.

From May until August of 2014, Carrasco appeared out of the bullpen a total of 26 times. In that span, he posted an ERA of 2.30 in 43.0 innings. He struck out 39 batters in that span. He was a different pitcher. He was then moved into the rotation, and just kept trucking along. He ended the season with an ERA of 2.55 and a K/9 of 9.40. He had finally become the pitcher that the Indians wanted back when they traded for him in 2009.

The Indians then rewarded Carrasco with one of the most team friendly contracts in recent team history. He signed a four-year, $22 million dollar contract, with two team options for ’19 and ’20. With the kind of talent that Carrasco posses, this type of contract is unheard of. With recent health issues with Carrasco, he just wanted to make sure his family was covered in case anything ever happened to him, and he wanted to stay in Cleveland, hence why he signed for such a friendly amount.

Now the Indians didn’t need to sign Carrasco to an extension, and it almost didn’t seem like they should since it was his first successful season of his career, but now the Tribe look like a bunch of geniuses after seeing what Carrasco put together in 2015.

At the season’s end, Carrasco has cemented himself as one of the top starters in the MLB. In 2015, he had an ERA of 3.63, a K/9 of 10.6, and an xFIP of 2.66. So had the Indians defense been anything better then abysmal in the first half, that ERA may have been down about another run.

Not only does Carrasco posses a killer fastball, but his offspeed pitches are what make him so electric. He flirted with a no-hitter against Tampa Bay, and again against Kansas City. His stuff is so good that he has the ability to throw a no-hitter almost any time he comes to the mound.

With pitchers like Zack Greinke and David Price getting monstrous contracts this winter, there were plenty of teams trying to pry Carrasco from the Tribe’s pitching staff, but the Tribe held strong and decided to keep him in the mix of already stud starters in the likes of Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar. Even though the Indians lack some offense, especially after the injury to Michael Brantley, they could have used another bat in this lineup. Carrasco could have brought back a power bat, but he is more valuable to this team in their rotation than bringing in a guy who can hit the ball.

The Indians were smart to hold on to Carrasco.

After a full season in the rotation, Carrasco is looking to build off of what was already a great season in 2015. Now that he’s established himself as a pitcher, it’s going to be exciting to see what he becomes in ’16. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Carrasco could be in Cy Young discussions at the end of the season. While the Indians may not have the strongest bats in the league, they’ve taken it upon themselves to beef up the defense behind their biggest strength on the team. There’s value in having a strong offense, but if you can’t bring the offense, then there’s even more value in having a solid defense.

It’s how the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 2015.

Carrasco is going to play a major role to the team’s success in 2016. With Kluber starting to get older, and Carrasco being right in the midst of his prime, he’s going to be carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders going forward. If he continues to progress like we’ve seen the last few years, we could be witnessing the emergence of what could become one of the best pitchers in the MLB.

Photo: Brian Blanco/Getty Images

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