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07/31/08 4:46 PM ET
Tribe bolsters Minors with deals
Sabathia, Blake swaps add depth to depleted farm system
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- While not active at Thursday's 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline, the Indians were certainly busy before it. In the first days of July, it became readily apparent that the Indians would be sellers. A three-game sweep at the hands of the White Sox on June 30-July 2 confirmed the rapidly growing hunch that this was a team not bound for postseason baseball.
And so, general manager Mark Shapiro and his staff, which had been analyzing both selling and buying scenarios for several weeks, pulled the trading trigger.
The biggest deal was forged July 7, when staff ace and reigning American League Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia was dealt to the Brewers for a package of four Minor Leaguers, one of which has yet to be named. The second came when third baseman Casey Blake was sent to the Dodgers on July 26 for two prospects. And a third, less-publicized deal was also made July 26, when Anthony Reyes was brought in from the Cardinals' organization and sent to Triple-A Buffalo as starting pitching depth.
Another deal could be on the horizon in August, as it's possible that veteran starter Paul Byrd could pass through waivers and be dealt to a contender.
What remains in the wake of the deals already done is a dismantled Major League team that will be in Spring Training mode for the season's final two months and -- the Indians hope -- a deeper Minor League system that can be of greater assistance in 2009 and beyond.
"We've taken a situation that we're disappointed to be in and turned that into an opportunity to build depth, to add depth and ceiling to our farm system," Shapiro said Thursday. "We didn't compromise any players for next year, and we significantly bolstered our farm system."
At the core of the Tribe's deals are two, high-ceiling position players -- outfielder/infielder Matt LaPorta, now at Double-A Akron, and catcher Carlos Santana, now at Class A Kinston.
LaPorta was the seventh overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft and the Brewers' top prospect. Though his best defensive position is first base, the Brewers moved him to the outfield, and the Indians have left him there for now. He has the plate potential to impact the Indians' roster in 2009 in either defensive position, depending on the club's need.
Perhaps as a result of dealing with the whirlwind of the trade, his participation in the Futures Game, the death of his grandfather and his selection to the U.S. Olympic team, the 23-year-old LaPorta was off to a bit of a slow start at Akron. He was batting .212 with a homer and seven RBIs in 14 games before heading off to Beijing, China.
As with LaPorta, Santana has the potential for a position change down the road. The Dodgers converted him from third base to catcher, and a switch back is not out of the realm of possibility. For now, the switch-hitter is one of the most potent bats in the Minors. His 97 RBIs ranked second in all the Minors.
"Our goal was to add high-ceiling players," Shapiro said of the trades, "which we've done in LaPorta and Santana."
Another position player is expected to be pulled in from the Sabathia deal by the end of the Minor League season in late August.
It is believed the Indians are scouting Class A third baseman Taylor Green (.294 average, 12 homers and 65 RBIs at Brevard County) and Double-A outfielder Michael Brantley (.327, 4, 36 at Huntsville) to determine which will round out the trade with the Brewers, though it's been reported that two other unknown players are also getting a look.
The rest of the Indians' acquisitions this month were all pitchers, including the type of power arms that were lacking in the system.
But one of those arms is already ailing. Class A reliever Rob Bryson, acquired in the Sabathia deal, went on the disabled list Wednesday with a shoulder strain that could put his '08 season in jeopardy. Bryson will be shut down for 10 days, then re-evaluated.
The Sabathia deal also brought in left-hander Zach Jackson, who was viewed as a throw-in merely to provide starting depth for this season. But Jackson has put up a 2-0 record and 1.08 ERA in six appearances, including two starts, at Buffalo.
"We're excited about Jackson," farm director Ross Atkins said. "He hasn't been doing anything different, but he's been more consistently down in the zone."
Joining Jackson at Buffalo is right-hander John Meloan, who was dominant in a relief role at the Double-A and Triple-A levels last season, but struggled when the Dodgers moved him to starting work at Triple-A Las Vegas this year. The Indians have moved him back to the bullpen, and he's responded with a pair of scoreless outings thus far.
Also at Buffalo is Reyes, once considered the top prospect in the Cardinals' system and the winner of Game 1 of the 2006 World Series. Reyes fell out of favor with the Cardinals during a 2-14 season in '07 and is now a reclamation project. The Indians hope he can help their rotation, ravaged by the long-term elbow injury of Jake Westbrook, the departure of Sabathia and the probable departure of Byrd.
The Indians received some criticism for dealing Sabathia more than three weeks before the Deadline, but the Brewers and the other teams in the final running made it clear Sabathia had more value to them at that point than he would have on July 31.
When it came to the Blake trade, the Indians weren't convinced they would trade him until the Dodgers stepped forward with a prospects package too good to turn down for a 35-year-old infielder in the last two months of his contract. The Indians could pursue Blake in free agency this winter.
As for Byrd, his three straight quality starts in an otherwise difficult season might inspire confidence in contenders looking for a back-end starter.
"We have to remain open at this point," Shapiro said of a potential August deal.
And the Indians will remain open in the offseason, when the trading market could offer them more Major League-level players.
In the meantime, the Indians feel they have addressed a farm system that was looking rather thin a month ago.
"We've added six pieces, all with Major League potential [with a seventh on the way]," Atkins said. "That's an incredible spike to any system."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.