Former Trade Deadline Afterthoughts Now Key Players for Tribe
Craig Gifford | On 06, Aug 2015
Major League Baseball’s most recent trade deadline came and went with the Cleveland Indians making only a couple of smaller moves. The team traded away Brandon Moss and David Murphy. Both of whom are nice players, but neither one is anything close to resembling a superstar.
The Tribe, of course, is no stranger to being an impact player at the deadline and making big-time deals. Several of those deals have brought the ire of the Indians fan base upon the organization. The most notable of the club’s deadline swaps involved C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee.
In back-to-back seasons, 2008 and 2009, Cleveland made history and trading away a defending Cy Young Award winner two years in a row. In 2008, a season removed from reaching the American League Championship Series, the Indians sent reigning AL Cy Young Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers. That same season, Lee followed his former teammate with a Cy Young campaign of his own. Like Sabathia, Lee was gone in less than a year, shipped off to Philadelphia.
Both moves were meant to save money, as both players were in their contract years and were going to demand more dollars that Cleveland could afford. Both deals were met with great frustration and angst by Tribe fans. Some fans still hold a grudge and will not go to games, to this day, because of those moves. The funny thing is, those moves now seem to have been great for the Tribe.
At the time of the deals, the Indians got packages of minor league prospects in return for perennial All-Stars and award winners. It was a step backward for the Tribe.
Of course, neither trade worked out quite as expected. The crown jewels going to the Indians in both deals are out of the game. First baseman Matt LaPorta was to be a big middle-of-the-order hitter in return for Sabathia. LaPorta never hit at any part of the lineup and is now out of the game. Pitcher Jason Knapp was eventually going to be the next big time ace for the Indians when he was the marquee name Cleveland got in return for Lee. Like LaPorta, Knapp is nowhere to be found these days.
While those two young guys were faltering, Lee and Sabathia were enjoying great success with their new team. Sabathia went to the Yankees after his two months in Milwaukee. Lee Went to Seattle, Texas and back to Philadelphia.
While LaPorta and Knapp faltered, it was secondary pieces of both major trades that started to perform for Cleveland.
Michael Brantley was viewed as a throw in to the Sabathia deal. LaPorta would be the star, Brantley could be a solid contributor at the Major League level and had some nice parts to his game.
Carlos Carrasco, too, was second fiddle to Knapp in the Lee deal. He was more MLB ready, but Knapp would surely be the superior of the two.
Both Brantley and Carrasco started off in Cleveland with little fanfare and with average results. Each made his debut in 2009. Brantley, slowly but surely, got better each year. Carrasco, meanwhile, battled his own temper and then injuries, including the dreaded Tommy John surgery.
Last season, Brantley had a break out season, emerging as an AL AllStar and MVP candidate. Carrasco, after missing all of 2012 due to surgery and having a horrendous comeback campaign in 2013, looked lost to start last season. He was sent to the bullpen, where a light clicked on. In the final two months of 2014, Carrasco was arguably the game’s best pitcher and was rewarded during the past offseason with a long-term contract. Brantley was given a multi year extension before the 2014 season.
Carrasco and Brantley, both now 28, have hit their primes and are two key pieces for the Indians, going forward. Both will be fixtures of a team that, despite a disappointing 2015, has designs on contending for at least the next few years.
Brantley already has one All Star game under his belt. He didn’t get a chance to play in this season’s Midsummer Classic, but that is not due to any sort of regression. He has followed up his great 2014, in which he finished third in the MVP voting with a year, that so far has seen him hit .304, with eight home runs and 57 RBI. He has been one of just two bright spots, along with Jason Kipnis, in the Indians batting order all season.
Carrasco has not been to an All Star game. Though, if he keeps on his current path that will eventually change. His numbers are not dominant, at 11-8 with a 3.76 ERA, but they are pretty good and getting better. After a rough stretch in late April and early May, in which Carrasco allowed four or more runs in four of five outings, he has since settled in and become the No. 2 pitcher the Indians paid for in early April.
The right-hander has only been shelled three times (four-plus runs) since the latter portion of May. His last two starts, in Oakland and at the Los Angeles Angels have been near perfections. In fact, between those two games, he retired 27 batters in a row. That would be a perfect nine innings had it been one game. He has gone nine innings both starts, allowing one run. He took a no hitter to the final out earlier this season against Tampa. Carrasco is the team’s true No. 2 starter and, at times, has pitched like the ace of the team. That is saying something considering last year’s Cy winner Corey Kluber is the current man in that spot.
So, for those big Sabathia and Lee deals that annoyed and turned off so many fans, the Indians have two players in their place who are top-notch and will be here for a good five years as leaders of the franchise, barring injury.
As for the former Tribe Cy Youngs? Sabathia is at least enjoying a full season, after an injury-marred 2014. However, he is 4-8, with a 5.54 ERA. The 34-year-old lefty is no aging gracefully. He has not pitched like a marquee hurler since 2012.
It is even worse for Lee who has sat out this entire season due to a left common flexor tendon tear. He will likely be back next season, when he will be 36, trying to put life back into a career that has seen him struggle with injuries now for two seasons. 2013 was the last time Lee was pitching like an All Star.
Those trades, back in 2008 and 2009, hit the Indians hard. They lost great players and took major steps back in the standings. However, those short term hits have turned into long term gains. The Indians now have two of their key core players in place of the jettisoned Lee and Sabathia, while the former Cleveland stars are anything but stars these days. At one point, the deals were viewed as major busts for the Tribe. Now that the dust has truly settled, it is easy to see the Indians made the right moves and are in far better place now than they would have been had they ponied up all that green as some fans demanded.
Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images