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If you think the CC trade was a bust, think again

If you think the CC trade was a bust, think again
March 29, 2013
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The year was 2008, and with the trade deadline looming the Cleveland Indians were going nowhere fast. Facing an opportunity to deal the reigning Cy Young winner, CC Sabathia, or lose him to free agency, the Tribe agreed to a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers with the centerpiece being Matt LaPorta, who one scout described as “can’t miss.”

"He's a great kid," the scout said. "His make-up is off the charts. His plan and approach at the plate is good. It's just a matter of experience. He's got a good swing, a great approach, good discipline. Everything is right on line to be a solid contributor at the Major League level."

It seemed like a great deal for both teams at the time, with the Indians also receiving AAA pitcher Zack Jackson and hard throwing Rob Bryson, along with a player to be named later (PTBNL).

Milwaukee couldn’t complain about the results, as Sabathia was ridden like an overworked horse down the stretch, going 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA to propel the Brewers to their first playoff appearance since 1982. They lost in the first round, and, as expected, Sabathia bolted to the Yankees’ greener pastures of cash.

As for the Tribe? LaPorta never saw the success that was expected of him, as he battled injuries and inconsistency which has left him a 28-year old on the verge of becoming a journeyman role player. Jackson always was a bit of a throw-in and never had much of an impact for any team, and Bryson’s promising career as a flame throwing reliever has hit the snag of injuries as well.

So, it was a total bust for the Indians, right? They can’t ever do anything right. But wait, don’t forget the PTBNL…remember, the player to be named later.

Just as drafting one player over another can make or break a particular draft, scouting and player analysis is huge in making a proper deal as well. The CC Sabathia trade was no different.

Rumor had it that the final piece of the deal was the Brewers 2007 Minor League Player of the Year, 22-year old third base prospect Taylor Green. That would sweeten the pot a bit for the Indians, as the PTBNL was said to be the key to the deal along with LaPorta.

As it turned out, the Indians had a list of players from which to choose for the PTBNL, and whittled it down to two in Green and light-hitting outfielder Michael Brantley.

They chose Brantley.

And if you can imagine the ancient Knight in The Last Crusade speaking to Indiana Jones (Mark Shapiro) after he picked the correct cup (Brantley)…”You have chosen wisely.”

While Green has seen very small parts of two seasons with the Brewers, it has only resulted in a struggling .207 batting average and three home runs. Brantley, meanwhile, hit the ground running in 2009 with Cleveland and has been a solid contributor while showing a penchant of clutch hitting with runners on base.

Initially sought for his keen eye at the plate that resulted in getting on base frequently, coupled with great speed once he got there, Brantley was thought of as a potential lead-off hitter of the future once Grady Sizemore was moved into more of a run-producing role.

As it turned out, Brantley has become a potential threat to drive in runs as well, as his frame has filled out and slid into the middle of the Indians’ order quite nicely.

So three seasons later Brantley has quietly done whatever has been asked of him and done it well, all at a very young age. He will turn 26 in May (nine months younger than Green), and is one of the core players the Indians are looking at to extend into their free agent years.Coming off of a strong 2012 campaign, he seems on the cusp of a major breakout season.

Complain if you must when the Indians fail to make the correct decision in every deal they do or do not make. But you have to realize that rolling the dice on the unknown future of minor leaguers in their teens or early twenties is a gamble no matter what side of the table you are on. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but the house (every team other than yours) always comes out ahead. But that’s because the house is comprised of 27 teams and you have only one.

As for the CC Sabathia trade, as in any other, time has a way of providing clarity. Players move from one team to another, become free agents, superstars and busts -- the process all seems very fluid. And as Indiana Jones figured out, the cornerstone of a deal that has the glow of a golden chalice may seem to have more value than it actually does, while a lesser piece may become like the priceless cup of a Carpenter.

Would you take Michael Brantley for three months of CC Sabathia? I would.

User Comments

March 30, 2013 - 3:46 PM EDT
Jmast, I can agree with that. It takes many years to really judge a deal. No arguments here.
March 30, 2013 - 12:33 PM EDT
I agree we did get some value, but to say we would have gotten nothing in the way of the draft picks isnt necessarily true and i dont think its a valid argument.

The Red Sox 2,3,5 and 9 ranked top prospects this season were all 2011 compensation picks, and Bradley is their opening day LF
March 29, 2013 - 11:51 PM EDT
I'll give you the argument against my argument fellas. I'm just saying that as these guys move around and some get dealt or get better or worse, it's very hard to say it's without question a good or bad deal. That's why I used the Jason Donald example. It's a difficult call, especially when guys like Carrasco and Brantley are still so early in their careers.
March 29, 2013 - 10:40 PM EDT

I will give you Matt Albers and maybe even part of Bryan Shaw.

So, Lee for CC, Marson and Albers.

You never know. If they let Shapiro trade Albers to the Mariners maybe he can even out the deal.
March 29, 2013 - 10:36 PM EDT
Roger, that is interesting on Garret Anderson. I can definitely see that (minus the PED driven years in the early-mid 2000s, assuming he did them). But the years he had prior to his sudden power explosion in 2000 and after the power conveniently went away in 2004 is exactly what I could see Brantley becoming. A .280-.300 hitter that hits 12-17 HR and can drive in 75-90 runs.
March 29, 2013 - 10:00 PM EDT

Come on.

I thought this was a really good read and I agree Brantley is a very good player. BUT, to try and act like Jason Donald was an important part of getting Trevor Bauer is kinda silly. I mean sure he played a very small part but the deal would have been made with or without him so I don't really think you can't all of a sudden add Bauer as an offshoot of the Lee trade.

Short sighted implies that there is something I am not taking into consideration. I don't think thats the case. I really love Carlos Carrasco and think Lou Marson is a better back up catcher then maybe anyone around here but we still should have gotten more for a couple years of Cliff Lee.

Knapp is gone and so is Jason Donald. So, actually Carlos Carrasco and a back up catcher is exactly what we got for Cliff Lee.
March 29, 2013 - 9:55 PM EDT
Great article. No one is saying that we got equal value back for CC. But we did get value. If we held onto CC, we would not have received anything. The Brewers rented CC for a couple months and then lost him without getting anything back.

Brantley is very unappreciated by Tribe fans. All he did was have the best BA on the team last year at 25 years old.
March 29, 2013 - 9:34 PM EDT
Just like it was mentioned in the article, these deals are fluid as players move around, and even though Jason Donald was a minor piece in the deal, along with Choo he produced Stubbs and Bauer this offseason. So, to say that all we got was Carrasco and a backup catcher is pretty short-sighted, especially when you haven't seen what Carrasco's potential (or Bauer's) actually is. In addition, LaPorta was the big name in the deal, Brantley was the secondary big piece of the puzzle. The Indians WANTED him, and it payed off.
March 29, 2013 - 8:22 PM EDT
Roger I agree. The best all around hitters are guys who learn the right way to hit- good eye, good balance, quick compact swing, ability to hit to all fields. After you've learned to do all that, you can go for power in the right situation. All the great ones- Carew, Puckett, Edgar Martinez, Ichiro could hit the ball over the fence more than they did, but it's not what makes them elite. As was pointed out here, CC was not going to resign in Cleveland because Dolan would not have paid him what he could get elsewhere.. Furthermore, check back at the end of the season. The Yankees are going down, the Indians are coming up. I think it's a fair trade at this point going forward, without LaPorta.
March 29, 2013 - 8:09 PM EDT
The Indians traded CC Sabathia in July of 2008.

Isn't it March of 2013?

Who cares.

Brantley is a successful part of this team. Do we really still weigh him against Sabathia? Did we ever?

LaPorta's been "gone" for two years really. Sabathia's been gone for nearly five.

Brantley is a solid contributor.

Perhaps we can figure out a way to enjoy THAT, without having to quantify it against Sabathia.

Let it go.
March 29, 2013 - 7:52 PM EDT
back a few years ago the angels manager said that michael brantley reminded him of a young garrett anderson. If i remem-ber correctly the anderson power came gradually as he got older and Brantley did have upwards of 40 doubles last year so he can produce the extra base hit he just isnt a home run hitter however he could triple his homer output and all of a sudden michael brantley looks like an excellent pickup if that is all we get for CC. we have 5 more years of control of brantley so he may just be scratching the surface of his potential. I am not the one comparing michael brantley to garrett anderson andersons mgr was and our pitching coach was on the angels when anderson was there maybe he can shed some light on the comparison. I suspect brantley is gonna be more like anderson in 2015 than brantley circa 2010. Brantley is still young.
March 29, 2013 - 7:43 PM EDT
JWahoo, LaPorta is done. His chances of ever having much of a ML career - even in the minors - are very slim right now. His bat is just not ML capable, and he has too many hip issues.

I still think a lot of people expect way too much in these big trades. Time has proven that some of the smaller ones (Blake for Santana, Perez for Cabrera, Broussard for Choo, Fermin/Jefferson for Vizquel often times end up the bigger deals). Trades like the Joe Carter deal or the Colon trade are very rare, and should not be the standard. They are the exception.
March 29, 2013 - 4:09 PM EDT
Seth, Lee was under contract control for a couple of seasons. I think that makes a difference but I get your point. Trades are risks.

On the other hand. If I was KC I wouldn't have dealt Meyers. I do understand why they made the trade but I don't think I could have pulled the trigger. The idea of having this lineup next season would have been too much for me to pass up.


1. Cain/Dyson CF
2. Escobar SS
3. Gordon LF
4. Perez C
5. Butler DH
6. Moustakas 3B
7. Hosmer 1B
8. Meyers RF
9. Colon 2B

With Getz and Francouer off the bench.

Thats mouth watering potential.
March 29, 2013 - 3:59 PM EDT
"historically if you look at major deals involving a starting pitcher they tend to have several cant miss prospects involved" ... really? Like what deal? A high-ranked "can't miss" position-player prospect like Laporta and a second decent prospect like Brantley actually looked like an overpay. The only reason it's not a bad deal for the Brewers is the hindsight of knowing that Laporta never did anything. The multiple Cliff Lee trades have netted, what, Carrasco, Smoak (who's been, shall we say, Laporta-esque), and Blake Beavan, and a bunch of filler like Marson, Donald and Lueke. Johan Santana the Twins traded for guys who never made it to the majors. Multiple years of Pineda (in theory) netted Jesus Montero. Brantley stacks up fine compared to all of those moves.
March 29, 2013 - 3:03 PM EDT
Seems like ancient history but it was a crappy deal. I'd heard rumors about Matt Kemp from the Dodgers but who knows if those were true. I've said this before but if we'd gotten Santana for CC & Brantley for Blake, instead of the other way around, I'd bet everyone would be happy.
I'm trying to refrain from bitching about moves that the FO makes because I'm wrong half of the time anyway. I bitched about Beau Mills & was right. I didn't like it when they drafted Kipnis & was waaaaay wrong. So I'm not going to bitch anymore...except about Naquin. Damn, why did the draft NAQUIN??? Hope I'm wrong about that one too.
March 29, 2013 - 3:01 PM EDT
When you consider that Sabathia likely would not have resigned, then yes this deal certainly becomes more bearable. However, what makes it so tough is the point that John actually made at the beginning of his piece about LaPorta. There was so much hype on LaPorta to be an all-star caliber player, or even just a serviceable one. He ended up being neither, so this trade is viewed more negatively, and fans forget that Brantley was the PTBNL. I hate these expectations that we as fans set at times. They're always placed on a top draft pick or the big piece of the trade. It's the same reason why Reds fans were so tough on Drew Stubbs, and also one of the reasons he could now flourish here in Cleveland.
March 29, 2013 - 2:59 PM EDT
I think Laporta will eventually end up being an average player somewhere just not here. One of those late bloomers.

God, how bad would that deal have been if they didn't make the playoffs? Scary. They should have got way more for Lee. Carlso Carrasco and a back up catcher is not enough.

Its weird. Shapiro was able to turn Einar Diaz into Travis Hafner, Ben Broussard into Shin Shoo Choo, Eduardo Perez into Asdrubal Caberera and Casey Blake into Carlos Santana but couldn't get better deals for CC and Lee?
Tungsten is W
March 29, 2013 - 2:31 PM EDT
Jmast, i appreciate the comments, i think that we are happlessly hanging on to michael brantley as if he was the center piece of this deal, where as in actuality he was merely a throw in. i mean lets face it a cant miss prospect like laporta, did indeed miss, and lets face it zach jackson, and rob bryson were never going to be impact players. i actually am a brantley fan and am very grateful that he as been as consistent as he has been but lets face it, the organization force fed us that we were getting a marquee perenial all star with huge power in matt laporta and was a collossal bust.
historically if you look at major deals involving a starting pitcher they tend to have several cant miss prospects involved. the CC deal only had one cant miss prospect, and guess what... he missed.
while we are on the topic of the royals, look at the deal for greinke going to the brewers... the royals got alicedes escobar, lorenzo cain, jake odrizzi and jeremy jeffress... the royals gave up a lesser pitcher but at least got to impact everyday players in return with jeffress being the only bust, and the jury still being out on odrizzi and sabathia was worth way more at the time of the deal then greinke was at his time of deal.
plain and simple, you wouldnt trade in your brand new corvette for a mini van that breaks down every month and a couple of new tires yet get excited cuz the van gets good gas mileage... plain and simple we got burned and the only saving point has been the limited success of brantley
Pokey Reece
March 29, 2013 - 2:11 PM EDT
You're all off base there was always ZERO chance that cc would stay. I'd rather have the prospects than nothing. Brantley has been great yes he has no power but hes gets on base and I'd rather have him getting on base to be a potential run than a goose egg. Take what you can get when you can get it and you wont be empty handed later on.
March 29, 2013 - 1:23 PM EDT
For argument's sake, let's take a look at the alternative. Just for fun, let's assume CC agrees to the same deal NYY gave him, to stay in Cleveland (this never would have happened, but let's go with it).

We would be heading into the 2013 season with CC as a great anchor to our rotation, but who would be playing the outfield? We wouldn't have Brantley, obviously, and the money used to sign Bourn and Swish would obviously be locked up in CC's contract. So we would be heading into the season with some combination of Stubbs/Carrera/Fedroff/Duncan/Francisco/Canzler playing the outfield, Reynolds at 1B, and no regular DH.

Knowing what we know now, I would definitely still make the trade. Therefore, it can't be called a bust.
March 29, 2013 - 12:38 PM EDT
Tungsten, the angle is that if you look at Brantley's numbers, they have been trending upward every season and he has had a massive spring in which he has displayed much extra base hit power and continues his tendency to hit with runners on. My point is, concensus among baseball people at the time was that LaPorta was somewhat limited defensively but had the raw power and makeup to be a quality power hitter in the majors. Things don't always work out the way teams hope in trades, and Brantley, who looks to be on the verge of your elusive .300 season and has been more than an extra OF could have a monster year. Regardless, he has made the deal palatable. Since you possibly can see the future, is Wil Myers going to be a great major leaguer and was that a good or bad trade for the Royals to make?
March 29, 2013 - 12:37 PM EDT
Also note that the Indians would have gotten a supplemental 1st round pick for CC's signing because the Angels got the Yankee's first as compensation for Texiera. The Brewers got the 39th and 73rd picks as compensation for losing CC.

Still the Indians didn't get the best return. They've made worse deals but this one hurt.
March 29, 2013 - 12:36 PM EDT
I think a player of Brantley's caliber is fine for a trade like this. All you really want to do when you trade a veteran in the final months of the contract is get something better than what you would've got with the draft picks, and also get players who are closer to the majors than those draft picks would be. In this case they would've had 2 picks but neither was a 1st rounder, they would've had a supplemental pick and the Yankees' second round pick. That's a level of the draft where it's pretty much a crapshoot. Getting Brantley is a perfectly fine return--and better than the draft picks--so while with the end result on Laporta it didn't turn out to be an exceptionally good trade, it wasn't a bad one either. If Laporta hadn't hurt his hip at the end of '09, it might have been a different story and the trade would be balanced heavily in the Indians' favor. As it is, one solid major leaguer is a fair price to pay for a half-year of Sabathia and making the playoffs.
March 29, 2013 - 12:25 PM EDT
Obviously, it would have been nice if LaPorta had worked out better, and we would have gotten more from this deal. But you have to look at it realistically. We traded 16 starts from CC Sabathia (during which, granted, he compiled an amazing 5 WAR for the Brewers) for 7 years of Michael Brantley.

I think people assume for some reason that if we hadn't traded CC, he would still be pitching for us. He was GONE after 2008 whether we traded him or not. We were not in contention when he was traded (about 13 games under .500 if I remember correctly), so those 16 starts would not have made any difference for the Indians.

The way I look at it, we traded 16 ultimately meaningless starts from CC for 7 years of a solidly above average LF/CF. It's not an *amazing* return, but it is definitely a solid return.
March 29, 2013 - 12:10 PM EDT
Brantley is definitely what saved this deal from being a total disaster. Same as Carlos Carrasco will help the Cliff Lee from being a total disaster.

We are spoiled and our standards set too high based on the Colon trade, a deal that is extremely rare. If a team gets even two prospects in any of these deals to pan out, it is considered a great trade. The wash out rate of prospects in these deals is significant. Had LaPorta been what he could be and Brantley just do what he is now, this goes down as a good trade. LaPorta's failure is what ultimately really hurts this deal, brantley just saves it from complete peril. In the end, it ends up a poor trade simply by the fact that the Indians were unable to capitalize on an asset and get the two mandated players needed to make good on it. Same thing with the Lee deal.
March 29, 2013 - 12:05 PM EDT
The only thing that kept this deal from being a total bust is the fact that the Brewers made the playoffs which meant that Shapiro got to pick between Brantley and Green for the PTNL. If they had missed the playoffs we'd have Green instead of Brantley.
March 29, 2013 - 11:50 AM EDT
I recall another guy on the PTBNL list that the Indians had in the CC trade- Matt Gamels, who has had an undistinguished injury prone 3 yrs at third in the majors. It's funny of all the Brewers prospects LaPorta and Gamels and Green were considered some of the best in baseball at the time. You'd have to ask Shapiro but I think Brantley was the only one other than LaPorta they were willing to part with for CC, I think he was the one the Brewers wanted the Indians to take. Brantley was considered a singles hitter with a "speed game". I think they expected him to be able to bunt and steal bases ala Coco Crisp who had been picked up in similar fashion. I don't know if he's gained weight, or he never was as fast as Crisp to begin with, or maybe he just hasn't had the right coach, but he has not been a great base stealer so far. He IS a great hitter, one of the highest contact per swing rates in all the majors. And he is strong, he can most definitely turn on a pitch and jack it and I think he will do it more and more as he gets older and has better hitters around him. I remember when Rod Carew came up. Great contact hitter and his extra base hit/power output increased slowly, steadily over time. The Indians have a lot of dangerous hitters this year, but I'll tell you what, If I'm an opposing pitcher in a jam in a tight game, Michael is the last guy I want to see coming to the plate.
Wahoo in CBus
March 29, 2013 - 11:49 AM EDT
Gotta agree with Tungsten here.

The ability to whiff on both the CC and Cliff Lee trades set back this team for years. The CC trade remains a bust....just not a complete bust thanks to Brantley's solid if unspectacular performance so far.
Tungsten is W
March 29, 2013 - 11:35 AM EDT
wow cant disagree more, yes brantley has been decent, and realistically was our most consistent hitter. brantley tends to usually not waste pitches, hits balls to opposite field, and draws walks with very disciplined at bats. but come on, lets be realistic, a perenial cy young winner who has done nothing but win for what was a then "extra outfielder" who hasnt hit over .300 ever and has limited power and marginal defense. i agree, brantley has been a pleasant surprise, but overall the sabathia was a bust... and im not even going into the laporta end of the deal...
not sure what angle john mast is playing here, but i cant agree here...

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