By JAY LeBLANC
July 6, 2008
Recent media reports have suggested that the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers have been trying to hammer out a deal in which the Tribe would send reigning American League Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia to the Brew Crew in exchange for Milwaukee’s 2007 first-round pick and top prospect, Matt LaPorta, minor leaguer Taylor Green and a lesser prospect. However, ESPN‘s Buster Olney reported last night that the Indians are holding out for a second top talent - Green, ranked by Baseball America as the Brewers’ No. 17 prospect, apparently doesn’t sufficiently excite the Cleveland front office - and the Brewers are thus far refusing to up their offer.
My advice to both clubs? Just get this deal done already!
Sabathia has had a fantastic career in Cleveland. Drafted in the first round way back in 1998, he came up through the team’s minor league organization and has gone on to win more than 100 games and the aforementioned Cy Young Award with the Tribe. He’s represented the team at three All-Star games and pitched in a pair of postseasons with them, albeit with mixed results. However, all good things must come to an end, especially nowadays in the big business world of professional sports. The Indians, tabbed by many as a World Series contender this season, are languishing in last place and Sabathia is in his contract year. Barry Zito scored a $136 million deal from the Giants before the 2007 season. How many Zitos equal a Sabathia? I don’t know the answer to that, but to say the least, C.C. is going to want some serious dough. I hate to say it Tribe fans, but it’s definitely time to move on.
The bright side for Indians aficionados is that few teams have done a better job of developing young pitching over the past few years. Sure, hitters have figured out soft-tosser Jeremy Sowers, Chuck Lofgren doesn’t look like half the prospect he did a year ago and top prospect Adam Miller is injured at least as frequently as Mark Prior, but Cliff Lee has rediscovered his All-Star form, and how about Aaron Laffey? After going 4-2 in nine starts a year ago, the young lefty is 4-5 with a 3.24 ERA so far in 2008. Better yet, 2006 supplemental first-rounder David Huff is tearing it up in the minors and waiting impatiently for Sabathia’s rotation spot. After going 5-2 with a 1.92 ERA in double-A, he’s gone 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA so far in triple-A. Replacing Sabathia with another high-upside homegrown southpaw would certainly soften the blow, no? But wait - there’s more. Further down the organizational ladder and dominating in single A is Ryan Miller - another lefty. He’s still a year or two away, but his 7-3 record, 2.40 ERA and a strikeout per inning are definitely things to look forward to.
And what is this nonsense about holding out for another top talent? The Brewers - who aren’t in the American League, lessening the chances that dealing Sabathia will come back to haunt the Indians - are offering Matt freakin’ LaPorta! The Florida Gators first baseman was arguably the best hitter in college baseball last season, and the Brewers couldn’t pass on him with the seventh overall pick even though they had Prince Fielder in the fold, choosing instead to take LaPorta and move him to the outfield. He entered the season ranked by Baseball America as Milwaukee’s top prospect and has done nothing so far in 2008 to diminish his standing. Playing for the Huntsville Stars, LaPorta is leading the Southern League with 20 longballs to go along with a solid .291 average and 66 RBI - pretty impressive numbers for a guy who had a whopping 115 pro at bats entering the year. Green’s pretty good for a throw-in, too. He’s just 21, plays an adequate third base and is hitting .296 with 10 home runs in single-A. Sabathia’s great, but he’s also a goner after the year. Take the offer.
Same goes for you, Milwaukee. You’ve got two of the best young hitters in the game in Fielder and Ryan Braun and another on the way in third baseman Mat Gamel, who is absolutely terrorizing pitchers in double-A (Seriously, what are you guys waiting for? Call him up! He’s hitting .381 with 15 jacks), and you’re right in the thick of things in the wide-open N.L. Central. The last time the Brewers made the postseason, I was two years old and Fielder, Braun and Gamel weren’t even born yet. This is your year to go for broke, and Sabathia is the difference maker you need. A one-two punch of the left-handed Sabathia and righty Ben Sheets? Is that even fair? It’s tough giving up a top young talent like LaPorta, but it winning a World Series title would make it all worth it, would it not? I don’t even know why I’m ranting at the Brewers brass right now - they’re the ones being proactive and trying to get this done. Kudos to you guys.
So in conclusion: Make the deal, Cleveland. I understand trying to get as much as you can for your soon-to-be-gone ace, but don’t overplay your hand, for if the Brewers pull this deal off the table, you’ll definitely regret passing up a chance to have LaPorta driving in Grady Sizemore 100 times a year for the next decade. If Travis Hafner ever rediscovers his stroke - hey, Lee’s starting the All-Star Game after posting a 6-plus ERA last year, proving anything is possible - your offense will be straight-up obscene, and there’s plenty of good young pitching on the way. And hang in there, Milwaukee - the Indians will come around sooner or later. Best of luck in your quest for a title this season. Give the cheeseheads something to celebrate.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by The Associated Press