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Posted: Friday June 27, 2008 11:06AM; Updated: Saturday June 28, 2008 9:59AM
Jon Heyman Jon Heyman >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Indians still trying to decide where, or if, to trade Sabathia

Story Highlights
  • The 2007 AL Cy Young winner is expected to be the best pitcher on the market
  • Ranking the top starters and relievers who could be dealt this summer
  • Who are the most likely GM candidates to take over in Seattle?
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C.C. Sabathia
C.C. Sabathia may be filling out a different uniform by this time next month.
Brad Mangin/SI

C.C. Sabathia hasn't been the star of this season, but he appears very likely to become the star of this trading season. No less than a dozen teams are believed interested in the Indians' talented and accomplished left-hander. By one accounting, every contending team but the Cardinals already has checked in with Cleveland.

Unless the injury-depleted Indians can quickly turn things around, and assuming the Mariners didn't literally mean it when they suggested everyone's available and will instead keep the great 22-year-old right-hander Felix Hernandez (whose availability would cause competing GMs to swoon), Sabathia should be the most coveted pitcher on the trade market

"He's going to be going somewhere,'' one competing GM predicted about Sabathia.

Though Sabathia is only 5-8 with a 4.06 ERA, he has regained his 2007 Cy Young form and carries a superb 2.14 ERA since April 22. Considering his recent performances and pedigree, he could become one of the most expensive trade-deadline rentals ever.

Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said by phone that there's "no timetable'' set to decide whether to trade Sabathia, and that they will continue to gauge their alternatives. "We are obviously preparing for the possibility (of trading Sabathia),'' Shapiro said. "Hopefully, this team will turn it round. But if not, we'll be prepared to make deals. I can't tell you when that will be.''

The hobbled Indians are tied for last with the Royals in the AL Central (surprising to me, at least, as I picked them to win the World Series). Their Sabathia decision will depend on their recuperative powers, both on the field and in the trainers' room.

The very same Indians regime that once turned Bartolo Colon into a bonanza by sending him to Montreal for its three most coveted prospects -- Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips -- would like to come as close as possible to matching that haul. However, that was an unusual circumstance, as then-Expos GM Omar Minaya believed his team was on the verge of contracting at the time, giving him extra incentive to play for the present. Indians people have to realize they may not be quite that fortunate this time, especially with top prospects valued higher than ever by everyone.

While the competition should still be fierce for Sabathia, his status as a free-agent-to-be and probable three-month rental should inhibit his value somewhat.

Furthermore, a quickly-signed contract for either the Indians or someone else seems unlikely. Sabathia is believed to be seeking Johan Santana money ($137.5 million), or at the very least, Barry Zito money ($126 million), and it's difficult to envision him offering discounts on the precipice of free agency. One person who knows Sabathia said ultimately he didn't see the pitcher chasing every last dollar as a free agent and suggested he couldn't envision the Bay Area native signing long-term in New York (the Yankees, with a definite need, have been viewed as a favorite).

Competing GMs doubt the savvy Shapiro will provide acquiring teams a three-day window to lock up Sabathia, anyway. As one GM said, "Too many things can go wrong.''

The Indians have begun scouting competing teams' systems to see who's best prepared to deal for Sabathia. Among the most interested teams, it is believed the Brewers, Rays and Dodgers may be best-equipped to trade prospects, while the Phillies, Cubs and Astros ("they have nothing,'' one GM said) may be least-equipped.

However, as was the case in the Colon deal, an interested team's tolerance to surrender prospects may weigh heavily. The Cubs, who may be sold soon, could be seen as having a greater willingness to go for it. Plus, the fact they are in their 100th anniversary season of no World Series titles may even provide an extra little push.

The AL East-contending Yankees, Rays and Red Sox all are expected to be in the mix, though the Yankees' need is clearly much greater than that of the other two teams (for instance, Dan Giese and Sidney Ponson are starting the Subway Series-opening double header for them today). And despite injuries to Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, the Yankees' system is better than most believe; they would have the pieces to pull it off. One pitching prospect who's emerged is right-hander Alfredo Aceves, a $400,000 pickup from the Mexican League who is wowing them at Double-A Trenton with pinpoint control and a 1.80 ERA. The Yankees, though, say they won't consider trading second baseman Robinson Cano, one young player who'd surely interest the Indians.

The Indians reportedly will make a last-ditch effort to sign Sabathia. But considering Cleveland's unwritten code not to dedicate a an exorbitant portion of their payroll to any one player, nobody believes their chances to keep him long-term are anything better than a long shot.

The Indians last winter offered a four-year deal for about $68 million, and folks familiar with their workings envision them proposing no better than a fifth-year vesting option for a pitcher, even one they love such as Sabathia.

Historically, the Indians have adhered closely to guidelines suggesting it's unwise to devote a high percentage of their payroll to one player, and internally, have often cited that history, which says that no team devoting as much as 22 percent of its payroll to one player has ever won the World Series, and only one (the 2002 Giants, with Barry Bonds) even made the Series.

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