Out of Options, Carlos Carrasco’s Future May be in the Bullpen
There are only a few scenarios that are possible for Carlos Carrasco in 2014. Because he is out of options, being the “sixth starter” – the guy who hangs out in Columbus waiting for a DL stint or a day-night doubleheader – is not one of those options. Essentially, the options are to find a role for him on the major league roster, trade him, or put him through waivers and hope nobody claims him.
Given his track record, the trade market would be very close to zero, especially since once the Indians starting making calls to trade him other teams will know he has no future in Cleveland and will eventually be released if he is not traded. On the other hand, it would be easy to make a list of pitchers with worse records than Carrasco who have been claimed when put on waivers, so the odds of that working out are slim as well. When a guy with a mid-90s fastball is available at no cost, somebody will take a shot.
So there is every incentive for the Indians to find a way for Carlos Carrasco to make the major league roster next year. The next question would be whether to groom him as a starter or a reliever. Given his excellent performance out of the pen in September, it was a bit surprising to find the front office so adamant about giving him one more chance as a starter.
Quite simply, while there are numerous openings in the bullpen, it is difficult at this point to see a scenario where Carrasco earns a job as a starter. At this point, barring a trade, you have to assume that Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, and Zach McAllister have jobs locked up in the rotation. It is also clear that the Indians will look to acquire a veteran starter, either through free agency or a trade. That’s five jobs filled, and nothing available for Carrasco. Even if a job opens up via a trade or injury, it is not clear that Carrasco would be first in the pecking order, with Josh Tomlin supposedly healthy and even Trevor Bauer lurking in Columbus.
It seems clear that Carlos Carrasco will begin next season on the major league roster in the bullpen, unless he completely implodes in spring training. The issue, then, is whether it is best to just have him spend the winter and spring training getting ready to be a reliever, or continue to keep his arm stretched out for starter innings and then move him to the bullpen if he doesn’t make the rotation. I can see the logic of wanting him to be ready to start. Prevailing logic is that if a guy has starter stuff you do everything in your power to make him a starter; putting him in the bullpen is like buying a Corvette and using it for grocery trips. Also, major league teams always want to be ready for the worst case scenario, and if three guys show up at Goodyear in February with sore arms they want to be covered. If that scenario never occurs, it would probably be a minor adjustment for Carrasco’s arm to adjust to a bullpen routine.
Still, even though he has had Tommy John surgery, it has always seemed to me that the most fragile part of Carrasco is his head. If I was Terry Francona, I would rather have Carlos Carrasco in my pen thinking he is there because I like him as a reliever than because he washed out as a starter. It appears that maybe the Indians have stumbled on to something that Carrasco can be successful at. Bear in mind that on Carrasco’s first fifteen pitches last year hitters had an OPS of .651, so he may be best suited to just come in and throw hard for an inning or two and get out before anyone gets a read on him.
The odds of him becoming a successful major league starter, by which I mean a guy that a playoff contender will put in their rotation and not keep looking for a better alternative, at this point in his life – remember, he will be 27 on Opening Day – are slim. The odds of it happening with the Indians, given that his next prolonged meltdown will leave them with virtually no option but to release him, are minuscule. This may be a case where the Indians are better served to just hand Carlos Carrasco a job in middle relief and see if he can handle it.