07 July 2008

Sabathia Deal Helps Both Brewers and Indians

C.C. Sabathia, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, has apparently been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for prospects, according to various sources. The names of the prospects have not been officially announced, as the deal is not officially complete yet, but everyone seems to agree that Double-A outfielder Matt LaPorta is the top name in the group.

With the Tribe looking up at the rest of the AL Central and no hope of re-signing Sabathia during the season, they're folding their cards early in an effort to get a decent return on their trade.

Sabathia gives the Brewers a legitimate ace for their rotation right when they need it most. Forget the lackluster 6-8 record. The Tribe has averaged just 4.41 Runs per game when he pitches and he was inexplicably terrible in April. Since then, however, he has a 2.39 ERA and has walked only 16 batters while striking out 90 in 90 innings. He immediately becomes the #1A pitcher on the Brewers' staff, along side Ben Sheets, just ahead of Manny Parra and way ahead of Dave Bush and Jeff "LAIM" Suppan.

More important, it keeps the likes of Carlos Villanueva and Seth McClung in the bullpen and/or the minor leagues. And that upgrade (from Seth McClung to Cy Young) could get the Brewers to the playoffs for the first time in a quarter of a century. After this year, however, he's anybody's free agent, and the Yankees will likely be trying as hard as anyone to sign him.

For their part, the Indians are rebuilding, and they know it. They don't seem to be getting any major league-ready talent in the trade, though some of it is very close.

LaPorta, according to Baseball Prospectus, had been considered a top power hitter in college but was drafted low after an oblique injury ruined his junior year. Returning to college for his fourth season paid big dividends, as he was drafter #7 overall by Milwaukee last year, and so far he has not disappointed them. He hit .304/.369/.696 in 30 games combined in 2007, split between the Rookie Pioneer League and Low-A West Virginia in the Sally League. This year has been spent entirely at Huntsville where he's hit .291/.404/.584 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs in 82 games to date.

The Southern League is known as a hitters' league, and Huntsville is a hitters' park within that league. Currently, five of the top 9 players in OPS in the Southern League are on the Huntsville team, and two others are in the top 30. That's either a remarkable coincidence, a remarkable assemblage of hitting talent, or a park/league effect. So you'd like to discount those numbers a little.

With that said, however, the Reds' Joey Votto had similar numbers in the Southern League last year and he's already holding his own in a major league lineup. Two years ago Evan Longoria had similar numbers and he's on the AL Final Man ballot with a chance to be an All-Star as a rookie. In 2005, Dan Uggla put up very similar numbers playing for Tennessee, and though few people gave him much of a shot at success in the big leagues, for the exact same reasons, Uggla is an All-Star and currently is one off the MLB lead in homers. So there.

All of that is to say that LaPorta should be a very good hitter when he reaches the majors, perhaps as soon as next year. He's not a good defensive OF ("Ron Kittle-bad" according to BP) but with the Indians' firstbasemen either injured, struggling or both, that may not matter. He was a firstbaseman in college and could easily return to that role. More easily than Travis Hafner could learn to play left field or Ryan Garko could learn to, I dunno... hit.

It appears that AAA southpaw Zach Jackson, and AA RHP Rob Bryson are also part of the deal, along with a PTBNL. Earlier rumors had suggested Single-A 3B Taylor Green, Single-A OF Lorenzo Cain, and Keith Law suggests that Green might be the PTBNL.

Jackson pitched a few games in June and July of 2006 in the majors, after some solid work in Class-A, but he was overmatched and got busted back down to the minors, where he'd been ever since. Though unimpressive and mired in the minors for the rest of 2006 and all of 2007, he did pitch a couple of innings for the Brewers in May of this year. Otherwise he's spent 2008 helping to keep the Pacific Coast League's reputation as a hitter's haven intact. He's 1-5 with a 7.85 ERA and has given up 10 homers in only 57 innings. Hitters' league or not, a homer every 5 or 6 innings would be lousy if you were pitching on the Moon. He's a throw-in.

Bryson, on the other hand, is a real talent. He's only got a 4.25 ERA in Double-A right now, mostly because he's a little wild (22 walks in 53 innings) but he's fanned 73 batters, has only allowed three homers, and has been much better as a reliever (3.96 ERA) than a starter (4.82). He's only 20, so he could still reign in the wildness a bit, but if not, his lack of command will prevent him from becoming a good starting pitcher. However, he has the stuff and the stamina to be an excellent long man out of the bullpen or a top-notch closer.

Green, if he is the fourth player in the deal, gives the Indians a real prospect at the hot corner for the first time since Jim Thome came up in the early 1990's. He's hitting .295/.380/.444 with 10 homers in 302 at-bats, but he's also displayed impressive patience, with 42 walks (2nd in the league) and only 42 strikeouts in that span. His 54 RBIs are also second in the league, and his 10 homers place him 9th. He's not a sure-thing kind of prospect, but he should be a productive major league hitter in a few years. He'll be 22 in November, which means he has plenty of time, and he's a lefty who can hit lefties, with a .344 opponent average this year against southpaws that should help keep him from getting platooned whenever he does arrive.

The Brewers have a press conference scheduled for noon to announce the actual deal.

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