When the New York Mets completed their blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Indians last Thursday, most of the hype revolved around star shortstop Francisco Lindor. While it’s understandable that people are most enamored with the player on a Hall of Fame trajectory, it cannot be understated just how important it is that Carlos Carrasco is now a Met.
A Secret Ace?
Make no mistake, Carrasco isn’t some back end starter. The 2019 American League Comeback Player of the Year built on that success and had a career season in 2020. By posting career bests in ERA (2.91), ERA+ (157) and K/9 (10.9) through 12 starts, Carrasco proved that he could still perform at a high level. Don’t put much stock in stats from the abbreviated 2020 season? Fine. In that case just take a look at his stats from 2014-2018: eight complete games, three shutouts, 3.27 ERA, 133 ERA+, 3.01 FIP, 1.089 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, and 19.9 bWAR. On top of that he became just the 84th pitcher in history to throw an immaculate inning when he struck out the side on nine pitches against the Detroit Tigers on July 7, 2017.
Those are elite, top of the rotation numbers right there. Though he’s only had a single top-five Cy Young finish (fourth place in 2017), such a performance is comparable, if not superior to some of the top aces in the league. This includes Stephen Strasburg, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Gerrit Cole. In that same span, the only Mets pitcher to put up better numbers was Jacob DeGrom. Marcus Stroman, who would have been the No.2 starter behind DeGrom prior to this trade, was only worth 10 bWAR.
A History of Injury
The only real cause for concern with Carrasco is the combination of his age and injury history. In a few months, the 34-year-old they call “Cookie” runs the risk of crumbling like one. In 11 seasons, Carrasco has eclipsed 30 starts just three times, most recently in 2018. He missed all of 2012 with Tommy John surgery, fractured the fifth metacarpal bone after taking a line drive to his pitching hand in 2016 and was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019.
Though he has overcome each of these ailments, one has to wonder if all of this may start to wear on the veteran in his later years. Carrasco will be under contract through 2022 and has an option for 2023. By then, the Mets will have to make a decision on whether or not they want to keep paying a 36-year-old starter $11.75 million per year.
Late Season Flexibility
Speaking of injuries, come July, Noah Syndergaard will return from Tommy John surgery. Should he replicate his pre-injury production, Syndergaard would likely slot back into the No.2 spot in the rotation. If Carrasco is underperforming, he should have no problem shifting to the bullpen for remainder of the season. In 47 career relief appearances, he owns a 3.16 ERA in 77 innings, and even a couple of saves.
At the moment, however, such a transition seems unlikely. Headlined by a 93-mph sinking curve and an 88-mph changeup, the 2021 Steamer projections are quite favorable for Carrasco. With a 3.66 ERA, 197 strikeouts and just 53 walks, Carrasco would outperform every free agent pitcher. If he can replicate these numbers, the Mets might just have one of baseball’s best rotations.
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