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June 27, 2008

The Mill

Sabathia Rumors

by Will Carroll and Kevin Goldstein

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With teams already around the half-way point in games played and closing in on the All-Star break, talk of the trade season is starting to heat up, and one rumor has been getting more attention than any other: Will the Indians deal their ace, C.C. Sabathia? If they will, who would the suitors be? Will Carroll started to take a look at the possibilities and realized that he needed help analyzing the potential prospect packages they could receive in return. Kevin Goldstein stepped in to size up the market for the sizable pitcher. Here's their conversation and analysis:

Will Carroll: Kevin, the Indians are at least thinking about trading C.C. Sabathia. You know the minor league systems of teams as well as anyone, so let's take a look at what the Indians needs are and what teams might match up there. First off, a lot of people are looking at a potential Sabathia deal as Bartolo Colon, the sequel. Is that the kind of payoff that the Indians should be looking for, or is "better than the two picks they'd get in the draft" the bar to cross?

Kevin Goldstein: Probably somewhere in between. It's possible that the Dan Haren trade kind of becomes the new baseline, but I don't think the Indians will be able to match even that, because in most scenarios, C.C. is really just a half-year (or less) rental. They'll certainly get more value than just the picks if they trade him, but I don't think teams will pay a ton (like five, six guys) like they have for other players they can assure will be around for a while.

WC: If we're looking at a two- or three-player deal and you're Mark Shapiro, are you trying to get the best available talent, or do you look at organizational needs? If it's the latter, what are the two or three top needs for the Indians?

KG: I think if you're the Indians, you're just looking for the most talent, period. That said, in a trade like this there is often some pressure to get at least something that can be in the big leagues now or very quickly in order to appease the fans. On a pure prospect level, the Indians are short on up-the-middle types, but you can say that about a lot of systems. In addition, as the old cliché goes, you can never have enough pitching.

WC: Who can fill these needs and also needs Sabathia enough to make the deal? It seems to me that the suspects are the Yankees, Cubs, Brewers, and Dodgers, according to most reports and my sources. Let's start with the Yankees-if you're the Indians, who are you asking for?

KG: The Yankees don't have a ton of up-the-middle talent. Jesus Montero is a catcher in name only, and he'd be very hard to trade because his value isn't fully there yet. Austin Jackson is a very good prospect, but the Indians don't need a center fielder. I think you'd be focusing on arms there. Would the Yankees be willing to give up on Hughes? I don't know. Dellin Betances has intriguing upside, but also comes with injury concerns. There are a number of nice relief prospects in the system, but it's hard to see them being enough to bring them Sabathia.

WC: How about the Cubs?

KG: The Cubs don't have a good minor league system, at all. So for them to do something, it might have to be a quantity over quality scenario. Maybe Cleveland would be a good landing spot for Ronny Cedeno, who I still believe in, but after that, it's kind of hard to find things that might appeal to the Indians. Maybe you could start off with power arms like Donald Veal and Jose Ceda, but after that, what else do you want?

WC: What about the Brewers, and how does the potential loss of two ace-level pitchers to free agency factor in? Giving Jack Zduriencik that many picks sounds interesting.

KG: Giving Jack Z. a lot of picks is always a dangerous thing-for other teams. Milwaukee has some good fits potentially for Cleveland. They might be interested in mid-level catching prospects like Jon Lucroy and Angel Salome, a glove-first shortstop like Alcides Escobar who has shown some offensive sings of life this year, and the Brewers also have some decent arms they might be able to throw in. Don't forget that with Matt LaPorta coming quickly and Mat Gamel mashing at Double-A but looking more and more like and first base/DH type defensively, the Brewers are close to having too many bats and not enough positions, so somebody is going to have to go.

WC: And finally, the Dodgers. Assuming that Frank McCourt is on the side of the win-now faction in the front office this week, who should the Indians be asking for from LA?

KG: Well, I'd hate to assume anything with Frank McCourt, but for the sake of argument, let's figure this out. I'd start this deal with Andy LaRoche-he solves the long-term problem at third base in Cleveland (although I'm still a Wes Hodges fan). While they're at it, might as well see if Hu is available to play shortstop. Other interesting names might be catcher Carlos Santana and solid arms like James Adkins, Steven Johnson, and James McDonald. All of that said, talking to some people inside the game, I get the feeling that the Dodgers are not going to trade young talent this year.

WC: Then the question becomes what are you getting. I think it depends on what a team wants to do. If Sabathia is just a rental, you're not going to be concerned about his long term health, fatigue, etc. In fact, a smart team would do just the opposite to wring all the value they can out of him. On the other hand, if you're thinking that a chance to get to Sabathia before he hits the market, then everything changes. You have to be concerned about the longer term. Which way would you go?

KG: I'm not sure we can answer that can we? Obviously, one would pay more if they could work out an extension with Sabathia, but it doesn't seem like that's in the cards. Here's a question for you that I've wondered about: Do we have any clue how pitchers his size age? He's a massive guy, and while he's made at least 28 starts every year of his career, I do wonder about stuff like that. It's not a negative for me, it's just an unknown.

WC: I agree. I think Sabathia is unique in that he's big but also surprisingly athletic. I often joke that Sabathia and Price Fielder could make for a good power forward tandem or bookend tackles in the NFL, but it's also a compliment that both of those guys could succeed at some level in many endeavors. Neither is a fat guy (like us). I'd look to PECOTA for aging, and it's pretty positive on him for the next three or four years, which is about how long most teams would give him. Jake Westbrook shows that anyone can end up on the DL, but one big positive for me is how he's come back from last year's workload. He struggled at the start of the season and it looked like it was going to be a big "playoff hangover." Instead, he's righted the ship, and pow, he's dominant again.

KG: I definitely agree with everything you are saying here, but I think it would take people far smarter than you and I to figure out exactly how this type of player would age. Again, it's not an overt concern, just a question that popped up for me.

WC: So far, we've been more focused on Sabathia and determined that his market value is pretty high. While every team has different moving parts, I think it's safe to say that the Indians are looking for a couple top prospects and one or two lesser prospects. It'd be ideal if one of those prospects was major league-ready... so we're looking at the Santana return, right?

KG: Maybe? I hate to be cagey here, but I don't want to get caught up too much comparing deals. Haren was a different animal because you got to keep him for a while. Santana was a different animal because you got the extension-even though only a few teams could afford to sign him to one. I think this is a different deal because it's looking like a rental. You do find in these trades that the seller tends to want to get some part that is either big league-ready or awfully close.

WC: What does that make some of the other possibilities worth? Ben Sheets, A.J. Burnett, and Erik Bedard are the "big names" that some are saying could be available, with Paul Byrd, Greg Maddux, and Joe Blanton ranking as lesser possibilities. While I don't think Sheets is going to be dealt-it's very hard to be buyers and sellers at the same time, and I can't remember a team trying something like that-where would you value some of these guys?

KG: I'm with you, I don't think Sheets is going anywhere. Bedard would surprise me a bit as well. I do think that when it comes to pitching, Burnett is definitely the consolation prize after Sabathia. If the Indians decide to dump, Byrd could get them something in return, and I'm sure you could get something small for Maddux with a team just looking to get some consistency in the back of their rotation. Blanton confuses me, just because the A's tried to trade him in the offseason but couldn't get a deal they liked, and now I'd guess his value is down a little bit.

WC: Finally, with the trade market and parity, not every team is going to be able to pull off the deal. What teams still have guys who could come up and make a difference, pitching-wise, for a contender?

KG: The Rays might, I wouldn't be shocked to see David Price there in the final months of the season. We've already seen Justin Masterson with the Red Sox. If the Phillies get desperate, you might see Carlos Carrasco, but that's a long shot.

WC: I've also been thinking about bullpens a lot, especially regarding the Rays, so I'll use them as the example. The system is thick with arms and some, if not all, are worth more to the Rays than as bait, but then again, not all of them will stick either. Why not take some of the power arms-Davis, McGee, even Price or Hellickson-and put them in the pen? I know you're going to argue development, but it didn't seem to hurt Joba Chamberlain or Adam Wainwright.

KG: I think one big difference is that Joba and Wainwright were both major league-ready when they got moved to the bullpen, and McGee and Davis aren't. You're right, the Rays are loaded with arms, and by default some of these guys are going to end up in the bullpen. I agree with what the Rays are doing, which is letting that figure itself out organically. I got a lot of flack going into the year for saying McGee might be better off as a reliever, but I still feel that way.

WC: I agree with you, both that McGee might be better off as a reliever, and that Chamberlain and Wainwright were major league-ready, which those two aren't. But are they better equipped than the likes of Grant Balfour or Gary Glover? Unless you're arguing for veteran value, which I don't think you are, I think you have to at least look at these guys as potential short-term bullpen fixes. And this isn't just the Rays either, I'm just using this as an example. Too many teams are concerned with filling roles rather than putting the best possible arms in place. I'm surprised that the success of Chamberlain, especially since it was done in-season, isn't making some other people at least consider this, but baseball changes slowly.

KG: It does, but Joba was also a special circumstance. One thing that a scouting director once told me has always stuck in my mind pretty strongly-it's his job and the job of the minor league system to create the most valuable assets for the organization. If you move McGee to the bullpen at Double-A right now, you immediately lessen his value. If he can get guys out, he can get guys out, so let him start until you are forced into relieving him, or anybody else for that matter.

WC: There are some late rumors that we have a new team in the Sabathia mix... who are they and what do they have to offer?

KG: I think the Red Sox would definitely have interest in Sabathia, and if you can deal with the risk, a deal could be made there. Unless the Sox are willing to give up a arm like Masterson or Michael Bowden, the Indians would have to be comfortable getting to pick from a collection of young, high-ceiling, but by default risky talent.

WC: What? I'll admit this one shocks me. The Sox played it very straight in all of the drama last year with Santana. They had their price, and they didn't move significantly off of it, even though things got close. To make this kind of move is almost buyer's remorse, isn't it?

KG: Not really. Situations change, and that was last December. I would guess that pretty much every team feels differently about many things concerning the future of their ballclub just six months later.

WC: Things do change, and I'm sure they'll change a lot between the time we post this and the trade deadline. I think we may have to have a couple more of these conversations in coming weeks.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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