With all sorts of rumors circulating about the Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation this offseason, finally there was some good news to ease the collective conscience of the fan base.
On Thursday, the Indians announced a two-year contract extension with starter Carlos Carrasco, whose name had been mentioned among three potential trade candidates as the team looks to build for the present and the future.
It may be the first news that feels good for fans of the Tribe, who have seen a long list of recognizable faces hit the free agent market and All-Star catcher Yan Gomes dealt away to the Washington Nationals. As the days creep closer to next week’s Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the club is expected to be engaged in plenty of conversations with the other 29 teams around the league. The bulk of those discussions, however, are expected to revolve around Carrasco’s rotation mates Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer.
Carrasco’s extension adds more time to his original team-friendly contract extension that he signed in 2015. In addition to his 2019 option for $9.75 million that had already been picked up, the new deal formally picks up his 2020 option year at $10.25 million and adds in a $12 million payment for each of the 2021 and 2022 seasons. A club option for 2023 for $14 million, with a $3 million buyout, is also now on the table.
Carrasco expressed his desire to play the rest of his Major League career with the Indians and his new deal does much to allow that to happen.
“I feel great to be part of the Cleveland Indians,” shared the 31-year-old about his new extension. “I just want to finish my career with them. This is something special for me and my family.”
Carrasco’s career has had its ups and downs and numerous scares along the way. A rocky stretch following rehab from Tommy John surgery in 2012 left him lost to the bullpen in 2014, but he found himself there as he removed the windup from his routine on the mound and focused more on attacking the strike zone. Off the field, Carrasco dealt with heart surgery in 2014 prior to his contract extension and heart palpitations prior to the 2015 season that required medication. On the mound, he has been struck numerous times by line drives back at him, with several of those instances sending him to the disabled list and the costliest one ending his 2016 season in September, just ahead of the team’s incredible run seven games deep into the World Series.
Since rejoining the starting rotation on a regular basis beginning with the start of the 2015 season, Carrasco has been a pest for opposing clubs, going 60-36 on the mound in 119 games (117 starts) with a 3.40 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and 823 strikeouts in 722 innings (10.3 per 9). He has been a consistent workhorse for the rotation and a piece that manager Terry Francona has been able to rely upon.
“What this does is provide us additional continuity in the rotation beyond 2020,” said team president Chris Antonetti of the extension. “We effectively left this year alone, exercised the option for 2020, and added two new years beyond that. It’s a continued investment by ownership in our team and the desire to remain a very competitive team moving forward.”
Carrasco had another solid season in 2018. He posted a 17-10 record with a 3.38 ERA in 192 innings of work. He struck out 231 batters, tops on the squad, with a career-best strikeout-to-walk rate of 5.37. His two complete games were tops in all of baseball in an ever-changing pitching landscape.
A season ago, he finished fourth in the American League Cy Young voting (won by Kluber) while leading baseball with 18 wins. He reached the 200 innings mark for the only time in his career that season while topping the 200-strikeout mark for the second of three times in his career.
He has developed into the dominant return needed from Cleveland’s 2009 trade of reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to the Philadelphia Phillies. While the Indians got some years of service from infielder Jason Donald and catcher Lou Marson and nothing from the key piece of the deal, left-hander Jason Knapp, the trade would have been a disaster if not for the development of Carrasco over the years.
Over the last four years, Carrasco ranks seventh among all Major League pitchers with an 18.2 fWAR, blended in among names like Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, and teammate Kluber. He places in the top ten in a handful of other categories among starting pitchers, including wins, strikeouts, K/9 (10.26), K/BB (4.96), K% (28.3%), K-BB% (22.6%), FIP (3.12), xFIP (3.02) in that span. He ranks second all-time in Indians history in strikeouts per nine innings (9.27) behind Kluber and third in strikeouts-per-walk rate (4.05) behind Kluber and Josh Tomlin.
The extension of Carrasco allows him to remain a key building block for the Indians moving forward, putting him in position to help anchor the staff long-term. With Kluber or Bauer still possibly on the move as trade targets of other teams, Carrasco could become even more valuable at the front end of the team’s starting rotation, paired with Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, and others moving forward for many years to come. If not dealt, Kluber could be in town through 2021 with escalating team options to pick up over the last two seasons of his contract, while Bauer is under contract through 2020 while playing out his arbitration eligibility, meaning changes could happen in the years ahead, regardless of the team’s trade activity this winter.
While plenty of questions will remain about how the Indians can restructure their team with their current financial limitations, Cleveland locked in several extra years of one important piece of their starting staff in Carrasco on a deal that on the surface appears to be a second team-friendly extension for a valuable and underrated starting pitcher. It grants Carrasco and his family more financial security now while also giving the Indians some financial flexibility and clarity in the years ahead.
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