The Indians are cozy with trade deadline deals involving top of the rotation starters. In 2008 they traded CC Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for a package that included Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley. Last year they traded Cliff Lee for Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, and Lou Marson. This year, Jake Westbrook seems like the odds-on favorite to find a new home, but Carmona could be on the move as well.
Carmona is 26 years old and won’t turn 27 until early December. In 2007 he entered his first full season in the major leagues and performed exceptionally; completing 215 innings with a 3.88 xFIP and a groundball rate over 64%. He was worth approximately four wins that season and Indians’ general manager Mark Shapiro quickly jumped on an extension the following April. The deal Carmona inked guaranteed four years and $15 million, but held three additional club options worth $28 million.
In the two subsequent seasons Carmona tallied 246 innings while walking more batters (140) than he struck out (137). He missed more than 50 games between late May and July in 2008 with a hip injury. In 2009 he was optioned to the minors for seven starts. In his return he struck out 43 and walked 29 as opposed to the 36 strikeouts and 41 walks he granted prior to the demotion.
That improved control has rolled over into this season. To date he’s posting his best strikeout-to-walk ratio since that faithful 2007 season and it’s not particularly close. His FIP is an impressive 4.08 and he’s projected to finish in the 4.40-4.45 range. Given his youth, potential upside, and a contract that calls for relative underpayment, it’s easy to see why teams would be interested in adding Carmona.
Getting an exact feel for Carmona’s trade value is hard because his contract is something unlike we’ve seen traded in recent memory. When the Diamondbacks acquired Dan Haren in December 2007 he had three years and roughly $17 million left on his deal. Arizona tore that up eight months later, replacing it with a four year deal worth nearly $45 million and a club option. It’s not a great comparison, because Haren had three consecutive 200+ inning seasons with at least 4 WAR, and Carmona’s prospects are far sketchier. Nevertheless, the full return for Haren: Chris Carter, Brett Anderson, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez, and Greg Smith. It’s safe to say Carmona is unlikely to command that size (in quantity at least) of a return.
Tim Hudson was another Athletic traded in the midst of a great extension. In August of 2000 the A’s inked him to a four year deal worth $9 million with a club option for the 2005 season valued at $6 million. In December 2004 Hudson was moved to Atlanta where he eventually signed a four year $47 million extension with another option tacked on raising the total worth to $59 million. Like Haren, Hudson had a stretch of consistent dominance that Carmona doesn’t come near. From 1999 through 2004 Hudson posted two sub-4 WAR seasons; those were his first two seasons and he combined for 7.5 WAR. The return on Hudson was a comparatively muted package of Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer, and Charles Thomas. That looks awful now, but Meyer as a top 50 prospect according to Baseball America before the 2005 season began and was ranked top 100 the year before.
It doesn’t appear we’ve had a deal with a knockout contract like Carmona’s moved during the season in recent times. Further, when we have had these type of deals, the player usually brings more consistency and less volatility than Carmona. That’s not to say he’s less valuable or anything, it’s just hard to get a feel on whether his troubles are really behind him, or if he can collapse again at any moment.
Back to the question at hand: what is Carmona’s trade value. This is all going to seem like much ado about nothing, but my answer would have to be that it depends entirely on what you represent as Carmona’s true talent level. If the answer is above average with the chance to get better, then hey, those aforementioned packages aren’t too far off with that contract in hand. If it’s an enigma who puts together one good season for every two mediocre seasons, then something of lesser quality is the answer.