CLEVELAND -- The Indians are not sure when the pitcher known as Fausto Carmona will be able to return to the United States in light of his ongoing legal and visa issues in his native Dominican Republic.
Under the circumstances, Cleveland was left with little choice but to place the starter on Major League Baseball's restricted list. The Indians announced the move on Thursday, but officially filed the paperwork one day earlier.
Carmona, whose real name is believed to be Roberto (Heredia) Hernandez, was released on bail last week after being arrested on charges of using a false identity. An investigation is under way in the Dominican Republic and the pitcher's availability for the 2012 season is unclear.
In a press release, the Indians indicated that they "will have no further comment on this matter until Fausto's status and availability to the club are determined."
The Indians are, however, doing all they can to expedite the pitcher's return to the United States. As of right now, it does not appear as though Cleveland will try to void Carmona's contract. The pitcher had his $7 million club option for 2012 picked up by the Tribe in late October.
Indians manager Manny Acta, who was in the Cleveland area on Thursday for the team's "Tribe on Tour" event, said Carmona is still considered a big part of the team's rotation.
"He's a very important part of it," Acta said. "You don't find 200 innings on every corner of America. Just two years ago, he had 210 quality innings. But, life goes on."
Acta declined further comment about Carmona, who is reportedly 31 years old, and not 28 as he has claimed.While on MLB's restricted list, a player is ineligible to receive pay. If Carmona's issues were sorted out during the regular season -- paving the way for his return to the United States -- the Indians would only have to pay a prorated portion of the pitcher's contract for the remainder of the year.
The move also frees up a spot on Cleveland's 40-man roster.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was also at the "Tribe on Tour" event on Thursday, said the pitcher's teammates are hoping the issues are resolved as swiftly as possible.
"We're just waiting for the information to come out," Kipnis said. "We're waiting to see what happens. All I know is that myself, the organization, we're all behind him. We're all hoping for the best for him. We're hoping it works out to get him back here."On Jan. 19, Carmona was arrested outside the American consulate in Santo Domingo, where he had gone to renew his visa so that he could return to the United States for Spring Training. He was released on bail of $13,000 one day later, according to The Associated Press.
Carmona was then instructed to forfeit his passport and check in with prosecutors.
The Miami Marlins are dealing with a similar situation.
In September, the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez was forced to return to the Dominican Republic after it was discovered that he was playing under an assumed name. His real name is Juan Carlos Oviedo, and he admitted to using false documents in order to sign a professional contract.
Oviedo remains on the restricted list, and the pitcher is sorting through visa issues, even though he has cooperated with investigators. The Marlins signed Oviedo to a $6 million contract to avoid arbitration, but he remains on the restricted list.
While not commenting on Carmona specifically, Acta did address what is clearly an ongoing issue with some young athletes in the manager's home country of the Dominican Republic.
"I believe that Major League Baseball is doing a tremendous job right now to help better the system," Acta said. "But, it's just been a flawed system for a long time, because you can be 21 [years old] and be a first-round pick out of college here [in the United States].
"When was the last time that anyone that was 21 was signed out of [the Dominican Republic] that you knew was 21? It's a system that in the past has forced those kids to do some of that stuff.
"It's getting better.They're doing a good job at MLB trying to fix the problem."
ESPN's Pedro Gomez reported on the show "Outside the Lines" that the mother of the real Fausto Carmona revealed the pitcher's secret during a radio interview on a station in the Dominican several weeks ago. According to Gomez, authorities decided to wait until Carmona went to apply for a new visa to arrest him.
According to the ESPN report, the belief is that the Indians pitcher was paying for the use of the false identity. After Cleveland picked up the right-hander's 2012 club option, the family allegedly asked for increased annual payments, at which point the starter refused.
Carmona's date of birth has been listed as Dec. 7, 1983, which would have made him 17 years old when he signed with the Indians as a non-drafted free agent in 2000. It is possible that Carmona was actually as old as 20 when he first pitched in Cleveland's farm system.
The right-handed sinkerballer broke in with the Indians as a reliever in 2006, and he finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award balloting after going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in the 2007 campaign. He's been erratic over the past few seasons, posting a 33-48 record and a 5.01 ERA in 111 starts between 2008 and '11.
The Indians hold club options on the right-hander's contract for 2013 and '14.
Carmona projected to fall within the Nos. 3-5 spots in Cleveland's rotation prior to his arrest. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez will likely vie for the first two spots, with Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe also on the staff. On Friday, the Indians acquired righty Kevin Slowey in a trade with the Rockies as a possible fifth-starter candidate.Acta noted that Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff and Zach McAllister are also being considered for rotation jobs.
"We're not handing anything to anybody," Acta said. "We also have Gomez. We have McAllister and Huff. They are going to compete with Kevin. We're not pin-pointing one guy."