© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
07/07/08 4:42 PM ET
Time was right to deal Sabathia
GM Shapiro doesn't view trade as start of rebuilding project
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- This time, the Indians' returns on their trade of their staff ace won't read, "Lee Stevens and prospects." This time, the baseball world is quite a bit more savvy in the understanding of the value of prospects for a mid-market team such as the Tribe. But make no mistake: General manager Mark Shapiro did not pull the trigger on the CC Sabathia trade expecting it to be as high of an impact deal as the 2002 trade that sent Bartolo Colon to the Expos.
While Shapiro is pleased with the package he received from the Brewers for Sabathia -- a package highlighted by outfielder/first baseman Matt LaPorta and a mysterious player to be named later who is believed to be a potentially high-impact prospect -- he doesn't compare it to the one that included Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips.
"It's a very different situation in multiple ways," Shapiro said. "First and foremost, Bartolo had a year and a half -- not just three months -- left on his contract. That, alone, adds value."
Yes, Sabathia's value was diminished by the fact that he is just three months away from free agency and, presumably, one of the fattest contracts in the game.
The Indians made attempts over the winter to be the ones handing Sabathia that contract. Their final offer was a four-year extension, through 2012, that would have paid him $18 million a year. Sabathia turned it down and cut off negotiations when Spring Training camp opened.
With the '08 season quickly evolving into a disaster because of injuries and ineffectiveness up and down the Tribe roster and contention hopes dashed by last week's sweep at the hands of the first-place White Sox, Shapiro knew it was time to make a deal for Sabathia.
He also knew that this deal will have major implications for this club, going forward. Unlike in 2002, Shapiro doesn't view this trade as the start of a long-term rebuilding project. He still entertains hope that the Indians will be right back in the thick of the standings next year.
For that reason, Shapiro did not wish to keep Sabathia through the season, risk losing him to free agency and receive two Draft picks as compensation for that loss.
"[The Draft picks would have ranked] somewhere between a definitive pick of 31st [overall], and the second pick could be anywhere from 16th to 55th in the country," Shapiro said. "With the uncertainty that exists with Draft picks like that, and the realization that those are three to five years away from impacting our big league team, we thought it was important to at least explore trade alternatives, which we did thoroughly."
With plenty of holes to fill at the big league level, the Indians had no preconceived notions about what they wanted in return for Sabathia. But they did wish to stay away from Triple-A outfielders, because of their belief in the bats of Shin-Soo Choo and Ben Francisco, the glove of Franklin Gutierrez and the potential of Double-A prospect Trevor Crowe.
"If we could get an outfielder," Shapiro said, "we wanted an impact-type outfielder, someone who could be a middle-of-the-order run-producer." Only one package the Indians considered in the final days before the trade was completed involved a pitcher as the core player involved. Seven teams showed legitimate interest in Sabathia in the past week, and three remained in the running over the weekend. It is believed the Phillies and Dodgers were the other two finalists. While the teams the Indians were talking to were all hungry to remain in contention -- and the Brewers, by virtue of their 26-year absence from the postseason, were particularly motivated -- none of them could match the desperation of the 2002 Expos. "Obviously, our trading partner [in '02] was a very unique partner," Shapiro said, "one that was threatened to be contracted, which made their young players a lot less important to them at that juncture in time." These days, young players are guarded much more fiercely in trade talks. Indeed, LaPorta, who was the seventh overall pick in last year's Draft, was considered untouchable in trade talks as recently as last week. "LaPorta was the best single player of any deals as a premium piece," Shapiro said. With that in mind, the Indians made the Brewers their final target sometime Saturday night. And over the course of the next 24 hours, they nailed down a deal. One of the final sticking points was the player to be named. One of them is believed to be Class A third baseman Taylor Green. The Indians have until the end of the Minor League season to make that call. It's highly unusual for a player to be named to be a key piece of a trade, but Shapiro and his staff wanted as much time as possible to get a firm scouting report on the last player they'll get for Sabathia. In the meantime, right-hander Rob Bryson intrigues the Indians because, at 20, he's shown a plus arm and has a penchant for throwing strikes (73 strikeouts and 20 walks in 22 appearances at Class A Brevard County). Left-hander Zach Jackson, putting up underwhelming numbers at Triple-A Nashville, was a throw-in simply to provide pitching depth for this season. For now, consider him the Lee Stevens of this deal. But don't consider the trade of Sabathia to be Bartolo Colon II. While Shapiro admitted the market for Sabathia was stronger than he originally envisioned, given the big left-hander's contract status, this swap was more difficult to consummate. "It was a more challenging environment to acquire young talent," Shapiro said. "With that being said, we're very happy with the terms we arrived at than the alternatives of the Draft picks."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.