How Cleveland Lost a Cy Young Winner and Gained an All-Star

It’s a tale the Indians know all too well: a once dominant and promising team comes off a season of highs and enters into a season struggling to stay afloat. It’s happened this year, and it has happened before, all too recently.

Do you remember 2008? CC Sabathia was the reigning Cy Young Award winner and beginning his final contract year with the Indians under manager Eric Wedge. The Indians were coming off their playoff run of 2007 and, as the 2008 season got underway, the team was off to quite a rocky start. When they reached a record of 37-51, it became fairly obvious that the strong players on the roster, such as Sabathia, would not be sticking around much longer once their contracts were up. Mark Shapiro began the task of taking those stronger assets and selling them where he could in order to maximize their worth to the team. Sabathia was not performing up to expectations of seasons past, as he was 6-8 and posting a 3.83 ERA when he was traded in July of 2008 to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The trade to the Brewers cost Milwaukee much of their farm system, and the Indians acquired pitchers Rob BrysonZach Jackson, position player Matt LaPorta, and a player to be named later. The gentleman’s agreement allowed the Indians to have their pick of one of four players if the Brewers made the playoffs; should the Brewers fall short of a playoff berth, they would be the ones to select the Indians’ final addition.

The Brewers made it to the playoffs in 2008 and the Indians selected a young outfielder named Michael Brantley to join their organization.

At 21, Brantley jointed the Indians organization after hitting .319 with 80 runs, 17 doubles, two triples, four home runs, and 40 RBI while playing for Milwaukee’s Double-A team in 2008. He started his first season with the Indians organization in Columbus, appearing in 116 games and hitting .267 with 8- runs, 21 doubles, two triples, and six homers. He made his first Major League appearance for the Indians in 2009, playing in 28 games and hitting .313 with four doubles, 10 runs, and 11 RBI.

In 2010, Brantley again spent time in Columbus, hitting .319 in 67 games with four home runs and 29 RBI. He appeared in 72 games for the big league team in 2010, where he posted his lowest Major League batting average to date, going .246 with 38 runs, three homers, and 22 RBI.

In Milwaukee, Sabathia was off to a better start than he had had in Cleveland in 2008. Somehow, Sabathia turned his performance around once leaving the Indians, as he won 11 of his 17 starts for the Brewers in 2008, threw seven complete games, three shutouts, and posted a 1.65 ERA. He was signed to the Yankees with a seven-year, $161 million contract in December 2008, which was the largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history until Felix Sterling’s seven-year, $175 million contract with the Seattle Mariners in 2013. Sabathia was the 2009 Opening Day starter for the Yankees, as well as the starter for the home opener in the new Yankee Stadium. He won his first championship ring in New York in 2009 when he finished 19-8 with a 3.37 ERA, and was also award the ALCS MVP Award. He has earned six All-Star selections throughout his career, his last being in 2012, the same season that he went 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA.

Looking at Sabathia’s numbers, it may seem that the Indians lost out in this trade. Their starting pitching has been a point of contention in recent seasons, this one being no different, as Danny SalazarZach McAllisterCarlos Carrasco, and Justin Masterson have all suffered setbacks that have seen them out of the starting rotation since they were named to it at the beginning of the season. However, despite the bust that was LaPorta, the Indians have been able to salvage their acquisitions from 2008 with one player, and one player alone – Brantley.

Losing one player and gaining four certainly seems to be a good deal for the Tribe, though when three of the four lose notoriety and strength within the organization, having earned only one player, a player later to be named, does not seem to be the best result for the team. However, as Indians fans have seen in seasons past and, perhaps, in this season most of all, Brantley has become one of the most valuable players to have on a team’s roster.

Brantley has done nothing but improve since he joined the club. Every year has had more and more fans noticing the near-flawless style of play that Brantley possesses, and he has earned the nickname “Dr. Smooth” to speak to that talent. His batting has always been consistent, and in his most recent seasons, it has seemed to only be a matter of time until his prowess is noticed by the greater baseball community. Brantley has established himself as an ideal player to have at the plate in clutch situations, and is currently batting .328 with 14 home runs, 22 doubles, and one triple in 2014. He has 60 RBI on the season and has stolen 10 bases. This season, his skill (you can’t even refer to his playing as “his efforts,” as he makes playing effortless) has earned him his first All-Star selection, the first nod toward the promise and potential that Brantley possesses.

The Indians started this season by signing Brantley to a four-year, $25 million contract with a fifth year team option at $11 million. If his current performance and potential to only get better are any indication, the Indians truly scored a deal with his contract. His batting average is third in the American League and, barring injury, there is no reason Brantley could not lead the league in hitting at some point in the near future.

Sabathia has been on the DL since May 11 with inflammation in his right knee. He was shut down indefinitely once an MRI on Thursday, July 3, revealed that the inflammation has not disappeared.

Although the immediate impact seemed the favor other teams, the lasting potential of Brantley shows that the Indians are the team that came out ahead in this trade. Since Milwaukee’s playoff push six years ago, Brantley has come into his own, and gone from a player to be named later to a player whom everyone knows his name. And that is an agreement about this gentleman that we can all reach.

Photo: Getty Images

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