With the ballclub's current makeup, Cleveland can't trade Lee right now
When the Indians traded CC last year, the pitching staff appeared much deeper
Trading Lee right now would seemingly doom the Indians for this season and 2010
If Cleveland's out of contention at this time next year, trading Lee will make sense
Once again the Indians are one of the majors' most disappointing teams. Once again they have the defending AL Cy Young winner, again a lefty who began the season terribly and is now pitching superbly. Once again they have a piece -- that high-end lefty starter -- who through trade can change a playoff race.
But the Indians cannot do this year with Cliff Lee what they did last year with CC Sabathia, in part because there would be no Cliff Lee in reserve.
At this time last year, the Indians were already heavily scouting the systems of the potential suitors for Sabathia. But remember where the Indians were last year, and not just under .500 and -- at best -- a Hail Mary from contention. Sabathia was a looming free agent and Cleveland had zero chance of re-signing him. But they had Lee pitching like the Cy Young winner he would become. Also, Fausto Carmona was on the DL, but he was 4-2 with a 3.10 ERA and coming off a season in which he finished fourth in the Cy voting behind Sabathia.
In other words, the Indians knew Sabathia would not be part of their 2009 team whether they kept him for all of 2008 or traded him during the season. But at the moment they did trade Sabathia to the Brewers last July 7, they could imagine still having a rotation fronted by Lee and Carmona in 2009 and, thus, being a contender.
However, they cannot project the same for 2010 if they trade Lee, who has a very reasonable $8 million option for next year. Obviously, in that scenario, the 2010 Indians would not have Sabathia and Lee. Since Carmona came off the DL to pitch last July 26, he has started 24 games and produced the worst ERA in the majors at 7.52 (minimum 100 innings) while also walking (73) more batters than he has struck out (71). He is so out of whack that he was optioned all the way to rookie ball to work at the Indians' minor league facility in Goodyear, Ariz.
In addition, the Indians' top pitching prospect, Adam Miller, underwent major surgery on a finger in April and there is fear he will never pitch again. The Indians' next best pitching prospects are Hector Rondon, who is at Double-A, and lefty David Huff, who is currently in their rotation. Neither is viewed within the industry as a top-of-the-rotation prospect.
So if the Indians trade Lee between now and July 31, they are not only damning any long-shot chance they have to get back into the AL Central race this year. They also are pretty much erasing contention next season. That might be more tolerable if they were playing in the AL East, where they would have to be thinking of ways to contend for the long term against the Red Sox and Yankees. But they play in the tepid AL Central.
"There is no reason in the world they can't compete in their division next year," an AL executive said. "At some point it has to be about winning and not selling off parts for a sunny day in the future."
Also, front offices should not generally make decisions based on the emotional reactions of their fans. But it would be an incredible breach of faith with Indian supporters to trade the Cy Young winner a second year in a row while still asking them to spend on tickets in a tough economy.
"A factor [in the decision] is your covenant with your fans," Indians GM Mark Shapiro said of trading someone such as Lee. "So if you are doing it, you better believe it gives you a chance to win soon and win big for a long time."
That trade does not appear to exist. That's why no one should expect Lee to be dealt. It is in Shapiro's DNA as a GM to at least listen to offers. This is a GM, after all, who traded not only Sabathia during the midst of a huge season, but in June 2002 traded Bartolo Colon during a 20-win campaign. Ironically, in the Colon deal, Shapiro received back Lee plus Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips.
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