“Is that you, baby, or just a brilliant disguise?”
On Twitter: @Castrovince
Talk about a jarring news cycle.
I’ve known The Pitcher Formerly Known as Carmona, who was arrested in the Dominican Republic for falsifying his identity, since he was 22 years old.
No, wait, scratch that. I’ve known him since he was 25 years old, if Thursday’s Associated Press report about his age actually being 31, not 28, is accurate.
Either way, the news that “Carmona,” whose real name is reportedly Roberto Hernandez Heredia, might have been duping us and the Indians all this time is both surprising and, well, not.
Latin America has long been a “buyer beware” environment, a place where things are not always as they appear. It is not at all uncommon for players to assume a new identity and age in order to increase their attractiveness to Major League clubs, and if Carmona is found guilty, he, like “Leo Nunez” before him, will stand as an extreme example of one of the game’s more troubling trends.
Three years ago, the Indians learned “Jose Ozoria,” the 16-year-old Dominican shortstop they had signed to a $570,000 bonus, was actually a 19-year-old named Wally Bryan. They decided to keep him in the organization, but his actual age greatly diminished his prospect potential, and he was out of professional ball by year’s end. Burned by the Bryan case, the club instituted a policy of subjecting their targets in foreign markets to DNA testing to confirm their identities.
Of course, that policy was put in place long after Carmona came aboard.
When the Tribe found Carmona in 2000, he was a dirt-poor prospect from the village of Naranjo Atta Viejo Yamasa, the son of a farmer who taught him the value of hard work. His teeth were so bad that the Indians feared he wouldn’t be able to properly nourish himself, so they doled out the dollars for his dental work. He ascended to the big leagues by 2006 and had a stint in the closer’s role that season that was as brief as it was disastrous, but he was so unflustered by the experience that he turned in 19 victories the following year, his first full season as a starter.
A picture of Carmona peering in for the sign, not at all fazed by the swarm of midges flying around his head, during a masterful performance against the Yankees in the ’07 AL Division Series hangs in a hallway in the Indians’ Player Development Complex — an example to all the Minor Leaguers who pass by of the mental toughness it takes to succeed at the game’s highest level.
And when Carmona had completed that rise from rags, the riches rolled in. The Indians signed him to a contract extension at the start of the ’08 season that guaranteed him $15 million over four years.
His first order of business was to build his parents a home.
Now, we could spend paragraph after paragraph explaining and evaluating all that’s happened since. Carmona’s humbling demotion to the lowest level of the Minors to sort out the mental and mechanical issues that turned him into a walk-prone washout. The incredible inconsistency that has made him a source of wonder to the club’s coaching staff and fans the last couple years.
But when you think of Carmona — or whatever his name is — in the wake of this news, remember how desperate he must have felt a dozen years ago. He could spend his life in poverty, working on the family farm, or he could explore the value of his blessed right arm.
And what if, in order to get the maximum value out of that arm, his best option was to tell a lie?
A lie that he’s allegedly carried with him all this time.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished,” Carmona told me the day he signed that extension, and pride is precisely what prompted him to respond to any inquiry about a poor performance with a shake of the head and a proclamation that he had made “a good pitch” that the opposition happened to hit. Pride is the reason Carmona has always wanted to handle his own interviews with the American media, even though his English is dreadful.
If these allegations and reports are true, Carmona, of course, has nothing to be proud of with regard to the way he deceived his employers all this time. But if he did tell this lie, he did it feeling it was the right thing to do for his family. And once you make a decision like that, there’s simply no going back.
Not until the Dominican police intervene, anyway.
Of more concern to the Indians than the past (no matter the pitcher’s age, they’ve gotten decent bang for their buck out of him) is the future. With the rotation battered by the Tommy John surgery that removed Carlos Carrasco from the picture, the Tribe rightly exercised Carmona’s $7 million 2012 option last fall.
Now, much like the Marlins placed Nunez, whose identity was revealed to be that of Juan Carlos Oviedo, on the restricted list, the Indians can halt any payments to Carmona until his legal situation is settled back home. Oviedo agreed to a $6 million contract with the Fish on Tuesday, but that money is contingent on his ability to return to the U.S. His legal battle began in September and is still ongoing, so it remains to be seen how long Carmona’s case will drag on. We can’t rule out the possibility that we’ve not only seen the last of Carmona but might never see the first of Heredia.
All of which is to say the Indians might be in a bind here. Because as jarring as the news is and as much as the actual age of Carmona/Heredia obviously impacts his perceived value, the ugly truth is that the Indians’ depth rotation options — David Huff, Jeanmar Gomez, Scott Barnes, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber — are large in number but thin in upside, and they need this particular pitcher for the third slot in their rotation. Perhaps this will prompt the club to consider outside options.
What I would doubt, knowing how the Indians operate, is a clean cut with Carmona, no matter how much that $7 million might help them fill their glaring need for a bat at first base. But I’ve been wrong before.
If Carmona/Heredia is guilty, was he wrong to tell this lie?
Well, from our first cognizant moments, we’re all taught not to lie. But having bettered his own life and the lives of his loved ones, I doubt this lie – a lie told by countless players in his position — is one he’d regret, if he did indeed tell it.
What he’d regret, I’m sure, is getting caught.