Is Carmona Next?

By TJ Zuppe

The July 31st trading deadline in major league baseball gives way to so much hear-say, and rumor starting, it gets a little confusing and complicated to keep up.

Indians Pitcher Fausto Carmona

Reports are leaked every day, and sources are thrown out, sometimes blindly, in hopes to a glimpse of what a team’s plans are to enter as a buyer or a seller at the deadline.

The latest reports from several outlets including ESPN’s Buster Olney have surrounded the New York Mets, and their interest in Indians starting pitcher Fausto Carmona.

Carmona on the season is 6-5 with a 3.31 earned run average. In 14 starts he has worked 92.1 innings, including two complete games, striking out just over five hitters per nine innings.

Talks between the two clubs have not taken place with any kind of seriousness regarding a trade, but it has become clear the Mets are interested and coveting the young righty.

Why would they not? Carmona has wicked stuff, and seems to be back on the right track. He would make one heck of a pickup moving towards the stretch run, and down the pennant chase.

Yet if these rumors were to be seriously considered, or worse carried out, it would set the Indians organization back once again in pitching depth in talent for the third straight year.

The situation could be possibly different if the Tribe had pitchers waiting in the wings, ready to start eating up innings at the big league level, with talent equal to or surpassing Carmona’s. However, just in examining how difficult it has been to find a suitable replacement for left-handed pitcher David Huff, who was optioned to Class-AAA Columbus on Monday, how can the Indians justify the trade of Carmona?

The Indians just do not have that luxury.

Pitchers Jake Westbrook and Kerry Wood are understandable names to banter about over the next month because of contract situations, and veteran status, but not Carmona.

Granted, he has had three very inconsistent years in an Indians uniform, but he also electrified, and baffled major-league hitters in 2007 on his way to 19 victories and finishing fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting.

2010 has looked more and more like a return to that form, inching closer in every start.

It is understandable in listening to arguments for dealing Carmona, but it is safe to say the Indians will not get the same return that Carmona offers them on the mound every five days. Forget about getting a Bartolo Colon type deal, as that was a unique situation they fell into with the Montreal Expos on the verge of possible team collapse at the time.

There is no possible way the Indians could trade the 26-year old hurler, and get close to players like second-baseman Brandon Phillips, outfielder Grady Sizemore, and left-hander Cliff Lee.

Trades like that happen once in a lifetime. Indians general manager Mark Shapiro tries to replicate it every summer.

Speaking of Lee, the Indians traded him last summer and still have been searching for any kind of return from the prospects they got back from the Phillies. The year before, the Tribe dealt C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers for big-named prospects.

Neither outfielder Michael Brantley nor first-basemen Matt LaPorta have made a lasting impression at the major league level as of yet.

This would be more of the same for an organization that has been built on “pitching, pitching, pitching,” or at least as Shapiro has sold fans since his inception as GM at the beginning of the decade. How would the trade of a pitcher entering the prime of his career, and at a semi-reasonable price in current major league standards make any sense?

It simply would not. Not for a small market team, that has to live on bargains. When Carmona is pitching well, as he has this season, he is an absolute steal.

He is making 4.9 million this season, will collect 6.1 million in 2011, and is governed by a number of options through the 2014 season.

Furthermore, there are no guarantees in trading at the deadline. The Indians will not get back proven players for Carmona. Very few and far between are the scenarios where proven players are dealt to benefit both sides, because that is not how baseball works.

Is the front office going to try and push another talented player out the door, and sell the fans on how it is better for them in the long run? That may just be the last straw for Indians fans.

Giving up Carmona will push the team further back in team development, no matter what is said otherwise. The only glimmer that the organization would hold on to is the unknown factor in the prospects obtained.

Then again, it seems the Indians mirror the city’s view towards the unknown, and are often intrigued by it. Stabs in the dark however, are a very difficult way to justify and evaluate talent.

If Carmona is to get dealt, brace yourself for another long and forgettable summer of Indians fans literally asking “who’s on first?”

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