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Indians dealings: Revisiting the C.C. Sabathia trade

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How long until Cleveland stops calling it “The Sabathia Trade” and starts calling it “The Brantley and LaPorta Trade”?

While blowing out the Royals 19-1 on Monday night, the Brantley/LaPorta duo combined to go 6 for 8 with a homerun, two doubles, three walks and eight runs batted in. Quite a night for the pair.

But in 2008 it was a different story. In July of that year, with their playoffs hopes dashed and their Cy Young Award winner heading toward free agency, the Cleveland Indians dealt C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for four prospects. It was a crushing blow for fans, who less than a year earlier watched their team come within one victory of reaching the World Series.

Sabathia was more or less a rental for the Brewers who were making a push for the playoffs. They made it, mostly on the back of Sabathia. But it was a lot to sacrifice for just a few months of his services. In a flash C.C. was gone to New York and the Brewers were left with nothing but compensatory draft picks.

Meanwhile, the Indians received four minor league players in return: highly touted Matt LaPorta, hard throwing youngster Rob Bryson, lefty Zach Jackson and a player to be named later. The Indians did their homework and selected Michael Brantley as the PTBNL.

Less than three years later, Indians fans are finally able to enjoy the riches that came from this blockbuster trade.

LaPorta, 26, has settled into his role as the Indians every day first baseman. Batting as low as eighth in the lineup, his confidence has grown at the plate this season. He’s a more patient hitter this year, drawing more walks and raising his OBP to .354. He fields his position well and could be a fixture at first base for many years to come. But the Indians are still hoping from a little more power.

And Brantley, 24, is everything a team looks for in a leadoff hitter and centerfielder – speed, plate discipline, and range in the outfield. With Grady Sizemore again on the DL, Brantley returned to the leadoff spot and has continued to hit. Recently, his bat has shown some pop – three homeruns in the last five games. He covers plenty of ground in the outfield and has improved his defense this season.

It’s true that pitcher Zach Jackson was a bust. He made several starts for the Indians in 2008 but injuries hampered his progress. Jackson is now in the Texas Rangers farm system.

But the wild card is pitcher Rob Bryson. Injuries left him mostly out of baseball in 2009 but he returned with a strong performance as a reliever in 2010 for the Kinston Indians and Akron Aeros. His 80 strikeouts in 53 innings was impressive and a WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) of 0.975 was staggeringly good.*

*For those not hip to the new Sabermetrics statistics, a WHIP less than one means Bryson gave up less than one walk and/or hit every inning he pitched. If he can put up a number like that in the majors, he’ll have a long career ahead of him.

Unfortunately for Bryson, he broke his foot during spring training and is still making his way back to baseball. But he’s only 23 and should be pitching in the minors again this summer.

Overall, the Sabathia trade was painful at the time. But to receive two starters in return with a potential bullpen pitcher to boot, you have to give the Indians high marks for this deal. Fans didn’t like it in 2008. But now most seem to understand that the game has changed and small market teams have to make trades to guarantee success down the road. As long as the Indians continue to make the right trades, they should be successful.

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