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Orbiting Cleveland: The extensions to Kluber and Carrasco are big wins for the Indians



(Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)
Excited? It’s Opening Day for the Cleveland Indians.

Media outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated have suggested big things for the Indians this season, predicting the team could win more than 90 games and even make some major postseason noise.
Who knows how many victories the Tribe ends up with, but from where I stand, it seems like a couple victories have already been achieved.

Yesterday, the Indians announced they signed reigning Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to a five-year extension, which runs through the 2019 season and contains club options for 2020 and 2021. Beginning this season, the right-hander will earn salaries of $1MM, $4.5MM, $7.5MM, $10.5MM, and $13MM (possible escalator of $17MM). The 2020 option will be worth $13.5MM (possible escalator of $17.5MM) and the 2021 option will be worth $14MM (possible escalator of $18MM).

It’s the largest contract for a pre-arbitration eligible pitcher in MLB history and if all incentives are met, the deal could be worth $77 million.

The team also reached an agreement with right-hander Carlos Carrasco on an extension, but the specifics are still unknown. According to Cleveland.com, the deal is believed to be a four-year extension worth $22 million with two club options.

Wins are going to come this season, hopefully as early as tonight, but these extensions are already two of the biggest. For a small-market team like the Indians, it’s imperative to make moves like this in an effort to stay competitive.

There are bound to be some naysayers out there, but let’s be honest, step back and look at these two deals, especially Kluber’s.

Acquired in July 2010 as part of a three-team deal between the Indians, San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, Kluber has always been a unique case. He never was a heralded prospect, compiling a string of unimpressive minor league seasons.

He was very much a late bloomer, not becoming a staple of the Indians’ rotation until 2013 when he was already 27 years old. Because it took him so long to stick in the Bigs, even without yesterday’s extension, Kluber would not have been a free agent until after the 2018 season and would be 33 years old by the start of the 2019 season. Given the unpredictable nature of starting pitchers, teams are hesitant to throw out major paydays, especially to a pitcher already in his mid-thirties.

Waiting until then for a chance at his first big Major League payday would have been a calculated risk for Kluber, a risk he was unwilling to assume. Instead, the extension with the Indians gives him a level of security, and the Indians now have a legitimate face-of-the-franchise player that they’ve lacked in recent years. For both Kluber and the Indians, this is a win-win situation. Don’t over think this.
Just consider the worst-case scenario with this contract.

Sure, Kluber could get hurt, and the Indians would end up eating a large chunk of money. Still though, it seems wiser to spend money on Kluber, a player who has already achieved greatness with the Tribe, rather than waste it on free agent contracts like those given to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, two players who have either underachieved or been injured since joining the team.

Now, consider the best-case scenario with this contract.

Let’s say Kluber continues to perform at the same rate as last season. That does not mean we should expect 18 wins, 269 strikeouts, a 2.35 FIP and a 2.57 xFIP every season, but let’s just say he averages 15 wins, 200 innings, 200 strikeouts and a 3.00 FIP over the next seven seasons, all of which will be played with the Indians. Think about the type of value that Kluber represents. We could be looking at the greatest Indians pitcher of all time not named Bob Feller. I’ll take it even further. We could be looking at one of the greatest Indians period.

Yes, that’s optimistic. Perhaps too optimistic. But damn it, it’s Opening Day, and we have good reason to be optimistic.

If the Indians do pick up both options, Kluber will not be a free agent until he is 36 years old. If he’s still pitching well and the Indians are in contention, it would be hard to imagine him re-signing with anyone but the Indians. At 36, he’s not going to get too outlandish of a payday and at that point, he would be the face of the Indians. Hell, he would be one of the faces of this city.

For the first time in what seems like decades, a great player could potentially spend his entire career with the Indians organization. It’s haphazard to suggest that that actually will happen, but the Kluber contract extension makes this a distinct possibility, much more of a possibility than it was a week ago.

The Carrasco extension is a bit more difficult to discuss given that the financial specifics have not been officially announced. Let’s just go ahead and assume it is worth $22 million over four years with two additional club options. Sure, that’s a risk, but it’s a good risk. Couple it with the Kluber extension, and I would argue it’s a great risk.

We all know the story behind Carrasco last season. After initially struggling as a starter, he experienced success in the bullpen before rejoining the rotation and pitching exclusively out of the stretch.

Over his final 10 starts, he posted a 1.30 ERA, 78 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 69 innings of work. Unlike Kluber, Carrasco was not a late bloomer, at least with regards to being a prospect.

Beginning in 2007, he made regular appearances on Baseball America’s and Baseball Prospectus’ top prospect lists. He was also one of the key pieces the Indians received when they traded Cliff Lee in 2009, and he made his Major League debut just a few months later.

Because he’s been around so long, Carrasco seems older, but he actually just turned 28 two weeks ago. As long as he proves that last season was not a fluke, the Indians will now have the services of a flame-throwing right-hander entering his peak years through the 2020 season. That’s a win for this organization.

For years, General Manager Chris Antonetti and President Mark Shapiro have said they are serious about transforming the Indians into a consistent contender. They’ve made some moves over the years, but I’d argue none have had the potential to have a bigger impact than these two extensions. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But again, it’s Opening Day, so I ask that you humor me here.

When acquiring pitching, especially of the power variety, it’s a risk, and it’s a risk that doesn’t come cheap. Just ask the Washington Nationals, who committed $210 million to Max Scherzer this offseason. We’re talking about an average of $30 million per season.

With the extensions to Kluber and Carrasco, the Indians gained control of three free agent years for each player. Now, let’s say Kluber and Carrasco replicate their performances from last season over these next few years. How much do you think those seasons would have cost on the free agent market? $30 million? $35 million? Your guess is as good as mine.

Are these extensions a risk? Sure — but they’re also a bargain.

Most importantly, they’re a signal to this fanbase and the rest of Major League Baseball that the Indians are serious about its immediate future. In the grand scheme of this game, what’s more important than that?

Orbiting Cleveland is the regular Monday column from EHC Managing Editor Steve Orbanek. You can contact Steve via email at orbaneks@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @orbaneks.
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