The rumors began back in July, and they’ve persisted since. “Cleveland has been willing to listen on pitching, particularly Carlos Carrasco,” read Jeff Passan’s tweet. That came a week before the July 31 trade deadline, and during that week, Carrasco was linked strongly to the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Cubs and Red Sox. The deadline came and went, and Carrasco remained an Indian, yet the rumors haven’t stopped.
On October 11, the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote “There’s no question the Indians are going to deal a starting pitcher for a hitter this offseason,” invoking the names of both Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Two weeks later, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times expected the Cubs to reengage the Carrasco talks over the offseason. Then, earlier this week, ESPN’s Buster Olney reignited the Carrasco rumor storm by bringing to light a Carrasco for Brandon Belt and Joe Panik framework that was discussed, but ultimately shot down by the Giants.
“…[that] might seem outrageous until you place the value of a pitcher like Carrasco — more to the point, the value of his contract — in an era in which No. 4-type starters like J.A. Happ are getting $12 million a year in multiyear deals.”
Say, what’s Carrasco worth, anyway? There’s no definitive answer, of course — everyone’s got their own opinions. But the best you can do is use all the information at your disposal and figure out a ballpark estimate.
The quick backstory: back in 2007, Carrasco was the top prospect in the Phillies organization, and a top-50 prospect in all of baseball. He was always expected to be very good. In 2009, he was the key piece in the Cliff Lee trade, except Carrasco struggled for a few years before learning he had a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery which caused him to miss the 2012 season. After the surgery, it took him some time to regain his stuff, but in August of last year, Carrasco rejoined the Indians rotation.
Since then, Carrasco has made 40 starts with a 2.99 ERA and a 2.54 FIP. That’s an ERA- of 75, which would rank 12th in baseball over the last two years, between David Price and Max Scherzer. That’s a FIP- of 66, which would rank third in baseball over the last two years, between Jake Arrieta and Chris Sale.
Plenty of people consider Carrasco’s teammate, Corey Kluber, to be one of the 10 or so best pitchers in baseball, based on his last two seasons. I’m not sure Kluber’s even been the best pitcher on his own team:
Teams don’t acquire past performance, though. They acquire future performance. What do the forecasts say? Using the Steamer projections we host here at the site, and using a 50/50 split of FIP-WAR and RA9-WAR, these are the 10 best pitchers in baseball, by the projections:
- Clayton Kershaw, 7.5 projected WAR
- Chris Sale, 6.0
- Max Scherzer, 5.8
- David Price, 5.6
- Corey Kluber, 5.3
- Dallas Keuchel, 5.0
- Jake Arrieta, 4.9
- Jose Fernandez, 4.8
- Carlos Carrasco, 4.8
- Felix Hernandez, 4.6
Any way you slice it — past performance, future performance, ERA, FIP — Carrasco is seen as one of the very best pitchers in baseball. Unquestionably, Carrasco has pitched like an ace, and he’s expected to continue pitching like an ace.
Every team wants an ace, and so obviously teams would be interested in Carrasco, especially when you think about his contract. Carrasco is an ace, but he won’t be paid like one. Last offseason, the Indians signed Carrasco to an extension that keeps him under team control through 2020 with an AAV of around $7.5 million per year. Earlier today, Mike Pelfrey signed a contract with the Tigers, and he’ll out-earn Carrasco over the next two years by $5 million. That’s how friendly Carrasco’s contract is.
So, wait. The Indians have one of the best pitchers in baseball on one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball. Why would they want to trade him? It’s not that they want to trade Carrasco, but that they would. Surely, the Indians would be just fine with holding on to Carrasco and entering next season with a top-five rotation in the game. But no player should be absolutely untouchable. If president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti can get a haul for Carrasco that he feels unquestionably makes his team better, he’ll do it. Hence, the listening of offers. My feeling has been that if Antonetti gets what he perceives to be a completely fair and just offer for Carrasco, it won’t be enough. That a deal will only get done if the Indians are confident they’re winning the trade.
Which is why you just don’t see guys of Carrasco’s profile get traded very often. When you take the risk of dealing a player of Carrasco’s caliber, fair isn’t enough. You need to be blown away. And being blown away typically requires one too many parts than your trading partner is comfortable letting go.
The only comp in recent memory that I could think of was Josh Donaldson, who met the Carrasco trifecta of a young, cost-controlled, and already a star. The Donaldson trade is proof that sometimes, deals of this magnitude can get done, but it should probably be viewed as the exception, and not the rule.
But let’s say a deal does get done. It might be unlikely, but let’s pretend, because that’s what people love to do in the offseason. What does a Carrasco deal look like? The most important thing is that the Indians plan to contend in the present, and their window looks to be open for at least a couple more years. That means it can’t be a typical star-for-prospects swap. Young, quality major league talent would have to be coming back to Cleveland.
The interesting thing about Cleveland is, for a team with as good of a core as Carrasco, Kluber, Salazar, Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes are, they sure have a lot of holes. This is a team that has the top-end talent to contend, but also currently has Abraham Almonte in center field, likely some sort of Giovanny Urshela/Jose Ramirez timeshare at third base, an opening at either first base or DH, depending where Carlos Santana spends his time, and a right fielder in Lonnie Chisenhall who probably shouldn’t play against lefties. For all the good that’s on the Indians roster, they could use a number of upgrades. Maybe you think moving Carrasco to improve the offense is a robbing Peter to pay Paul scenario for Cleveland. In a one-for-one swap, that might be true, but turning Carrasco (or Salazar) into drastic upgrades at multiple positions could make sense given the roster construction, a line of thinking shared by the Indians based on the reported Belt and Panik proposal.
The problem is that the Blue Jays were considered the frontrunners in the Carrasco talks at the deadline, but the best young, major league-ready talent they could offer is Kevin Pillar, and that wouldn’t be a high enough starting point. The Red Sox now have their ace and don’t seem like they’re looking to make any more big moves. If the Dodgers are unable to resign Zack Greinke, they become an interesting case, as they could deal Yasiel Puig for Carrasco to replace Greinke and instead spend their money on one of several top-tier free agent outfielders. But Puig is coming off a down year, comes with two fewer years of team control and off-the-field baggage that could lower his value, and can opt-in to arbitration after 2016, which could make his team-friendly contract a bit pricier and less team-friendly. He still has massive trade value, and the Indians would surely be interested, but I’m not sure Puig alone would be enough for the Indians to let go of Carrasco, and I’m less sure what else would make a Puig-centric package work.
The team I keep coming back to is the Cubs. Clearly, they’ve expressed a desire in adding another top-flight starter to their rotation, and their spare parts happen to align with Cleveland’s needs. The logical starting point would be Jorge Soler, who in many ways is Puig-lite. Soler on his own wouldn’t be enough, but the Indians have shown interest in Javier Baez, who’s also expendable in Chicago and could shore up the Indians’ third base situation. Surely, the Cubs would be reluctant to deal a combined 11 years of team control between two of their top under-25 position players, and it’s a steep price to pay. But if Soler were in Cleveland, Lonnie Chisenhall would become expendable, and the Cubs reportedly “covet” Chisenhall as he could help drastically improve their outfield defense. I’m sure there would need to be more to it — it’s never that easy — but a Carrasco/Chisenhall for Soler/Baez framework seems to make some sense for both sides.
The problem with these deals is that the Cubs don’t want to give up Jorge Soler and Javier Baez. The Indians aren’t itching to give up Carlos Carrasco. In all likelihood, Carrasco stays put, the Indians keep what is arguably the best trio of pitchers in baseball together, and they plug their holes elsewhere with bandaids. Teams put such a high price on their own elite players and trade chips that it’s hard for a front office to ever get in return what it feels is appropriate value. That’s why there have been rumors for nearly five months now without a deal, and here we are, talking about more rumors.
August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at email@example.com.