Sabathia trade a matter of money, long-term vision

Joseph Gartrell

CC Sabathia won the Cy Young Award last year. He’s in the prime of his career.

So why did the Cleveland Indians trade their ace to the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday?

Really, it’s pretty simple -- a matter of money and short-term vs. long-term success. The Indians are a last-place team that, for a few more months, owned something valuable. Other teams desperately wanted Sabathia. All he could have done for the Indians the rest of the way was fight to keep them out of last place.

Cleveland offered Sabathia a contract extension at the beginning of the season, but it wasn’t enough money for the 27-year-old left-hander, who spent the past 10 years with the organization since being the Indians’ first-round pick in 1998. He potentially could command twice the amount of the $72 million extension the Indians put on the table.

“It’s a game of risk management from the front office point of view,” said sports economics expert and Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist, “and given (the Indians’) limited resources, they are trying to make the most prudent moves.”

A lot to weigh

Though Sabathia has enjoyed a relatively injury-free career, Zimbalist said the team likely was not in favor of increasing its offer because of concerns about his weight.

When a player gets hurt, their employers may as well be dumping money into a well.

And for this floundering team that’s owed its success in recent years to developing its own talent and fielding a team on the cheap, pouring too much money into one player is simply too great a risk.

So before their property became worthless when Sabathia’s contract expires at the end of the season, the Indians are getting a nice return on it. And trading Sabathia doesn’t mean the Indians can’t try to sign him this offseason. Keeping Sabathia, then losing him to free agency, would have brought two draft picks. Nothing else.

“I think that (Indians General Manager) Mark Shapiro is a very savvy guy, so I suspect that they think that they got value in return that is at least equal to what they are giving up,” Zimbalist said.

It’s about getting more of what got them there. After all, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee, who will be representing the Indians in the All-Star game next week, were acquired in part of a 2002 trade that sent then-Indians ace Bartolo Colon to Montreal.

Sabathia likely will look to sign a contract similar to the $137.5 million, six-year deal pitcher Johan Santana inked with the Mets last winter. During spring training, Sabathia rejected the Indians’ offer of a four-year, $72 million extension that would have been the richest contract in team history.

Agricultural analogy

Still don’t feel as though trading Sabathia was the right move?

Let’s try a parable: You’re a farmer and own a tractor that will vanish into thin air in a few months. It’ll simply disappear, like you never had it. Until then, it’s beyond serviceable, arguably the best tractor around, but you have no use for it, as your crops didn’t come in this year.

So you can keep the tractor around and maybe take your kids out for fun rides on the back of it during the summer, or you can trade it to a farmer down the road for some seed that will likely take.

That tractor is really good, though. You could extend the contract on the machine, but unless it becomes sentient and then sentimental, it’ll cost you so much money that you may not be able to keep a roof over your barn.

The Indians hope that the “seeds” they received for their “tractor” will bear fruit in the near future.

The Repository