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On the value of Carlos Carrasco

If you thought the return for Shelby Miller was high, well, you just wait until Carlos Carrasco gets traded.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Cleveland Indians are currently in a weird place. On one hand, they are a team who finished one game over .500 with a young, controllable, and good pitching staff. Combine that with an infield that is highlighted by Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor, two players that should be deployed there for years to come, and it would seem they are a young team and poised to strike.

On the other hand, the Indians finished in third place with a questionable outfield situation. Yes, they have Michael Brantley; yes, Lonnie Chisenhall was solid defensively during his time in right field last season. However the former is expected to return from shoulder surgery in late April or early May, while the latter was only in right for a small portion of the year and posted a lackluster offensive season overall. From this perspective it would seem that some type of move is necessary in order for them to reach the playoffs.

If that is the case, this free agent class featuring Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, and Dexter Fowler seems perfect for a Tribe with ‘outfield' as their greatest need. But those free agents require large sums of money. Sums of money that the Indians are likely not willing to spend all in one place. Why sign one Dexter Fowler when you can spread it amongst one year of an aging Rajai Davis, lock up younger players through extensions, and/or sign more low cost free agents?

However, remember that good, young Indians pitching staff? The decision of whether to hang on to the group or use some of it to fill their other needs (like the aforementioned outfield) has been the topic of discussion all offseason. Should they or should they not ship Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, or Cody Anderson off to fill one of the holes in their lineup? The front office has said that they prefer to keep that bunch; however, one of the pitchers who has seemingly come up the most among rumors is Carlos Carrasco.

Although rumors typically are just that, the interest should come as no surprise to anyone. He is good. He is very good. This one time he was one strike away from a no-hitter. Then, later in the year, he took another into the 7th inning. Although no-hitters don't mean much in the grand scheme of things, the fact that Carrasco has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball since 2014 should. In the event you do not believe me, please fasten your seatbelt and prepare for some Carrasco league rankings:

IP K% BB% ERA FIP xFIP SIERA fWAR
Carrasco 317.2 28.3% 5.7% 3.17 2.67 2.66 2.67 8.0
AL Rank 29th 2nd t-18th t-11th 3rd 1st 2nd 8th
MLB Rank 70th 5th t-36th t-25th 5th t-3rd 3rd 18th

**out of the 70 American League pitchers and 146 total MLB pitchers who have thrown at least 180 innings over the last two seasons

I think it is safe to say that he is pretty good. Although his rise came a little later than expected, as he was a former top prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007 and 2008, it has apparently begun. I imagine the Indians aren't complaining. Neither is FanGraphs' August Fagerstrom, in his article about figuring out Carrasco's trade value, who best described the 28-year-old's on-field value:

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.

As you might imagine, teams have their interests piqued at the elite crowd Carrasco is beginning to join. Even on a normal contract, teams would be enthusiastic to acquire such a good pitcher. His performance alone is something that could net them the outfielder they have been looking for. But wait, there's more!

Carrasco doesn't have a normal contract. Before last season the righty signed a deal through 2018 worth $22 million with club options for the two following seasons. Should the options be exercised they would be $9 million and $9.5 million, respectively, and should one be declined it would turn into a buyout of $662.5K.

Also of note: Carrasco would've been eligible for arbitration this season and next season if he hadn't signed this extension. Surely he would have taken home more than $4.5 million and $6.5 million over this year and next, but Carrasco decided to take a more immediate payout. Why, you ask? Due to some potential fears he had over a heart surgery he had done last offseason, the fact that he had already had Tommy John, and general financial security for his family. These are logical reasons; however, it is nothing but a boon for Cleveland.

This extension is where the true value of Carlos Carrasco lies: the difference between his market value and his actual salary. It lies in the insane surplus value he provides. First, let's look at this using what I will call his BtBS value — a very simple model Steven Martano "threw together". It assumes five percent inflation each year, a 15 percent increase in WAR each season before age 30, and a decrease in WAR each season after age 30 ("BtBS AC"). Finally, the WAR used for 2016 is taken from Steamer.

There are, however, two things I want to note I am assuming about Carrasco. The first is that his club options are exercised. I mean, come on. The way the free agent market is trending, $9-$10 million for one year is extremely reasonable. The second assumption is that he does not activate the $4 million escalators, which are performance-based and available for the last guaranteed year and two option years.

Year Age Salary BtBS AC $/fWAR Value (BtBS) Surplus (BtBS)
Arb 2016 29 $4,500,000 4.8 $8,000,000 $38,400,000 $33,900,000
Arb 2017 30 $6,500,000 5.52 $8,400,000 $46,368,000 $39,868,000
FA 2018 31 $8,000,000 4.692 $8,820,000 $41,383,440 $33,383,440
FA 2019 32 $9,000,000 3.9882 $9,261,000 $36,934,720 $27,934,720
FA 2020 33 $9,500,000 3.38997 $9,724,050 $32,964,238 $23,464,238
Total fWAR 27.19017 Total Remaining Surplus $158,550,398
Total FA Surplus $84,782,398

There is a lot going on here.

What sticks out the most is that is a whole hunk of change the Indians have saved themselves. WOW. Granted that arbitration payouts are notoriously below market value, should he perform like that from 2018-20 the Indians still have gotten themselves an absolute steal. Another thing apparent to me is that, and I alluded to this by linking to Fagerstrom's article, the Steamer projections love Carlos Carrasco. I mean love Carlos Carrasco. For 2016 it predicts his strikeout and walk rates as well as his FIP to generally be the same. With that being said, it predicts his BABIP and LOB% to be more favorable than they were last season. This helps facilitate a predicted ERA drop of nearly six-tenths of a run.

Maybe we should try a different aging curve. FanGraphs offers a lot of things, aging curves being one of them. Lately on I've been noticing them use one that goes like this (age in parenthesis): 0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30), -0.5 WAR/yr (31-37), -0.75 WAR/yr (> 37). Like Martano's, it also assumes five percent inflation per year. Now let's see if this aging curve changes Carrasco's value:

Year Age Salary FG AC $/fWAR Value (FG) Surplus (FG)
Arb 2016 29 $4,500,000 4.8 $8,000,000 $38,400,000 $33,900,000
Arb 2017 30 $6,500,000 4.8 $8,400,000 $40,320,000 $33,820,000
FA 2018 31 $8,000,000 4.3 $8,820,000 $37,926,000 $29,926,000
FA 2019 32 $9,000,000 3.8 $9,261,000 $35,191,800 $26,191,800
FA 2020 33 $9,500,000 3.3 $9,724,050 $32,089,365 $22,589,365
Total fWAR 25.8 Total Remaining Surplus $146,427,165
Total FA Surplus $78,707,165

It does decrease his value, but not by a whole lot. All in all, his recent output and Steamer projection for 2016 puts him in a great position to retain such a high performance — resulting in a high value.

Putting it all together, how does Carrasco stack up against other pitchers available on the trade market? Well, Dave Cameron pegged Jose Fernandez at, after factoring in ~$25 million for arbitration costs, potentially a $100 million surplus value over the three years of team control he has left. Then Craig Edwards figured that three years of newly-traded Shelby Miller could result in a surplus of somewhere between $50-$100 million before arbitration (the former is if you prefer Steamer projections, the latter is if you prefer ZiPS), which, if we use an extension baseline outlined here by MLB Trade Rumors' Mark Polishuk, could cost around $22 million. Finally, we'll toss in current-San Diego Padre Tyson Ross. Ross' surplus comes in at around $43-$49 million for two years after you factor in his potential remaining arbitration costs (around $25 million).

In case you wanted to break that down to how much of a surplus each player is worth per year (using the FG aging model) it would look like this: Fernandez ($33.3 million), Carrasco ($29.3 million), Miller (let's use his ZiPS projection because it puts him much closer to this group, so $26 million), and Ross ($21.9 million).

Obviously there are more pitchers available via the trade market, but the point is that Carlos Carrasco is one of the most valuable pitchers available. With that being said, why on Earth would you trade him for anything less than a Shelby Miller-esque package, and then some?

The main problem with this is that it's tough to match up with another team that has as much current roster depth as they do prospect depth. If the Indians aren't absolutely blown away, then what reason is there to move him? Why do you need to trade such an inexpensive elite starting pitcher, especially when you are a team that doesn't exactly go out and compete for elite starting pitchers on the open market?

Although trading him might net you a solid controllable outfielder, would a pitcher like Cody Anderson be able to immediately step in and replace that low-cost production? Of course not. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find any pitcher that could.

If the Cleveland Indians are serious about competing for the AL Central this season — which they should be — trading Carlos Carrasco is not the answer. He is simply just too valuable.

. . .

Shawn Brody is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score as well as a sophomore pitcher at Howard Payne University majoring in Business Management. If you would like to get a hold of him, please feel free to email him at Shawnbrody9@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @ShawnBrody.