Indians fans have become fairly accustomed to the trading of franchise players, but two players exiting at the same time, especially two of the caliber of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, is a particularly savage blow. In recognition of his achievements with the team, I wrote of the Legacy of Lindor last week, but the loss of Carrasco is an even deeper blow and he deserves his own retrospective.
Carrasco’s career is bookmarked with trades where the Indians moved a superstar as part of a rebuild/reload. For those who don’t remember, he was originally signed by the Phillies out of Venezuela and made his professional debut in 2004 in the Gulf Coast League. In the middle of his sixth season with the franchise, however, he was sent to Cleveland in a blockbuster deal that saw Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco head to Philadelphia with Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp and Carrasco going to Cleveland. Much like this current era, this wasn’t just a minor move for Cleveland as CC Sabathia had been traded just the year before, giving the franchise consecutive Cy Young award winning pitchers traded in the following season. While Knapp was also considered a top prospect, injuries kept him out of the big leagues while Donald and Marson never managed to be much more than bench players. Instead, just like Michael Brantley in the Sabathia trade, only Carrasco was of significant value out of the Lee deal.
Carrasco was far from an immediate success, finishing the AAA season in Columbus before joining the Indians as a September call-up for the end of the 2009 season. He struggled through five starts and was back in Columbus for 2010 where he remained until he had his second September call-up, this time with much more success. Instead of struggling to get through five innings each time out, this time Carrasco pitched at least six innings in every start leading to a 3.83 ERA. This finish to 2010 and a severe lack of legitimate starting options lead to Carrasco breaking into 2011 in the starting rotation. While injuries shortened his season, his 4.62 ERA across 21 starts was exceptional for his first full season.
Unfortunately, Carrasco needed Tommy John surgery in August of that season and it cost him all of 2012 and a weak start to 2013. While he attempted to return as a starter, he had to fulfill a suspension earned in 2011 and then bounced between Cleveland and Columbus that year until he finally fit into the bullpen in August and September. Not willing to give up on the only player left from the Lee deal, Carrasco was placed back in the rotation to start 2014, but again it didn’t work out. Wildness and inconsistency plagued Carrasco and he was back in the bullpen by the end of April. There, he again found success to the point where 2014 became the best season of his young career. By August, he had impressed Terry Francona enough to rejoin the rotation and this time he took his bullpen mindset to the starting position. This was incredibly successful and he finished his final 10 games with a 1.30 ERA and 78 K’s with 11 walks across 69 innings. Carrasco’s return from Tommy John surgery was lengthy and arduous, but ultimately extremely successful as this final month was far more indicative of his future in Major League Baseball than the previous five years.
The 2015 season was a landmark one for Carrasco on many fronts. For the first time in his career, he pitched only in the Majors and pushed past the 150 inning mark. For his 14 wins, 3.63 ERA and 10.6 K/9, he finished 13th in Cy Young voting. In an age where pitchers rarely finished what they started, he completed three games including one shut out. He continued that success into 2016, but unfortunately missed out on the final two weeks of the season and play-offs when he was hit in the right hand by a batted ball from Ian Kinsler just two pitches into his start on September 17th.
Carrasco got his long deserved redemption in 2017 when he finally reached 200 innings in a season, finished fourth in the Cy Young voting and made his first career play-off start. On October 8th, he went 5.2 shut out innings against the Yankees with seven K’s and just three hits allowed in a game the Indians would ultimately lose. While this would be his best play-off appearance, he was selected to pitch game two for the Indians in the 2018 ALDS against Houston and Wild Card against New York in 2020 giving him a 3.86 ERA across 14 play-off innings.
While Carrasco’s 2018 season was a near repeat of 2017 with a slightly higher K-rate, he saw difficulty again in 2019 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He had began the season in the rotation and was pitching fairly well through mid May, but by the end of the month was no longer able to pitch and his diagnosis was announced in July. Incredibly, he managed to return to the team by the end of the season, pitching through the entire month of September with the Indians out of the bullpen. This effort earned him one of the most well deserved Comeback Player of the Year awards ever given.
Unknowingly, Carrasco was wrapping up his time in Cleveland in 2020 and he did so in magnificent fashion. Despite having the option to skip the season with pay due to health reason, he took the field for 12 starts and 68 innings and posted a 2.91 ERA (second best in his career) and 10.9 K/9 (a career high).
When writing about Lindor, it was fairly easy to state that he is at worst the fourth best short stop in Cleveland history. The franchise is much deeper, however, in starting pitching and the comparison is much more complex as nearly all of the greats pitched prior to the 1970’s. In my previous writing position, I made up top ten lists for each position and split starting pitchers between aces and non aces to allow pitchers like Carrasco a place to shine. If you compare him to Corey Kluber, Bob Feller and Sam McDowell, he may not seem an all time great, but against non-ace pitchers I believe he sits near Mel Harder, Mike Garcia and Jim Bagby, Sr. Using the most pure metric to compare different eras, Carrasco ranks 15th in career WAR as an Indians pitcher behind a group that includes five Hall of Famers and two recently active pitchers (Sabathia and Kluber).
There are so many different parts of Carrasco’s career to recognize, but possibly the biggest is his consistent positivity through incredible adversity. Many pitchers deal with Tommy John surgery, but to get through that only to have a broken hand cost him his first potential play-off appearance, then cancer to cost him another season is a barrage of injury and illness few in baseball have had to overcome. The fact that Carrasco has persevered and provided the pitching staff with the presence of an extra pitching coach with near Cy Young quality pitching on the mound is amazing. His willingness to sign extensions with the Indians twice with extremely undervalued contracts also shouldn’t be forgotten as he has given everything he had for the Cleveland baseball club.