Sunday, July 06, 2008

C.C. See ya

The specifics are still coming out, but it appears that C.C. Sabathia has been traded to the Brewers, pending the usual paperwork and medical checks. In return, the Indians get the Brewers' top hitting prospect, first baseman Matt LaPorta, as well as a couple other players. Since the deal hasn't officially been announced yet, I haven't been able to get a firm lock on who else the Brewers are giving up in the deal. Keith Law's column indicates that the Indians will also be getting: Rob Bryson, a solid pitching prospect; Zach Jackson, a lefty who looks right now like an extra man in the bullpen; and a player to be named later (PTBNL), and there are a number of guesses on who that could be, although it doesn't look like the Brewers will be giving up any A-list prospects, other than LaPorta.
For the Brewers, this is a really good trade. It's a big risk, considering that they've still got a lot of other things to do before they're in the postseason, but they just got the biggest boost any team is going to be getting this July. After a slow start, Sabathia has been dominant in the AL Central, and moving to the NL Central will only make him perform better. Sabathia is a free agent after this season, so the Brewers will be getting just a half-season of the ace. But they seem perfectly aware of the fact and willing to take the risk, knowing that even if they don't sign him to an extension (which is a virtual impossibility), they'll get two good draft picks when he leaves as a free agent.
When I first heard that the Brewers were in the mix for Sabathia, it surprised me. Yes, they're contenders, but I didn't expect them to give up prospects for a half-season rent. After all, they're not a "win-now" team . . . or are they? While the Brewers do have a fantastic homegrown offense that will keep them contending for the near future, their pitching staff isn't in such good shape. They will probably be losing ace Ben Sheets to free agency, which makes it all the more imperative to put it all on the line now and shoot for the top with a dynamite Sabathia-Sheets combo at the top of the rotation. Not only does it move the rest of the starting staff down in the order, it helps ease the pain of losing young Yovani Gallardo (who was supposed to be in Sabathia's role) to injury earlier this year. I tend to be conservative when it comes to evaluating trades, but sometimes, you just need to take a risk. And not only was this a calculated risk, it comes for a franchise that desperately needs it, not only for 2008, but for historical reasons. Several writers have attempted to quantify the economic boost a franchise gets from a postseason appearance, and my guess would be that a small-market, long-struggling team like Milwaukee would get a bigger boost than most.
The Brew Crew did give up an A-level prospect in LaPorta, but even that isn't such bad news, since there was nowhere for LaPorta to play in the big leagues. The kid's a natural first baseman, but his path there was firmly blocked by Prince Fielder. The team tried him in the outfield in the minors, but it apparently didn't turn out well. Anyhow, the Brewers have him blocked in left field (Ryan Braun) and right field (Corey Hart). Simply put, the Brewers weren't getting out of this without trading away a very good player. The only question was who and for what. Under the circumstances, I think GM Doug Melvin did just fine for himself, especially since, as I said, he only lost one A-level prospect.
Which is one of the problems with this deal for Cleveland. They had 24 days until the trade deadline to shop Sabathia around for a better deal. When I first heard yesterday that the Brewers were close to closing the deal, the word was that LaPorta and another top prospect were going to Cleveland. I wonder why Cleveland felt like they had to settle for just one. Granted, I'm not as close to the situation, so it's hard for me to judge. Maybe Cleveland thinks more highly of Bryson and Jackson than I (and Keith Law) do. Maybe they figured this was the best deal out there for Sabathia. But it's hard to see how waiting would have hurt them; adding more suitors surely would have helped them. Time will tell on this one, I suppose.
It's unfortunate that the Indians are pulling the plug on a season where I picked them to win their division, but it is, alas, only a faint chance that they're contenders. It's too late now for them to pass the White Sox, Twins, and the resurgent Tigers. There may be other players going out the door for Cleveland, but I still see them poised as contenders in 2009. And LaPorta really fills a need for the Cleveland team, as they're weak on productions in the four corners (1B, 3B, LF, RF). LaPorta is killing Double-A right now and may get promoted to Triple-A before the season is over. Most articles I've read have him arriving in the majors sometime in 2009. This gives the Indians time to see if Ryan Garko can work out at first. If not, either somebody moves or somebody gets traded. The third possibility, which is the worst for Cleveland but must be considered, is that someone gets shifted to the DH slot to replace a potentially busted Travis Hafner.
Other MLB news:
  • I alluded to this at the end of my last blog, but it's still hard to fathom: Astros pitcher Shawn Chacon physically assaulted GM Ed Wade, reportedly grabbing him by the neck and throwing him to the ground. Which is just a really, really, really stupid thing to do. Chacon was the first to get to the reporters, so he put his spin on the story, which is the linked article at the end of my last post. I wasn't there, but I find it hard to believe that Chacon was simply fending off a belligerent Ed Wade in the middle of a team meal. In fact, Chacon's insistence that Wade talk to him in front of the other players sounds to me like someone whose pride is hurt and is looking to get it back by tossing around his boss in public. I don't know Ed Wade, so I can't say for sure that Chacon is lying, but even if Wade really did disrespect him or something, you just don't fight your boss and expect to keep your job (and your money). The Astros not only released Chacon, they terminated his contract (under the clause that says you shouldn't attack old people), denying him the remaining $900,000 or so left on it. The union has filed a grievance and is fighting it. I'm sorry, I'm a union man and all, but in any other job could you conceivably not get fired for manhandling your boss? Could you honestly expect some sort of paid release under those circumstances? Only in baseball.
    The saddest thing about this is that the union might win, making a mockery of any sort of control management has over players.
    No, actually, the saddest thing is that this was a fight over being demoted to the bullpen.
    Check that. The saddest thing here is that Shawn Freakin' Chacon -- Mr. 4.99 career ERA -- has the gall to be insulted by his removal from the starting rotation.
    No, no, no. The saddest, most tragic aspect of this whole affair is that the Astros thought it was a good idea to pay Shawn Chacon $2 million to play for them this year. Chacon's last words to Wade should have been, "Dude, didn't you know that I suck?"

    In all seriousness, I have a question I want to pose (and really need to) to some baseball history geeks: when is the last time a player had a physical altercation with a general manager? Fights with managers are rare, but they do happen, the last notable example being John Gibbons' Golden Gloves performance with Ted Lilly in Toronto. But has a player ever gone after an executive? I'm sure someone has tried, but has it ever happened? I'd be interested to find out. Somehow I can't picture Pete Rose "throwing down" with Bob Howsam, or Babe Ruth going one-on-one with Ed Barrow.
    Also, it should be mentioned that Manny Ramirez also had an "incident" recently. He allegedly threw the Boston traveling secretary to the floor in a fight over ticket allotments. But Manny apologized, and the whole thing was basically forgotten. And forgive my poor memory, but someone (if I remember, I'll link) recently wrote an article comparing the Ramirez incident to Chacon's and examining the vastly different treatment the two incidents got, both in the media, and from team officials.
I'm working right now on an entry about the AL East at the halfway point. And after that, I need to do an update on all the baseball books I've read since my last entry. I just finished Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella's fine book The Black Prince of Baseball, about Hal Chase, and I just started John Schuerholz's book, Built to Win, about his years in baseball, particularly as GM of the Braves. The Schuerholz book has several interesting stories which I'd like to discuss, particularly about his reaction to Moneyball, the acrimonious departure of Tom Glavine, and Barry Bonds, who was 1 hour away from being an Atlanta Brave.

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