Cleveland Indians Are Still Paying for the Sabathia and Lee Trades

Paul Francis Sullivan@@sullybaseballChief Writer IJanuary 7, 2013


The Cleveland Indians are trying to turn a page. With a new manager in Terry Francona, a new top pitching prospect in Trevor Bauer and some former world champions on the team such as Nick Swisher and Brett Myers, the organization is hoping for good days ahead.

But the rebuilding of the Indians would be at least two building blocks closer to fruition had the trades of CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee not fizzled out.

The refrain for non-contending teams always seems to be they should trade their veterans for younger players and build for the future. Certainly the New York Mets are carrying out that tradition when they dealt the current Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey, to the Toronto Blue Jays for a group of prospects (via Yahoo Sports.)

But the promise a budding star brings does not always bring production on the major league level.

Like the Mets with Dickey, the Indians traded the defending Cy Young Award winner in two consecutive seasons. After being one win from the 2007 World Series, the fading Indians dealt Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2008 season.

In Sabathia's absence, Cliff Lee bounced back from a poor 2007 campaign to capture the 2008 Cy Young Award. At the trade deadline in 2009, he was sent packing to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Lee and Sabathia were the starting pitchers of Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, a sight that must have been agony to Indians fans. Lee pitched a complete game to clinch the fifth and deciding game of the 2010 Division Series. Sabathia, the 2009 ALCS MVP, also threw a complete-game victory to clinch a fifth Division Series game in 2012.


And what were the spoils of the trade for Cleveland?

Matt LaPorta was supposed to be the jewel in the Sabathia deal from Milwaukee. The seventh pick overall in the 2007 draft, the University of Florida star had a coveted right-handed power stroke. Twice Baseball America listed him as one of the top 30 prospects in the game.

But with the Indians, he became a classic Quadruple-A player, putting up big numbers at Columbus and played for Team USA in the Olympics. But he never rose above mediocrity in Cleveland. 

Going into 2013, the Indians DH spot is one of their weak spots. And, according to Paul Hoynes of Cleveland's The Plain Dealer, the 28-year-old LaPorta is basically an afterthought for the job.

Outfielder Michael Brantley also was acquired from the Brewers and fared better than LaPorta. At least he has developed into an everyday player at age 26. He has not displayed the bat nor the stolen base prowess he showed in the minor leagues. But at least he gave the Indians 609 plate appearances for a .750 OPS in 2012.

Pitcher Zach Johnson also came over from Milwaukee in the deal. He pitched 63.1 innings over two seasons for the Indians in 2008 and 2009. After posting a 6.11 ERA, he has yet to pitch in the majors again and spent 2012 in the Rangers farm system. 

The last player in the Sabathia deal was Rob Bryson, who has pitched well as a reliever in Double-A but at age 25 is a little old to be a long-term prospect.

The Cliff Lee trade on July 29, 2009 (via Baseball Reference), brought Jason Knapp to Cleveland. He was supposed to be a top pitching prospect. According to another article by Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer, Knapp was on the disabled list when the trade was made. The Indians felt it was a minor injury. It was not. He never pitched in the majors and was released after a pair of shoulder surgeries.


Chris Kline of Baseball America listed Carlos Carrasco as the top prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies organization going into the 2008 season. With Cleveland he was less than stellar and missed the entire 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Jason Donald is a light-hitting utility infielder best known for being incorrectly called safe by Jim Joyce at the end of Armando Galarraga's bid for a perfect game (

Lou Marson is an adequate backup catcher.

So that is the haul that a pair of Cy Young winners who are still solid pitchers gave the Indians. A capable outfielder, a reserve catcher and infielder, a pitcher coming off of Tommy John Surgery, a benched DH and several players toiling in the minor leagues.

The Indians could get that from free agents looking for spring training invitations.

Just a single very good major league player from each trade would have the Tribe a little bit closer to contention. But alas, prospects are sometimes hard to predict.

If Trevor Bauer pans out, the Indians would have gotten more from Shin-Soo Choo than Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia.

The Indians must move forward and not lament on the trades that simply did not work out.