Carlos Carrasco returned to baseball on Sept. 1, 2019. As the cancer survivor took the mound, players left the Rays' dugout at Tropicana Field to give the Cleveland righthander a standing ovation. Reports from that day say Carrasco shook as he gripped the baseball. Videos show Francisco Lindor moving in from shortstop to give him a hug.
Two days later, he ran onto his home turf at Progressive Field for another one-inning relief appearance. The applause from the Cleveland fan base was raucous, and they clapped along to his warm-up music, "Summer of ’69."
It was an idyllic baseball moment, but so much has happened since then. After beating chronic myeloid leukemia, Carrasco recuperated, was named AL Comeback Player of the Year and pitched through a pandemic. On Thursday, his story continued: The 33-year-old righthander officially said goodbye to Cleveland, where he’d spent his entire 11-year career, and metaphorically made his way to Flushing.
A lot of people will look at Thursday’s blockbuster trade as the day the Mets landed Lindor, but while Carrasco is a smaller part of the deal, he’s hardly an afterthought.
True, Sandy Alderson said he and Jared Porter went into trade talks with their eyes firmly planted on the All-Star shortstop, but it doesn’t mean the team wasn’t in dire need of rotation help.
The Mets were about to enter the season with exactly two consistent starting pitchers: Jacob deGrom (always) and Marcus Stroman. Seth Lugo still has to be fully stretched out, Steven Matz finished last year with a 7.76 ERA and has struggled to replicate his 2016 season, and Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) isn’t expected back until at least June.
Meanwhile, Carrasco is consistent and generally stays healthy, cancer diagnosis notwithstanding. He can command all four of his pitches and even flirted with throwing a cutter in 2020. He’s appeared in at least 20 games seven times in his career and has a 3.77 career ERA.
Carrasco averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings in his last four seasons, including that 2019 comeback year. In 2017, he went 18-6 and came in fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting.
Carrasco pitched to a 5.29 ERA in 2019, though that's completely understandable, given what his body went through. Last year, he showed a return to form with a 2.91 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 68 innings. It's not quite his pre-2019 standards, but it's trending in the right direction.
"Carlos Carrasco has a proven track record, multiple pitches with command, and he’s done it on big stages," Porter said. "It’s a veteran presence in our rotation. I think we’re getting deeper."
And depth does seem to be the name of the game for Porter and Alderson. It was only five years ago that the Mets' rotation was among the best, if not the best, in baseball, but Alderson had a firsthand view of how quickly all that can splinter. With the financial flexibility afforded by new owner Steve Cohen, they don’t seem to be taking any chances.
"I’d be comfortable" if this is the rotation the Mets bring into 2020, Porter said. Including David Peterson, the Mets have "six very talented starting pitchers. Of course, there’s never enough . . . I expect us to continue to chip away."
That said, having Carrasco makes it a little bit easier to explore their options, comfortable in the fact that they have plenty to fall back on.
"I’m never satisfied," Porter said. "I don’t think anyone is satisfied. I think the best teams are never satisfied . . . That being said, we certainly have a lot of confidence in the starting pitchers that we have, anchored by some elite ones at the top of the rotation."