Cleveland Rotation Picture Gets a Little Clearer

It’s not a secret that Cleveland, expected to coast to another division title in 2019, has been shopping its top starters in an attempt to get back multiple players who will help them down the line. Corey Kluber has a great reputation and performance to match, with two Cy Young awards and a third-place finish this season. His contract will pay him $17 million next year, with a $17.5 million option in 2020 and an $18 million option in 2021. If he is traded, those options must both be picked up at once after the 2019 season. Trevor Bauer, coming off a breakout, six-win campaign in 2018, will likely receive around $11 million in arbitration next season, with a decent raise expected in 2020 before he can become a free agent. The final trade candidate is likely no longer one, as Cleveland and Carlos Carrasco have come to terms on a contract extension.

Next season was to be the first of Carrasco’s two option years in a contract he signed right as the 2015 season was getting underway. Without a new contract, Carrasco would have been eligible for free agency after the 2020 season. Under the terms of this new deal, Carrasco will be under contract through at least 2022 with a club option for 2023.

This guarantees Carrasco the $10.25 million he would have gotten in 2020, then adds $27 million more in guarantees including the buyout in 2023. Two extra years at $27 million might not seem like much for a pitcher of Carrasco’s caliber. Since he signed his first extension in 2015, his 18.2 WAR is seventh among all starters. His back-to-back five-win campaigns puts him in company with only Kluber, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and Luis Severino. Getting two additional seasons from an ace-level performer for what a single season of Patrick Corbin will cost feels like a bargain. If he were a free agent right now, he’d probably get more than double the $44 million he’s set to receive.

There are some mitigating circumstances. First, Carrasco would still be two years away from free agency under his old contract, and his age works against him. The right-hander will be 32 years old on Opening Day, which means that if he hit free agency, he would be doing so heading into his age-34 season. It’s also worth noting the circumstances that caused Carrasco to sign that first contract four seasons ago that guaranteed him just $22 million. Carrasco received some criticism for giving up three free agent seasons at such a small guarantee. I noted at the time that the deal was an unusual one even with Carrasco only having put up one good half-season to that point. As Ken Rosenthal wrote at the time, getting some security was very important for Carrasco.

Carlos Carrasco’s agents discouraged him from accepting the Indians’ offer. His union did the same. And now that the deal is done, other agents and maybe even some of his fellow players will whisper that he sold himself short.

Well, they don’t know.

They don’t know that Carrasco underwent a non-invasive procedure to correct a condition with his heart at the Cleveland Clinic last Oct. 8.

They don’t know that he experienced renewed palpitations during spring training, requiring him to go back on medication that regulates his heartbeat.

Carrasco, 28, worried that the issue might resurface. He worried that he eventually might need a second Tommy John surgery on his elbow. He worried about securing the future for his wife, Karelis, and his four children, the oldest of whom is 12, the youngest 1-week old.

Four seasons later and that contract has proved to be a huge bargain for Cleveland as Carrasco has been a significant part of the last three division titles. Carrasco has also used that security for foundations in Cleveland and Venezuela. He’s been Cleveland’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente award for four straight seasons and became a U.S. citizen in 2016. In this deal, Carrasco isn’t sacrificing as much as he did when he first sought security for himself and his family. If he continues to pitch well, he would have gotten more than the two years and $27 million guaranteed, but in the last decade, only 11 pitchers have even averaged two wins per season from ages 34-36, so his market might have been somewhat limited. Add in the potential of breaking down in the next few years and this deal is considerably more fair to both team and player than the one four years ago.

While this deal is about Carrasco, the implications for Cleveland are pretty clear. There was a bidding war for Patrick Corbin that ended with a sixth year and $140 million guaranteed because he was a unique potential ace in the free agent class. Bauer and Kluber are arguably better than Corbin on better deals, with Kluber likely under contract for around $50 million over the next three years and Bauer likely to receive roughly half that over the next two seasons. These pitchers have the performance of James Paxton without the durability concerns.

Cleveland will have to decide exactly what it prioritizes in choosing to move one of the two pitchers. For next season, Bauer makes less money, but the return is likely to be less and the team has him under team control through just 2020. Over the summer, Kiley McDaniel put Paxton and Bauer back-to-back in trade value in the upper 40s. Paxton netted a top-50ish prospect in Justus Sheffield and two complementary pieces. That return might have been a little light, but that’s in the neighborhood of what Cleveland can expect from dealing Bauer.

On the other hand, Kluber should return a whole lot more. The Cleveland ace has been consistently great and has three more seasons of control. McDaniel placed Kluber 12th in his trade value rankings. Kluber is older, and as I noted earlier in the offseason at ESPN,

He’s lost more than a mile per hour on his sinker compared with two years ago. His strikeouts moved down from 34 percent in 2017 to 26 percent last season, in part because he had just 77 strikeouts with his signature slider after averaging 116 the previous four seasons. Kluber should still be very good in 2019, but a decline is coming, or maybe even continuing.

Of course, Cleveland doesn’t have to trade either player, but they’ve got a pretty weak outfield, and if the team isn’t willing to spend to get better, then dealing an ace is the best alternative. Today’s Carrasco extension provided a little bit of clarity regarding the club’s intentions so that perhaps the timeline of a potential trade can accelerate.

We hoped you liked reading Cleveland Rotation Picture Gets a Little Clearer by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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26 Comments on "Cleveland Rotation Picture Gets a Little Clearer"

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sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

How long do they think Carrasco is going to be good for? Can we get a ZiPs projection for him that far out? Because that was easily the most team-friendly deal out of Cleveland’s 3 aces, but this deal takes him further into his decline years. I know it’s not that expensive in overall money, but this took a contract which had basically no downside for two years (thanks to the club options) and it turned into one with more downside for four.

Shalesh
Member
Shalesh

What downside? He’s a 5-win pitcher now who gets 2 extra years for $27M or 3 for $38M in his age-34 season. If he settles into 3-win territory in 2 years, that’s still a better deal than giving age-35 Morton 2X$15M or age-36 Happ 2X$14M as Kiley projects.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I think this is somewhat dependent on seeing what the projection looks like, but I definitely wasn’t clear in the original comment. The original contract was about as low-risk as it gets, with two player options. He blows out his elbow next year, and it’s not a problem. He blows out his elbow in 2020, the contract is up. Team options mean you basically only get the good stuff–as low risk as it gets.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he did settle into being a 3-win pitcher, and then this would definitely be a good deal. But of course, that is dependent on him making it to those later years intact. The big difference between giving Morton or Happ the 2-year deal now is that we know they made it to the contract. These are position players, and the money they were being paid was way more than this, but guys like Cabrera and Howard and Braun didn’t really make it to the extension years without seeing serious injuries or declines.

So I suppose I stand by my original assessment: It takes a risk-free contract and adds risk. And if that projection shows that he’s a 3-win pitcher or better, then it’s a good deal.

Cathedral_of_Beisbol
Member
Member
Cathedral_of_Beisbol

Ace pitchers tend to age later than position players. Performance begins declining around 34-35 usually which is near the end of Carrasco’s extension.

Savvy move by CLE.

Travis L
Member
Member
Travis L

I forget who coined in, but I think the adage is “pitchers don’t really age. They break.”

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Jered Weaver would like to have a word with that person.

Kevbot034
Member
Kevbot034

Maybe Jered Weaver just broke, though.