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Why The Indians Shouldn't Trade CC Sabathia

 

Are the Indians far enough out of the race to consider trading Sabathia? Dealing their top pitcher might bring an attractive package in a trade, but it would be the equivalent of raising a white flag high above Progressive Field in Cleveland. And, if the offseason trade of Johan Santana is any indication, Sabathia’s value on the trade market may actually be relatively low.

The Indians currently sit six and a half games out of first place, with a 32-36 record. The season has been disappointing for Tribe fans who held high expectations after taking the Boston Red Sox to seven games in last season's American League Championship Series. Despite their performance thus far, the Indians still should not trade Sabathia unless they are absolutely bowled over by an offer.

Since his poor start, CC Sabathia has been nothing short of dominating. After his fourth start of the season on April 16, Sabathia sported a 13.50 ERA, and certainly looking nothing like the defending Cy Young award winner. In fact I even wondered in this space if CC was hurt. However, since that point, Sabathia has thrown 72 innings, giving up 63 hits and only 17 runs, good for a 2.13 ERA. Sabathia has also compiled a 73/14 K/BB ratio in that span. After giving up five homers in his first 18 innings pitched, Sabathia has surrendered only five additional homers over his next 72 innings. In short, Sabathia appears to be pitching as well now as he ever has in his career.

Thus, the demand for CC’s services on the trade market should be high. What team can’t use a lefty who’s a legitimate ace?

 

A similar situation occurred this offseason, when the Twins dealt Johan Santana to the Mets. The Twins received a mediocre package for Santana, spearheaded by Carlos Gomez. While Gomez is no slouch, the Twins still did not receive a tremendous amount of talent in return for their ace lefty. This situation was different than the Indians’s situation with Sabathia for two reasons: first of all, the Mets had the rights to Santana for an entire season before his impending free agency, whereas whichever team acquires Sabathia would only have him for two or three months. Secondly, Santana had a more extensive and somewhat more dominating track record than Sabathia. And yet, the Twins were not even able to extract the Mets’s top prospect, Fernando Martinez, in the deal. Thus, what does it say about Sabathia’s trade value?

It is unlikely that the Indians will receive the type of package that they received in 2002 when they traded Bartolo Colon (the Montreal Expos ponied up Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, and Grady Sizemore in order to land Colon). While many teams would love to acquire Sabathia and several even have the means to re-sign him at the end of the season, it is unlikely that these teams would be willing to give up enough talent to make dealing Sabathia worthwhile for the Indians.

 

The Indians, unlike the Twins before the season, still have reason to believe that they can make the playoffs this season, despite their lackluster performance thus far. As I have demonstrated in this space, Indians hitters have been very unlucky on balls in play this season – this luck should regress during the rest of the season. Furthermore, the team has been better than their record indicates. Judging by runs scored and runs allowed, the Indians should have a record of 35-32. Going forward, the Indians’s record should improve simply due to regression to the mean. This team can still win 85-90 games, which, in the AL Central, may very well be enough to make the playoffs.

Furthermore, should Sabathia sign with another team at the end of the season, the Indians are not left high and dry: they will receive two draft picks as compensation. While this may seem like little compensation in the short-term, it would give the Indians three of the first 35 or so picks in next year’s draft and would go a long way in helping to re-stock the farm system.

 

Certainly Mark Shapiro would be remiss not to do his due diligence to see what kind of offers would be on the table for the big lefty. If the Dodgers dangled Matt Kemp and/or Andy LaRoche, for instance, or if the Angels were willing to talk about Howie Kendrick or Nick Adenhart, or if the Red Sox were to consider parting with Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester, Shapiro would have to take the offer into serious consideration. However, given what the Twins received for Johan Santana, it’s unlikely that any of these caliber of players would be offered in a deal for Sabathia. If this is the case, Shapiro is best served to let the season play out, and attempt to add another bat to the lineup in an effort to give the Indians the best opportunity possible to make it back to the postseason. The Indians are better than they have shown so far, and should be able to make a serious push for a spot in the postseason.

As long as they have CC Sabathia pitching every five days.