I wonder how many deals near the trade deadline get put together and fall apart at the last minute. These agreements were in theory just about to happen. Maybe some of these deals are crazier than what actually happens. Maybe some of these deals just get a little tweaked before actually happening. It's hard for us to know. One trade that almost happened over the weekend was the Indians trading Carlos Carrasco to the Blue Jays, but that deal fell apart at the end.
On its face, that seems like a shocking trade regardless of the return. Though the Indians are currently in last place in the AL Central with little chance of catching the Royals, Carrasco is not normally the type of player available from a selling team. That's probably why he was available.
Carlos Carrasco is really good
As a high strikeout, low walk, high ground ball pitcher, Carrasco compares well only to a few players. I went to FanGraphs to find comparable players using just their 2015 strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates. Initially, my boundaries were more restrictive. I got three players (including Carrasco, of course). I loosened my boundaries. There were still only three players. I loosened the boundaries a little more. There were still only three players. Know that the boundaries are arbitrary, but they get the point across -- there are very few high strikeout, low walk, high ground ball starting pitchers.
Here are the other two players in those boundaries (strikeout rate greater than 25 percent, walk rate less than seven percent, and ground ball rate greater than 47 percent): Clayton Kershaw. Jake Arrieta.
Kershaw stands on his own in terms of strikeout rate, but Carrasco compares fairly well in the other areas. The main differences within this table are Carrasco's BABIP and LOB rate, which are both much worse than Arrieta's and Kershaw's. Chalk it up to the Indians defense, I suppose. Another difference is the innings pitched; Carrasco averages 5.9 innings per start, while Kershaw averages seven innings per start. But, hey, Carrasco is still pretty good.
The starting pitcher market is flush with worse options or rentals
Usually the best players available at the trade deadline are those on teams with no playoff hopes and no hopes of re-signing the player. That player is a rental. The Royals just traded for a rental in Johnny Cueto. Cueto was a great option comparable with Carrasco in terms of performance, but the acquiring team gets him for only two months or so. It's the same story with David Price, Scott Kazmir, and Jeff Samardzija.
Other options that aren't rentals include Cole Hamels and James Shields. Hamels is a good pitcher, but he's owed a lot of money over the next few years. Shields is also a good pitcher, but he's owed a lot of money over the next few years. Both Hamels and Shields are on the wrong side of 30. Dan Haren and Mike Leake have been rumored to be available.
When a potential buyer looks at this market, there are very good rental options, expensive options, and options that are not as good as Carrasco. This is where Carrasco has everyone beat - his age and contract.
Carrasco turned 28 before 2015, and he signed an extension before the season began (again, that makes his presence on the trade market a little strange). From 2016-2018, Carrasco is due only $19 million. There is a 2019 team option for $9 million and another team option in 2020 for $9.5 million with a $700,000 buyout. There are escalators in his team option years depending on his Cy Young voting finish. That's far cheaper than any non-rental option, and Carrasco is probably better than any non-rental option save Hamels. Given his contract status, age, and performance, Carrasco is probably the best option for non-rentals. David Price might really be the only pitcher for sure better than Carrasco.
It makes sense, then, that Carrasco would be available. The Indians have a lot of starting pitching available, and Carrasco is a fantastic pitcher in a market with generally worse options.
The Blue Jays sorely need starting pitching
At 50-50, the Blue Jays are not out of the Wild Card race just yet. In fact, according to FanGraphs' playoff odds, the Blue Jays have the best chance at nabbing the second Wild Card spot. Last week, I wrote about which teams needed Hamels or Cueto the most; the Blue Jays stand a lot to gain from acquiring a top-flight pitcher. Their rotation has been ...unfortunate... this season. After losing Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays have tried a multitude of players in the fifth starter's spot. Felix Doubront is the most recent of those fellows.
The Blue Jays have the need. They also have the ammunition to get Carrasco. They have a nice crop of prospects - Baseball America has three Blue Jays prospects in their midseason top 50 - Daniel Norris, Dalton Pompey, and Jeff Hoffman. They also have Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna, who have started in the minors and relieved in the majors. Sanchez has also started in the majors. Marcus Stroman would almost certainly be off-limits, but the pieces are there.
The Blue Jays have the need and the prospects to be motivated for a deal, but there is the thought of whether or not Carrasco is really a fit for the Blue Jays. He is.
One of the reasons Carrasco's ERA is much higher than his peripherals is the Indians defense. The Blue Jays have a better defense. Though the two teams aren't far apart in DRS or UZR, almost all the negative value for the Blue Jays is concentrated at SS (Jose Reyes) and LF (a bunch of guys). The Jays have Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar, and Devon Travis (who rates OK so far). They have some good defenders.
One particular that perhaps throws a wrench into the idea of the Blue Jays as a fit is the ballpark itself. Carrasco runs a bit hot in homer rate. Overall, the Blue Jays park is much easier for homers than Progressive Field, which wouldn't be good for a pitcher already a little homer prone. However, that difference is mainly for right-handed hitters. According to FanGraphs, it's slightly easier for a lefty to hit a homer at Progressive than at the Rogers Centre. Righties get the benefit at Rogers Centre big time (from a 93 park factor to a 110). Carrasco is a righty himself, and he does better against righties than lefties. Carrasco would probably give up a few more homers to righties, but he faces lefties a bit more often. The park switch may not be a huge deal.
At some point, someone decided that the delicate balance of the trade didn't work. We won't see Carrasco as a Blue Jay despite the apparent fit for the Blue Jays and probably enormous return for the Indians. That doesn't mean the Indians or Blue Jays will stop looking for the right fits.
Editor's Note: The Blue Jays traded for Troy Tulowitzki, which reduces their ammunition to acquire pitching. Tulo is a better defender than Reyes at this point, so the Blue Jays defense just improved. All the rest above still applies.
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