Cleveland Indians: Does Carlos Carrasco fit into the Tribe’s future plans?

With one of the more expensive contracts left on the team heading into 2021, how does Carlos Carrasco fit into the future plans of the Cleveland Indians?

Between upcoming arbitration cases, club options and straight free agents, there are only a handful of players that are currently under contract with the Cleveland Indians for the 2021 season. That number will go up as we get deeper into the offseason and agreements are met. As it currently stands, the most expensive contract on the books for next year belongs to Carlos Carrasco.

Carrasco will have just turned 34-years old when the 2021 season gets underway and he still has three years left on his deal that will cost the Indians $12 million in 2021 and 2022 before jumping to $14 million in 2023. The 2023 part of the deal also includes a vesting option and a $3 million buyout among other details that can be found on spotrac.com.

While Carrasco has been effective while in an Indians uniform, his contract will most likely be much higher than anyone else on the 2021 roster at this point, assuming that Francisco Lindor is traded and options for Carlos Santana and Brad Hand aren’t picked up. In contrast to the rest of the rotation, odds are no one else will break seven figures, and if they do it won’t be by much as no one else has even reached arbitration stages yet.

Now, Carrasco is still more than worth that contract. If it’s not for his play, it’s for his leadership in the clubhouse and his attachment to the team. Players like Carrasco aren’t traded, they leave on their own terms, like Jason Kipnis this past offseason. But if he isn’t traded, then how do the Indians plan to get three more useful years out of Carrasco?

At this point, he can still throw in the rotation. This past season he maintained a 2.91 ERA and logged 82 strikeouts over 68 innings pitched while registering a 3-4 record on the year. Those numbers are solid and will help him retain his role in 2021, but beyond this coming year the outlook gets hazy.

Carrasco will still have two years left on his deal at this point and there are hot names rising in the minors that will be biting at the bit to join the youthful rotation in Cleveland. Luckily, he has experience in the bullpen and was effective.

During the 2019 season, Carrasco made 11 appearances out of the bullpen upon returning to the team and his numbers closely resembled those of this past season. His ERA was considerably higher, which should be expected given the circumstances, but as a whole his play was unharmed by the switch to the pen. He was even able to finish off three games.

In the bullpen, Carrasco could serve various roles ranging anywhere from long-reliever to closer. He has the stuff to get three outs when needed, but being a starter, he obviously has the stamina to come in if the starter gets in trouble early.

Many pitchers have made the move to the bullpen late in their career and some have also become closers. John Smoltz made the move at the age of 35 in 2002 and led the league in saves with 55 that season, staying in the role for two more years before transitioning back to the rotation. In the long run, it prolonged Smoltz’s career, playing until 2009 when he was 42, the only season he didn’t pitch for Atlanta, splitting time between Boston and St. Louis.

This isn’t to say that Carlos Carrasco is John Smoltz, but rather to illustrate that a former starting pitcher could easily transition to being a closer. Should the Indians move on from Hand, then perhaps Carrasco’s name could be thrown into the mix for closer as early as 2021. This would have to mean that there is a young pitcher ready to make the leap to the majors, but given the Indians’ record of turning out starting pitchers through the minors, that seems likely.

If the Cleveland Indians pick up Hand’s option, that would be $10 million on the books, so letting him walk and moving Cookie, along with his $12 million contract, fits with the Indians’ idea of putting money into the closer role.

In a year where all teams, not just the Cleveland Indians for once, will be cutting payroll there could be some interesting moves happening around the league. Teams will try to get as creative as possible when addressing the payroll. As for Carlos Carrasco, he’s value to the club goes far beyond the lines of the diamond. The coaches love him, the players love him and the fans love him. Finding his fit for the next three years is a must, but he is versatile enough that it should be an easy answer each year.