CLEVELAND -- The Indians tucked away one of their aces.
Fausto Carmona, a surprising 19-game winner who wasn't bugged by swarming insects in his first postseason start last October, agreed Thursday to a $15 million, four-year contract with the Indians, a deal that potentially could earn him $48 million.
The deal matches the highest amount guaranteed to a pre-arbitration starting pitcher (the other was the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright), and it's the highest guaranteed deal for a starting pitcher with only one-plus years of service time.
There was no rush to sign the 24-year-old, but the Indians are convinced Carmona's best days are ahead and rewarded him accordingly.
"This is a guy who has shown he wants to be great," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "He has exceptional toughness, exceptional talent and intelligence. Those things combined with his work ethic made this a very easy decision."
Carmona's signing also gives the Indians protection in case they can't keep reigning American League Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, who is eligible for free agency following this season. Sabathia rejected a preliminary offer from the club, and during spring training he suspended negotiations until after the season.
There's no guarantee Sabathia will be back, and if he's not, Carmona will ascend to the No. 1 role.
Assistant GM Chris Antonetti said Carmona's signing will allow the club to better plan for the future, but it has no bearing on its ability to re-sign Sabathia.
"They are not interrelated," Antonetti said, "and it certainly wouldn't hurt to have two 19-game winners in the rotation. We would like to have five of them."
Carmona doesn't want to consider the possibility of replacing Sabathia.
"I want C.C. to stay here," he said through first-base coach Luis Rivera. "I want C.C. to be the No. 1 for a long time. I don't care if I'm No. 2 for a long time."
With a wicked sinker, Carmona went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in 32 starts and emerged as one of the AL's top pitchers in 2007, one season after he went 1-10 and had a disastrous tryout as Cleveland's closer. But it was how Carmona bounced back from adversity that impressed the Indians, who signed him in 2000 as a 17-year-old.
In just over a week's span in 2006, Carmona blew three saves, losing twice on game-ending homers. But the kid who used to pretend he was Pedro Martinez while throwing rocks on his parents' farm in the Dominican Republic never let the failure affect him.
"Never once during those struggles did he ever show it was getting him down," Shapiro said. "When we were worried about him, he wasn't worried about himself. He always had that confidence, that toughness that 'I'm going to beat the other guy.'"
Carmona gets a $750,000 signing bonus and guaranteed salaries of $500,000 this year, $2.75 million in 2009, $4.9 million in 2010 and $6.1 million in 2011.
The Indians have options for $7 million in 2012, $9 million in 2013 and $14 million in 2014. The price of the first option could escalate by $1 million and the price on the other two by $2 million each.
The Indians and Carmona's agent, Jorge Brito, agreed to the deal before his first start this season, a dominating win over the Chicago White Sox. The team wanted to wait until it completed a West Coast trip before announcing Carmona's new contract.
Carmona, who had agreed last month to a one-year contract paying $457,800 in the majors and $228,900 in the minors, said his farming parents showed him the value of hard work. He's building them a new home, a gift he was reluctant to disclose publicly.
"That's the kind of man Fausto is," Brito said. "He does things for people and doesn't want headlines. He helps children at home. He helps his family, but he doesn't want to talk about it."
Carmona, who finished second in the AL in ERA, began the '07 season with a loss to Chicago, extending his losing streak to 11 straight games. He finally snapped it by beating Minnesota's Johan Santana, but was optioned to the minor leagues when Cliff Lee came off the disabled list.
But before he reported to Triple-A Buffalo, Carmona was back in the majors when right-hander Jake Westbrook went down with an injury. He pitched his first complete-game shutout in May, again beating Santana, a two-time Cy Young winner.
Carmona eventually won seven straight decisions, and then went 9-4 with a major league-best 2.26 ERA in the second half.
"He probably had as good a first season as anybody we've ever had," Shapiro said.
Carmona made a memorable debut in the playoffs. Matched up with New York's Andy Pettitte, he allowed the Yankees just three hits and no earned runs in nine innings, pitching the final two as tiny insects called midges covered his head.
While the small critters got the best of Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain, Carmona was able to keep his poise and pitch during a game never to be forgotten.
"I had a job to do and I could not let my mind think about anything else," Carmona said. "I could see the bugs. I could feel them. But I couldn't think about them."
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney was used in this report.