CHICAGO—Last summer, trading reigning Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia was a no-brainer for the Indians. Cleveland had no chance of re-signing Sabathia once he hit free agency after the season, and it received a blue-chip, nearly ready prospect in Matt LaPorta to headline a four-player package from the Brewers.
The Tribe topped itself a few weeks later, turning another pending free agent (Casey Blake) into an elite catching prospect (Carlos Santana) when the Dodgers preferred to pay heavily in talent rather than assume Blake’s remaining salary.
The Indians have built their recent contenders around youngsters acquired from veterans. Getting Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore from the Expos for Bartolo Colon remains the gold standard of prospect deals this decade. Cleveland also has traded for Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin Soo Choo, Coco Crisp, Franklin Gutierrez, Travis Hafner and Jake Westbrook.
General manager Mark Shapiro executed all of those transactions, so he has proven that he’s adept at making trades. But he should have resisted the impulse to deal another reigning Cy Young Award winner, Lee, and all-star catcher Victor Martinez at this year’s trade deadline.
Lee ($9 million) and Martinez ($7 million) were signed for 2010 at reasonable prices, and saving $16 million isn’t going to make the Indians major players for offseason free agents and trades. The American League Central lacks anything close to a powerhouse, so Cleveland could have contended for a division title next year with Lee and Martinez.
And while it was a buyer’s market, the Indians sent Lee to the Phillies and Martinez to the Red Sox without getting any of either club’s premium young players. Philadelphia didn’t want to give up pitchers Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ or outfielders Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor in a Roy Halladay deal with the Blue Jays, and it didn’t have to surrender any of them to Cleveland. Boston managed to hold onto pitchers Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz, Casey Kelly and Junichi Tazawa.
The Indians did get several intriguing prospects in the two deals, but it remains to be seen if they got any cornerstones. Righthander Jason Knapp, the Phillies’ second-round pick in 2008, has a legitimate power arm—but he’s still raw, in low Class A and currently is sidelined by shoulder fatigue. Justin Masterson could be a No. 3 starter after he transitions back from relieving for the Red Sox. Few lefthanders throw harder than Nick Hagadone, who’s making an impressive comeback from Tommy John surgery, though he ultimately may be more of a reliever than a starter.
In addition to Knapp, Cleveland also added the Nos. 2-4 prospects on BA’s preseason Phillies Top 10: righthander Carlos Carrasco, catcher Lou Marson and shortstop Jason Donald. But all three have seen their stock slip during lackluster Triple-A seasons. Righty Bryan Price, the third player yielded for Martinez, has upside as a sinker/slider reliever yet lacks consistency.
The Indians need pitching help, and they added arms for the future at a much lower cost when they spun off Rafael Betancourt, Mark DeRosa and Ryan Garko earlier this season for prospects Scott Barnes, Connor Graham, Chris Perez and Jess Todd. They should have stopped there.
What Were The Reds Thinking?
Quick thoughts on other deadline deals:
• The most puzzling move was the Reds’ decision to trade two quality arms (Zack Stewart, Josh Roenicke) to the Blue Jays for Scott Rolen. Cincinnati isn’t in the playoff hunt and Rolen is in the midst of just his second healthy and productive season in the last five. He’s an upgrade over Edwin Encarnacion, but Rolen makes $11 million next year and the Reds will miss Stewart and Roenicke.
• Dumping Rolen was a nice move for Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, but he overplayed his hand with Halladay. Ricciardi undercut himself by revealing that Halladay said he would rather test free agency after 2010 than cut a new deal with Toronto. While he rightfully sought a huge ransom for Halladay and didn’t like the offers he received, Ricciardi will get even less this offseason. Just look at what happened to the Twins with Johan Santana.
• San Diego had 56 million reasons to want to unload Jake Peavy’s salary, but don’t expect the four arms acquired from the White Sox to significantly help the Padres’ rebuilding effort. Aaron Poreda is a lefthander with a mid-90s fastball, but he still lacks a reliable secondary pitch after two years of pro ball. Dexter Carter has exceeded expectations since signing as a 13th-rounder last June and he might be something, but he’s a 22-year-old dominating low Class A. Clayton Richard is a back-of-the-rotation guy at best, while Adam Russell is already 26 and nothing more than a middle reliever.
• After trying with first-round picks (Brandon Snyder, Billy Rowell) and trades (Scott Moore, Mike Costanzo, Brandon Waring), the Orioles finally may have found their third baseman of the future when they added Josh Bell by shipping George Sherrill to the Dodgers. Bell is a switch-hitter with power—much more dangerous against righthanders—and has improved his defense at the hot corner.