Monday, July 7, 2008

Trade: Sabathia for LaPorta and others

The first big trade of the season came today, more than three weeks before the trading deadline. Getting the trade done so early puts the Brewers in a unique position: they could conceivably trade Sabathia away if they somehow fall apart in the next three weeks. Imagine a scenario where the Cubs and Cardinals (or some other Wild Card contender) get hot, Ben Sheets gets injured (not hard to imagine) and the Brewers fall ten games back in the Central and 5-7 back in the Wild Card. Under such a scenario, maybe the Brewers re-trade Sabathia for prospects in an effort to re-load for next year.

Ok, now that the implausible is out of the way (it is much more likely that the Brewers are energized by the acquisition and pull ahead in the Wild Card and closer to the Cubs in the Central), lets get to the trade itself. I think the trade is a great one for both teams. From the Brewers perspective, they now have arguably the best 1-2 punch at the top of their starting rotation in the National League (Arizona with Webb and Haren would be the other candidate for that honor). The move also allows Jeff Suppan to slot back into the #3 slot in the rotation, which fits his 'league-average-innings eater' profile much better. With young stud lefthander, Manny Parra, in the #4 slot and future-ace Yovanni Gallardo scheduled to come off the DL late in the season, the Brewers could have a very stingy rotation come playoff time.

Then you look at what they gave up. The big name, of course, is Matt LaPorta. LaPorta was a power hitting first baseman at Florida and many considered him to be the best college hitter in the 2006 draft. The Brewers took him with the seventh overall pick, which surprised everyone because they already had Prince Fielder holding down first base for the foreseeable future. The Brewers turned LaPorta into a left fielder and he has been tearing up the minor leagues since being drafted. The problem was that, even if he could play outfield passably (which is up for debate), the Brewers still didn't really have a spot for him. They moved Ryan Braun to left field from third base this season - a move that was an absolute necessity considering Braun's defense at third. It is unlikely that LaPorta would be able to play a credible right field, but even so, the Brewers have Corey Hart, who is one of the better players on the team (and a personal favorite of mine). There is some talk that Hart could play center field, but an outfield of Braun, Hart and LaPorta would have certainly been the worst defensive outfield in all of baseball. Maybe ever.

So while it was becoming apparently that LaPorta didn't have much left to prove in the minor leagues, it was a serious question of where the Brewers were ever going to play him. That he became the centerpiece in a deal to acquire one of the top pitchers in baseball seems like a perfect utilization of assets to me.

The Indians, on the hand, have no use for CC Sabathia right now. They faced the grim realization that their hopes for contending this season are over (they are in last place in the AL Central, a game and a half behind the Royals as I'm writing this). Grady Sizemore is having a fantastic season and Casey Blake is playing well for being, well, Casey Blake. Otherwise, every one of their offensive players have disappointed this season. Many people expected Travis Hafner to bounce back after a down season for him last year, but instead he fell off a cliff. Ryan Garko has slugged .342 as the Indians everyday first baseman. Victor Martinez' OPS is .665 and he hasn't hit a home run yet. On the pitching side, Cliff Lee has been outstanding and Sabathia has been great since his rough first month of the season. Paul Bryd has been his usual less-than-mediocre self and Fausto Carmona has been injured for about half of the season.

On top of the really bad baseball that they've been playing all season, the Indians were in a bad spot with Sabathia. He is due to be a free agent after the season and he refused to work on an extension with the team during the season. Left with the option of holding onto him and receiving two compensatory draft picks for him, or trading him for four prospects, I think they made the right decision. LaPorta is almost certainly more valuable by himself than the highest of those picks, if only because he has proven to be successful at AA and draft picks are still mostly a crap shoot (not to mention that there is no guarantee that the picks would be at the top of the first round - that depends on who signs Sabathia as a free agent).

So they get LaPorta (for starters), who should be competing for either Garko or Hafner's job next season and will certainly be a starter in the big leagues by the end of 2009 (barring unforeseen circumstances). He will probably never hit for a high average in the major leagues, but he should provide solid power in the middle of the Indians lineup. As long as they hold onto Sizemore and Ben Francisco continues to develop, LaPorta gives them the start of a nice offense. A couple of other savvy pickups and they are right back in the playoff hunt - which makes this deal a nice accelerant for a rebuilding effort.

The trade should really be analyzed like this:

To Brewers:

The increase in potential to make the playoffs in 2008

The ability to try and sell Sabathia on Milwaukee for the rest of the season (possibly negligible in value)

A first round pick (assuming Sabathia signs elsewhere)

A supplemental first round pick

From Brewers:

A former top draft pick with no position to play for the foreseeable future

Three other lesser prospects

To Indians:

A potential middle-of-the-order hitter that can replace either of two weak spots on the big league squad within a season or so

Three other lesser prospects

From Indians:

An ace starting pitcher that wasn't going to make any significant difference in the outcome of this season and who wouldn't be with the Indians next year (unless they sign him as a free agent, which they can still do)

The right to two draft picks.

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