June 14, 2008
Can Of Corn
Mock Blockbuster, Part III
What follows is the latest installment of the Mock Blockbuster. As previously explained, I'm proposing a trade of the blockbuster variety, one that from my perspective makes sense for all teams involved. In terms of tenability, it depends: these are deals that may or may not have a chance of happening in the demonstrably more complicated world of reality. The deals I'm suggesting strike me as helpful and inspiring for all. So, serious prescriptive or idle daydreaming? A little helping of both, please.
Why It Makes Sense for St. Louis
Right now, the Cards lead in the National League's wild-card race and are teasingly close to the Cubs in the Central. However, because of injuries, their standing is in peril. Albert Pujols is out for a bit, and ace Adam Wainwright is sidelined with a fairly serious finger injury. Losing a lavishly excellent player like Pujols is never a good thing, but by pairing Chris Duncan with pick-your-right-handed-platoon-partner the Cardinals can abide. The rotation poses more serious problems, and that's where they need help.
Enter Sabathia. His park-adjusted RA of 4.52 isn't particularly impressive, but things are likely to get better going forward. His BABIP of .336 says as much, and so does Joe Sheehan. As Joe notes, Sabathia has been dominant since late April, and there's every reason to suspect that he'll be in ace form the rest of the way.
On a wider level, the PECOTA Postseason Odds Report puts the Braves, Mets, Brewers, and Dodgers all within spitting distance of the wild card. So the Cardinals can't be complacent. Speaking of not being complacent, making this deal would, potentially, give the Cardinals a second-half rotation of Sabathia, Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and, well, you can pick from Todd Wellemeyer, Joel Pineiro, Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper, and Mitchell Boggs (and, heck, maybe even Mark Mulder and Matt Clement). That's a long way of saying that, under this scenario, the Cardinals would have rotation depth that would be the envy of almost every team in baseball. There's the corollary benefit of knowing that other NL teams thirsty for starting pitching (e.g., the Cubs, Phillies, Braves, and Brewers) won't be able to get their mitts on the best deadline arm around.
So, yes, part with your top two prospects, but add one of the best arms in the game and strengthen--by a lot--your hold on a playoff berth.
Why It Makes Sense for Cleveland
Coming into this season, the Indians, reigning AL Central champs, were sensibly tabbed for contention. However, they haven't lived up to those expectations; at this writing, the Tribe are 6.5 games out in the Central, and they're eight games out and behind seven teams in the standings in the league's wild-card chase. Things aren't quite so grim according to third-order standings, but, more to the point, PECOTA gives them just a 17.8 percent chance of being a part of the post-season fray. Of course, with Victor Martinez laid up for perhaps the next month, and starter Jake Westbrook done for the year, perhaps even those modest odds are too lofty as expectations go.
In other words, the Indians likely aren't going to repeat this season. Add that reality to the uncertainty surrounding Sabathia's future in Cleveland and you've got the underpinnings of a major trade. Sabathia, who rightfully won the Cy Young last season, is in the final season of a two-year, $17.75 million pact, and he's bound for free agency this winter. Thus far, efforts to re-sign him have come to grief, and that's why you're hearing his name bandied about as deadline fodder. It's not certain that GM Mark Shapiro has the will or the financial latitude to re-up with Sabathia, and a pitcher of his gifts is certainly worth more than a likely abortive run at the playoffs and a compensatory draft pick or two. So trading him is the best option.
Even after trading away Sabathia, for their rotation Cleveland would still have in the fold Fausto Carmona (age 24), Cliff Lee (age 29), Aaron Laffey (age 23), Jeremy Sowers (age 25), and Westbrook (age 30) back next year, and they'd have prospects like Adam Miller, Chuck Lofgren, Jensen Lewis, and recent draftee Trey Haley (provided he signs) on the way. In other words, they have pitching and, insofar as their interests beyond 2008 are concerned, they can afford to part with their ace.
As for what's coming their way in this imaginary swap, the Indians get center fielder Colby Rasmus and catcher Bryan Anderson. As Kevin Goldstein will tell you, the tools-laden Rasmus is one of the best prospects in all of baseball, and Anderson has the potential to be the next, well, Victor Martinez. Some might object that the Indians already have a lefty-swinging, broadly gifted center fielder in Grady Sizemore. True enough, but there's no reason Rasmus can't be deployed as a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder with an offensive skill set to match Sizemore's. To be sure, Rasmus' numbers in 2008 don't look impressive at first blush. However, the 21-year-old is a notorious slow starter, and in June he's hitting .316/.422/.526 for Triple-A Memphis. He's still the real thing.
As for Anderson, his defensive skills behind the plate aren't optimal, but he's a high-average, high-OBP hitter with line-drive chops. He's hit at every level, and presently he's batting .326 at Triple-A Memphis. On the whole, the acquisition of Ramus and Anderson would give the Indians a much-needed dose of high-upside offensive talent. That's something they sorely need.
The Case Against
The Indians believe they can re-sign Sabathia before the winter, or they're not ready to sign off on the 2008 season. The Cardinals? Perhaps they'd balk at Sabathia's middling ERA, or they might be loath to reduce their farm system to embers. Still, this deal, while it requires some mutual boldness, suits the present needs of both organizations. That's why, in Unicorn Land, it would happen.