Wednesday, July 9, 2008

C.U. Later, C.C.

Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome*. One by one the Indians watched their best players pass up lucrative deals to chase a bigger paycheck. Such is the nature of free agency in Major League Baseball, and such is the plight of small market teams in a league that has the most asinine salary structure in all of professional sports.

This spring the Indians offered C.C. Sabathia a four-year contract to the tune of 18 million per. Not enough, apparently. So instead of getting burned, GM Mark Shapiro dealt the reigning Cy Young Award winner to Milwaukee for top prospect Matt LaPorta and three other minor leaguers. Wise decision, because no way was Sabathia going to sign with the Tribe in the offseason. Here's why:

● Because of their limited budget, the Indians don't hand out long term, 100+ million dollar contracts, especially to pitchers. They just don't, and they shouldn't. Shapiro knows that such contracts are the kiss of death. Just ask Barry Zito, Kevin Brown and Mike Hampton, all 100 million dollar busts.

● Sabathia called Cleveland "home" on numerous occasions, which is code for "not really my home." He also said he wanted to "test the market" in the offseason. That's code for, "I want the biggest, fattest, greasiest, most disgusting contract I can get my hands on."

● Everyone knows Sabathia is a Californian through and through. Look for him to move west when the Brewers don't sign him at season's end because they are a small market team, too.

● C.C. loves to bat. Now he can sign with an N.L. club and scintillate the crowd with his inevitable .189 average and two home runs.

Now, let's get something straight. Yes, Mark Shapiro has made some gaffes in his tenure as the Indians GM. The execrable left field platoon of Jason Michaels and David Dellucci when he could have re-signed Kenny Lofton (or not traded Coco Crisp) will forever live in infamy. BUT the Indians' deep playoff run last season, when they were one win away from the World Series, can be credited largely to Shapiro, who pieced together a team using a solid veteran core, young talent, castoffs, retreads, duct tape and baling wire. Small market teams rely on ingenuity and a whole lot of luck to win games. Their margin of error is much smaller than it is for teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees, who can and do throw heaps of money at whomever they please. One or two injuries can ruin a season for a team like the Indians. So can a faulty bullpen. The success of a small market team can fluctuate dramatically one year to the next, as evidenced by the Indians' free fall this summer to last place. In fact, check out the win totals of Shapiro teams over the past six years:

2003 - 68
2004 - 80
2005 - 93
2006 - 78
2007 - 96
2008 - 66 (projected)

So, before we line up for Shapiro's head, think of other clubs in the same financial boat. Teams like the Pirates, Brewers and Royals that never seem to get anywhere. Shapiro will retool this summer, but signing Sabathia to an exorbitant contract would have severely limited his flexibility in future seasons, and long-term success is what Shapiro is all about. Will the Indians offer Sabathia a contract anyway? Maybe, just for fun, but they needn't bother. He's long gone.

Clearly, I was way, way, way off when I predicted a World Series win in Cleveland, but I don't think the Tribe will repeat this long, excruciating, injury riddled summer in '09. So, as much as I hate to see Sabathia go, I have to give this trade the McBone Seal of Approval: McB. Matt LaPorta is a promising young power hitter, which is the single greatest need of the weak hitting Indians. If Sabathia doesn't want to play for the team that drafted him and groomed him into a Cy Young winner, and for the fans who love him most, all for the handsome sum of 18 million a year, then screw him.


*Of the three traitors, only Ramirez has won a World Series. Belle and (to date) Thome never played in another postseason game.


Anonymous said...


Don't you think Shapiro should've waited at least till the trading deadline? He might've gotten more (plus have more leverage).

Dealing him now seems more of a panic move to get something for him now. Seems kinda of hasty.

And to the Brewers of all teams...why not try the Dodgers or the Mets? At least they have the cash and the deep farm prospects.


Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...


Yeah, I thought they might have gotten more too, but they really love this LaPorta dude and he seems like a genuine stud at the plate.

The pitcher Jackson seems a throw in. Bryson is only 20 and has a huge arm. The player to be named will be the other major part of the deal, whenever they choose him. So there are a lot of question marks.

But you're right. Shapiro set a precedent for himself when he dealt Bartolo Colon to the Expos for Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips. That deal was a work of genius.