CLEVELAND -- Signing CC Sabathia to a contract extension was the Indians' top offseason priority. Placing him atop their rotation in his walk year, rather than seeking out a winter trade, was their attempt to remain in contention.
When both of those aforementioned efforts went south, the Tribe had no choice but to seek out a deal for Sabathia. The Brewers, loaded with Minor League talent, were identified as a perfect partner Saturday night, a deal was consummated Sunday and the particulars were officially announced Monday.
So it is that Sabathia, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, is headed to a Milwaukee team looking to make a playoff push, while the last-place Indians will receive a batch of Minor Leaguers -- outfielder/first baseman Matt LaPorta, right-hander Rob Bryson, left-hander Zach Jackson and a player to be named -- they hope will help them retool for the future. General manager Mark Shapiro pulled the trigger on the deal, because Sabathia had expressed no interest in discussing a contract extension during the season, the two sides were far apart when talks were tabled at the outset of Spring Training and the Draft pick compensation the Indians would have received for losing Sabathia to free agency was considered too risky and too far away. All those factors, though, didn't make the decision any easier on Shapiro. "Because of who CC is," Shapiro said at a press conference at Progressive Field, "what he's been, what he's accomplished here, having been a part of watching him develop and grow from a teenager to a man, from an inexperienced Minor Leaguer to a dominant Cy Young Award winner and being a part of such a special season for us last year, it was a very difficult decision emotionally." Without naming names, Shapiro confirmed the Indians are choosing between two players for the player-to-be-named portion of the deal, and they have until the end of the Minor League season to do so. Class A third baseman Taylor Green is believed to be one of the two players. "The player-to-be-named-later component is a very important part of the value equation for us," Shapiro said. "I know it's hard to get your arms around and get excited for it. But that's an advantage for us, that's something we negotiated. It gives us the opportunity to do something like we did with Coco Crisp. Go out and scout, do further due diligence and ensure we make the best decision possible." But the centerpiece of the deal, for the Indians, is LaPorta, who was the seventh overall pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft and considered the top prospect in the Brewers' system. At 23 and in Double-A, LaPorta projects to have a quick ascension to the big leagues. The University of Florida product was batting .288 with 20 homers, 23 doubles and 66 RBIs through 84 games at Huntsville. He will report to Double-A Akron.
The Brewers moved LaPorta to the outfield because he was road-blocked by Prince Fielder. With Ryan Garko struggling mightily at first base on the big league club, it's conceivable the Indians might move LaPorta back to first, though they could also use more run production in the corner-outfield spots. "We do feel like he can be a better defender at first base than the outfield," Shapiro said. "We're comfortable with his ability to play the outfield. We'll look at where he is. We don't want to put any timeframes on it." Bryson, 20, was a 31st-round, "draft-and-follow" pick in 2006. He is the type of power pitcher that the Indians are generally lacking in their system. Working primarily as a reliever, he was 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA in 22 appearances, including five starts, at Class A West Virginia. Jackson, 25, is included in this deal mainly to provide the Indians with some starting depth at Buffalo, where the rotation has worn thin because of injuries and callups. Jackson was 1-5 with a 7.85 ERA at Triple-A Nashville in 22 games, including six starts. He was with the Brewers briefly this year, making a pair of relief appearances. The last linchpin of the deal is the player to be named, and that player will likely be the second-most prized acquisition for the Indians. Green, 21, was the Brewers' Minor League Player of the Year last season. This season, he is batting .295 with 10 homers and 54 RBIs in 81 games at Class A Brevard County. It had been reported that Huntsville center fielder Michael Brantley was the other candidate for the player-to-be-named component, but a blog posting by Brantley's agent refutes that claim. Whoever the player to be named is, the loss of Sabathia is nonetheless another kick to the gut for an Indians fan base that has seen the likes of Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez leave Cleveland over the years. The consolation this time is that the Indians are getting something back. Sabathia, the 20th overall pick by the Indians in the 1998 Draft, made his 237th and final start in an Indians uniform last Wednesday in Chicago. He was on the Indians' team flight from Minnesota to Cleveland for Monday's off-day, and it was said to be an emotional moment as Sabathia said farewell to his longtime teammates on the tarmac. In those 237 starts, Sabathia, who turns 28 on July 21, compiled a record of 106-71 with a 3.83 ERA. He has the most career wins of any active pitcher under the age of 28 and the second-most wins by a left-hander in team history (Sam McDowell had 122). His 1,265 strikeouts are the fifth-most in club history. Sabathia won his first Cy Young Award last season by going 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA in 34 starts. He was the first Tribe pitcher to win the award since Gaylord Perry in 1972. Over the winter, the Indians offered Sabathia a four-year extension, through 2012, that would have paid him $18 million a year. He turned it down and broke off negotiations at the outset of Spring Training. "We felt we thoroughly explored an extension with CC in Spring Training," Shapiro said. "CC made it clear that once the season started he did not want to entertain any negotiations in addition to that. Our exploration of a contract was thorough enough to understand the combination of our capabilities and CC's expectations didn't align. That still didn't put us at a juncture to make an easy decision." But the decision was made, and CC is gone.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.