Indians deal Sabathia with eye on future

By Todd Krepop PA Sportsticker Contributing Writer

CLEVELAND (Ticker)—C.C. Sabathia will be helping another team try to win a World Series title.

The Cleveland Indians traded the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner to the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday for outfield prospect Matt LaPorta, minor league pitchers Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson and a player to be named later.

The Indians entered the 2008 season with hopes of winning their first World Series title since 1948 as they returned every key player from last year’s team that finished a game short of reaching the World Series.

But injuries to sluggers Travis Hafner (shoulder) and Victor Martinez (elbow and hamstring), and starters Fausto Carmona (hip) and Jake Westbrook (elbow), along with one of the worst bullpens in the majors, forced Cleveland and General Manager Mark Shapiro to start looking at 2009 and beyond as the Indians fell into last place in the American League Central Division.

“With four players on the DL and disappointing performances in the bullpen leave us in the juncture we are at,” Shapiro said.

Cleveland and Sabathia talked about a contract extension prior to spring training, but were never close to an agreement. With Sabathia set to test the free agent market at the end of the season, Shapiro felt it would be better to trade Sabathia for prospects instead of collecting two draft-picks if Sabathia left as a free agent.

“We made a trade that we thought would be of great value,” Shapiro said. “With the uncertainty that draft picks are three-to-five years away from contributing, we thought it was important to explore trade alternatives.”

Shapiro said seven teams expressed interest in the burly lefthander and he felt that there was more value to trading Sabathia now than waiting to July 31 - the trading deadline.

“The teams that were involved clearly expressed (Sabathia’s) value was greater now than it would be two weeks from now,” he said. “We made a trade that we felt in the current market was a great value.”

Shapiro has had experience in trading away his ace. In 2002 Shapiro traded Bartolo Colon to the Montreal Expos for Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee.

Sizemore and Lee were both named to the American League All-Star team on Sunday and Phillips is one of the top second baseman in the National League for the Cincinnati Reds. But Shapiro downplayed the similarities between the Colon deal and the Sabathia deal.

“It was a very different situation,” Shapiro said. “Bartolo still had a year and a half on his contract. Our trade partner was a unique partner. They were in a situation where their prospects weren’t as important to them.”

The key to the deal for Cleveland is LaPorta, who was seventh overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player draft. LaPorta was rated the Brewers top prospect entering the season by Baseball America and hasn’t disappointed. The 23-year-old has hit 20 home runs and has 66 RBI in 84 games at Class AA Huntsville of the Southern League.

“(LaPorta) has the potential to be a run-producing corner for years on our team,” Shapiro said. “He has already proven to be one of the best hitters in the minors and we feel he can be one of our core players going forward.”

LaPorta will report to the Indians Class AA affiliate in Akron, Ohio on Tuesday. LaPorta will start in the outfield, but will also see action at first base, a position he played at the University of Florida.

“We have a (need) for impact players,” said Shapiro. “Hopefully we lessened that need today.”

In addition to LaPorta, Shapiro is high on the player-to-be-named-later. Cleveland has until the end of the season to inform the Brewers of who that will be.

“That is an advantage,” Shapiro said. “We can due our diligence on them. We feel that the player has the upside to be an everyday player in the majors. The deal doesn’t get done if that player isn’t included.”

Bryson, who is 20, will report to Class A Lake County. The righthander is 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA in 22 games and has struck out 73 batters in 55 innings. Bryson started the season as a starter, but moved to the bullpen where he has collected five saves.

“He has a good arm and a dominant track record and high strikeouts,” Shapiro said.

Jackson, who appeared in two games with the Brewers this year, will report to Class AAA Buffalo. Jackson was 1-5 with a 7.85 at AAA Nashville.

“We feel he is a guy that adds depth to our bullpen,” Shapiro said.

Even with the Indians heading towards a possible last place finish, Shapiro is hopeful that Cleveland will rebound next year.

“The bulk of our talent is still here,” he said. “Good times are coming ahead. I have a feeling we will contend for a division title next year.”

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Updated Monday, Jul 7, 2008